Contributed by Noreen Sumpter, Personal Life Coach
Q: “I was bullied when I was a kid and I still carry that with me. What can I do?” – Patti N.
A: Let your secret go!
What’s the private shame that you’re holding onto that’s running your life unconsciously and killing you slowly by robbing you of your self-worth? It feels real, you see it when you look in the mirror, whether it’s a real mirror or the image of a mirror that you conjure up that follows you everywhere.
You hold the mirror up every day and it is the thing or feeling that colors your world. It hurt then, and if you’ve not let it go, it hurts now. You see and hear it everywhere and you pray to God no one else can see your secret. Your secret has you so busy tending everyone else’s garden, you completely neglect your own. Worse than that, you don’t even know that you have a garden of your own.
You know what I am talking about? It is the conversation that you have been experiencing since you were knee high to a grasshopper. It is so ingrained in you now that you perform every action around it. You have not forgotten the feeling, the pain and the jellies that continue doing a relay race in your stomach. The details about your secret are a little less then solid—they’re blurred even. But you know the pain all too well.
My story is called ‘monkey face.’ I know that I have grown and evolved because if I hadn’t, you would not be reading this story as I would not be able to put this on paper. It was my own private shame, my own personal hell I have carried around for more years than I care to say.
Growing up I had a lot of names, mostly from my brothers and the boy down the street who happened to get into my family’s private moments of name calling. My names all centered on the length of my bottom lips: there was ‘Long Lip’, ‘M1 Motorway’ (The M1 is a north–south motorway in England primarily connecting London to Leeds,), ‘Suck Finger Jack’, ‘Long Mouth’ and the one that impacted my life the most: Monkey Face. Monkey Face was something that crippled me. It was a name that had an impact on me because it happened at one of the important milestone events in my life.
The story of Monkey Face was born out of my first day of secondary school (high school). I had my nice school uniform on and my hair was cut into a nice little Afro. I was feeling good. I had the perfect school uniform on, it came from the school shop and it cost my mother a lot. I felt good and ready to go to secondary school. I had promised myself that I would be good, I would not get into any fights, I was going to listen to the teachers; I would not talk back. No more whispering in class, because just like today, I cannot whisper. I, Noreen, was going to be good at this school because this was a second chance. Anyway, I get to school and everyone has the same colors, navy blue with cardigan, or sweater, with a white shirt, and Navy blue skirt. However, the other girls’ mothers had not gone to the school shop they had gone to Marks and Spencer, C&A etc. their uniforms fashionable and modern. Whatever, I did not care, I still felt good.
Each girl had a house button: white, blue, yellow, red. I was in green house. To be honest, I don’t know if they do that anymore, it makes me think of gangs. I was in greenhouse with Ms. Maggs, my House Mistress. She was young and athletic. Ms. Murrell, the room tutor, wanted greatness in her charges. Anyway, I decided I was going to be good. Then, a red headed girl who I would later become friends with (we are still friends) could not hear what was being said and I whispered it back to her. In that instant my promise was shattered. I was called out and told to be quiet. First day at school, not even an hour in, and it turned into more of the same. I was disgusted. Anyway I pulled myself together and I got through that session okay. I did not die.
Upon leaving our house room, I was met by 3 older girls. Today, I cannot remember their names. All I remember were their words. “Aw! How cute, she looks like Gayland from the Planet of the Apes.” That comment stung like a 1000 bees. My stomach fell to the pit of my gut and went up and down like I was riding a roller coaster. In that instant I was mad. I wanted to fight but they were bigger than me. I would have been pummeled. I was in that instant a @#$ Monkey Face. I took that to mean I was ugly. I looked like a monkey. I walked away shattered, not in a telling off way, but in a way that tested my confidence and self-esteem. All this happened at the age of 11 when my confidence and self-esteem was just evolving.
I could not tell my mother. As that meant that I would get a beating for not standing up for myself. Well that is what my mother told me. She said “if you come home and tell me that someone had interfered with you I’ll beat you up.” I took that to mean, I would get beaten for being a cowardly lion from the Wizard of Oz. Gayland became constant barrage, it hurt every time they said it—“Hey Gayland!” I would say hello back and they would be on their way. Now, I know these girls were just doing what they did they did not see it as any harm. But for me it was terrible. They would see me in the hallway and say “Hey Gayland!” I tried to avoid seeing them like the plague. It was just how they identified me. I hated it. It impacted me like shards of glass coming at me all at once and I made it into little daggers of nastiness.
Fast forward, I’m growing up and my body is changing. However, it was not changing as fast as my girlfriends. They were turning into women. I was just getting taller. My friend Susanne, called me scrambled eggs (she cannot remember that), because I was the tallest in my class, but I did not have breasts. I would have traded my breasts forever to get rid of ‘Gayland’ during that time. It was the most painful.
Gayland grew up with me. I never saw myself as pretty or attractive. I always saw that little monkey instead of my face. As I grew, I wanted nothing to do with monkeys; I actually hated monkeys. If someone was talking to me and they said ‘you silly little monkey’ or ‘what a silly monkey’, I would instantly think OMG, they can see it too. I had a nice body, but from the neck up I was Monkey Face. I would see it in the mirror. If I were dressed up, all I saw was a great body, but there it was Monkey Face. Monkey Face ran my life, it ran my thoughts, Monkey Face impacted how I interacted with people especially men. As I started to date, I always thought guys who wanted to go out with me wanted just brown bag me. I could not believe that cute boys wanted to date me.
Okay fast forward—I’m married. But Monkey Face still ran my life. As time went on, I developed myself and my personality but I still had to contend with Monkey Face. Anyway, in the later 1990’s early 2000 I did a seminar and after doing the seminar, I was walking down Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn and I heard as clear as day. “You do not like yourself” I was startled it was as though someone was talking to me. It was my own inner voice insight. It was really loud. Than as I walked further the whispered voice said “You think you’re ugly” … OMG. I said yes, I acknowledged. Anyway, later that afternoon, I was on the phone talking to my mother and she asked me “How is your hair?” My hair was a separate extension of myself to my mother. “Do you still have your hair all chakachaka (messed up) natural?” I said “Yes.” Evidently, I was in the bathroom looking at myself. I always wore big hair. I had my hair with long bangs, when it was straight, and when it was natural I had it as big as I could get it to draw attention away from my Monkey Face. In that moment I told my mother I am getting it cut. She started screaming ‘nooooo!’ Like I said, my mother spoke of my hair like it was another person. “Why? Noreen, I love it when you have it like Oprah’s.” Anyway, after I hung up, I went around the corner and cut my hair down to the scalp. On leaving the barber shop, a guy complete stranger called me “empress.” He said “You look so beautiful.” I felt beautiful. Face full frontal nothing hiding.
Now that evening, I had another breakthrough. I had a friend that was beautiful, she was tall and thin, I had gotten a little, let’s just say, a lot fatter now. Well, I had always been tending my girlfriend’s garden. When we went out I was always sure she would get all the male attention. She was gorgeous. She was leggy, long curly hair. She was Dominican; she had been a fashion model. When we traveled, the men were always talking to her. I mean I held my own, but I was always sure that the men liked her and not me. I was always oblivious that men even remotely noticed me. I never thought they did and I really only know if a man likes me if he says it to me clearly. I am not and have never been good at reading signals. It takes too much energy for me.
Anyway, this day walking through the World Trade Center long before September 11th, this complete stranger guy shouts out, “Hey Cutie!” I say to my friend ‘They’re talking to you.” The guys shouted back, “No not her, you.” In that clear, concise moment it becomes clear to me. I am beautiful. I have my own unique beauty and Monkey Face does not have to live here anymore. The conversation of an 11 year old child no longer runs my world. I was 11 years old when this conversation was first delivered to me. I was 11 years old when Monkey Face was released into my life. I spent many years trying to avoid Monkey Face and the ways of being that I had created in my life had a strangle hold on my existence. Summer early 2000 in the WTC, I grew up and released Monkey Face into the wild. I was happy. Today, I am content with my beauty, content with my life.
As I mature, I know there is no other woman in my world who has my beauty. My beauty is unique to me. Other women have their own beauty and they are equally beautiful. However, in my world I am all there is. I am beautiful. I do beautiful things and thus I have beauty in my life. So to those young girls who called me Gayland, I am here to tell you that Monkey Face doesn’t live here anymore. Monkey Face’s reign is over.
To my readers, I ask you to look at your life to see your own Monkey Face. Where is your Monkey Face impacting your life, leaving you in an emotional choke-hold? Is it time to shed it and step into your own beauty or power? Let me know about it. Let me know what you are willing expand and give up after reading my story. Tell me your little White, Black, Latino or Asian girl secret. A secret is a secret. You can never trust a pretty girl with an ugly secret. So release your ugly secret like I did mine.
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Noreen Sumpter, Personal Life Coach: works with High Achievers who feel trapped in their private life. They lack personal confidence and self-esteem. By helping them clear mental clutter and dissolve limiting beliefs, they can take deliberate steps, own their voice, speak their truth and have the freedom to live life their way. “Live Life Your Way”
“Live Life Your Way” www.noreensumptercoach.com
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