Highlights: This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe
If you read just one book this year—just one! how sad would that be!?—I would vote for this one. For the cost of a single book you will not only have gained yourself a book (yo) but a new imaginary best friend. It stands alone next to Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story (as told by Bruce Springsteen) (out in paperback today!) as the best thing I have read that was written by a celebrity—and that includes books by my old best friends Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling, who are tops with the quips but not so much with actual narratives. This is so warm, so funny, so honest, so thoughtful, so relatable, so generous, so bracing, so smart, so empowering, so good.
This is the kind of book where, if I owned the physical artifact and loaned it to a friend, she would throw it back in my face because I underlined or circled nearly half of it and drew thousands of exclamation points and stars all over the margins. I think with my fingers, what can I tell you. Instead, here are my Kindle highlights to date (and I'm not even done yet. I don't want to be done.):
I don’t think it’s funny when people stuff pillows in their clothing to look like me. I don’t think it’s funny when people paint their faces to look like me. I don’t think it’s funny when a stranger calls me a fat bitch no matter what they’re offering to do for me. I don’t think it’s funny that I’m not allowed to say that my feelings are hurt. Feelings aren’t an absence of strength. I know this for sure. So why should I pretend to have a sense of humor just to allow someone else to take a shot at me?
She always says, “Don’t let anyone else take away your joy. If they don’t want to be with you or around you, let them go. Pick up your shit and keep going. You came into the world by yourself, and the next person’s lungs don’t help you breathe.”
I maybe believe in psychics. I admit that. I believe some people have the ability to sense things in a clearer way than most. I believe that we all have a sense of intuition but some of us have an innate capacity to see something that has yet to happen. If that ability is so strong that you can actually charge people for it, I’m cool.
I secretly liked watching my mom watch her shows. When I was quiet, it felt like she would forget I was in the room, and braiding became just something she was doing with her hands. It could’ve been knitting or playing with a yo-yo. She was alone, and she was watching her shows after a long week of work and raising two kids. I was watching her be an adult. A person. Not just a mommy. I’d listen to her talk to the TV screen when Erica Kane’s long-lost daughter Kendall showed up on All My Children. Or when Viki Lord split from Clint Buchanan and then remarried a year later on One Life to Live. I felt like I was getting to spy on who my mom was when her children weren’t around. Maybe I was getting to spy into my own future. Maybe I was seeing the woman I’d become . . .
My hair I loved. When my mom told me that I’d have salt and pepper all over my head by the time I was in my twenties, I couldn’t wait. I wanted to look like Lena Horne in her older, graceful stage. Or like Alexandra from Josie and the Pussycats. I thought my gray hair made me look distinguished, like a gentlemanly sea captain. Or the wise grandmother tree in Pocahontas. I kept hoping that my gray hair would eventually take the form of a lightning bolt in the middle of my head. I felt special—as long as I wasn’t in school. In school the feeling of being “special” became the feeling of being “different.” Children are assholes and they ruin everything.
Gray hair seemed like the easiest thing to deal with, so I asked my mom if I could dye my hair. I was sure she’d say no. The year before, when I asked if I could start perming my hair instead of getting it braided, we fought for months before she finally gave in. She’d been wearing her own hair permed in tight Shirley Temple curls with way too much mousse (for staying power). When she relented, she styled my hair in exactly the same way so we looked like twins. Where was the Bureau of Child Welfare then?
Have you forgotten about the blogs and the fashion reporters? Have you forgotten the Denim Debacle that Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears wore to the American Music Awards in 2001? I haven’t. I had a discussion about that outfit at a dinner party last night. The world hasn’t forgotten and it never will. What’s worse is that I thought those outfits were dope. That’s right. I would’ve been all the way onboard with that decision. This is why it was dangerous for me to flip through magazines for trends and dresses I liked.
Pg 77 (on watching Lena Dunham at red carpet events):
She looked fearless. Confident. If she felt like a contest winner, she didn’t show it. She didn’t seem positive that she belonged there, either, but her attitude said, “Fuck you! I’m here, and this is my skirt, bitches!” It was magic, and ever since, I’ve gotten a thrill from seeing her on a red carpet.
Here’s the thing. Lena doesn’t just have confidence. Confidence is easier than what I see in Lena. I see something that says, “I know what I am and what I’m worth, and if you don’t like it, you don’t exist. Also, my skirt is PINK!” It’s not confidence. It’s privilege. Now usually a black girl talking about a white girl having privilege is a commentary on race and class. Not this time. This time I’m just talking about dresses. Lena seems to have granted herself immunity from all of the bad shit, stress, and worry that accompanies a red carpet. It’s like she wakes up and checks her calendar, and says, “Gee! The Golden Globes are this weekend. I wanna wear . . . YELLOW!” And somehow a yellow dress shows up, and come that weekend, she’s on the carpet in a yellow dress thinking, Fuck, yeah! YELLOW! while somewhere in the background I’m sweating with one heel in my hand, trying to find my seat, and hoping that my dress photographed well so that those bitches on Fashion Police don’t talk shit about me.
Armed with my stylist Marcy, my confidence, and the ability to quickly pick it up when it falls, I run as fast as I can through the gauntlet of actors, interviewers, and photographers—straight to the prize. The prize is the bottle of champagne I’m going to allow myself to drink on my way to my seat.
I get out of that SUV, I step onto the red carpet, and I’m standing in line behind the Amy Adamses, the Jennifer Lawrences, and the Kate Hudsons. They’re all so beautiful, with unimpressed faces and hand-sewn dresses that I could never fit into and will never be sexy enough to pull off. None of them are sweating. My confidence falls and crashes at my feet, and I wish I’d had one more drink before getting in the car. I never understand addiction more than when I’m on a red carpet. I just want to be numb.
But just when I’m thinking, Never again! and I am afraid I’ll have a panic attack, I see Lena. She’s wearing something that I wouldn’t choose for myself, but it’s a pretty color and she’s smiling. She looks happy. She’s like a lighthouse. She becomes my beacon of confidence. She’s talented, and she’s there because she’s earned it. Like me.
Pg 150 (on working as a phone sex operator):
When I first started taking calls, I worked Saturday nights from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. for the bump in pay, and the majority of calls that came in were from soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. Those soldiers were very polite and lonely. Not one of them wanted me to pretend to give them a blow job. They didn’t call for sex at all. They called because they wanted to talk to someone who wasn’t their family. For one, their loved ones were usually asleep at that time of night. But also they didn’t want to talk to people who missed them. Who were worried about them and wanted them to come home. One soldier explained to me that it was emotionally taxing to talk to someone you missed, who missed you, too. That wanting to be there for that loved one and hearing about all the things you were missing out on could make a person feel worse than they felt before they started talking. We talkers were paid to pick up the phone and be nice. That’s it.
The talker and the caller can hear when the system is going to cut the call off. At the end of the call, a soldier would always say, “Ma’am, it’s been real nice talking to you, so thank you for being kind. And remember when you go to bed tonight that we’re out here fighting for your freedom and fighting to make sure you’re safe.”
I was with the company for three years. I was patient enough to turn the degradation into something positive. I took what I learned on the phones about secrets, shame, and pleasure, and applied it to the real world around me. I learned how to talk to people. I learned how to flirt with everyone and everything. I learned to lead with my personality. I learned to deal with rumors. (If the girls on the talker floor thought I got a promotion by being a lesbian, I let them. All the lesbians I know are dope and get shit done. I’ve certainly been called worse!) I learned to boldly ask for what I wanted. I learned that your average businessman works hard and carries plenty of shame as well as self-entitlement. (Also, he might be wearing panties under his suit and that’s his business.) I’m not afraid to say anything to anyone. I’m not afraid to be anyone. I’ve already experienced the worst of people, and I’ve learned that we’re all still human. My patience taught me to survive as 1266, and my intelligence helped me say yes to acting when the opportunity was presented to me.
Pg 193 (on auditioning for her role in Precious):
At the end of summer, the production was down to two girls, but they still weren’t sure they’d found Precious yet. (So many Sabourey Gidibes and still no Gabourey Sidibe!) That’s when they held the last open casting calls and found me. I had no idea how many things had to go wrong for me to win that role, but I decided by then to stop paying attention to what might have gone wrong and start being grateful for all the things that had gone right instead.
How many psychics does it take to convince a sad little girl that she can be much more than the world is telling her she is? None. She’s got to be able to convince herself to show up for her own life.