Me, My Words & Life

What Mary J. Blige’s My Life documentary made me realize about self-love

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Healing is no easy task, it’s hard work to continuously commit to taking a look in the mirror to build awareness of the things, aspects and traits that you may or may not like about yourself. Many people avoid their own mirrors and don’t look until someone, or a particular circumstance, gives them no other choice but to do so. We read about it in books, watch it play out on-screen and listen for guidance about it on podcasts, but learning to love yourself isn’t for the weak.

My own journey with self-love has been much grittier and more turbulent than expected and a far cry from glamourous. I’ve had to break down, then re-build, brick by brick to understand myself and create a sense of identity that doesn’t seek approval, validation or shrink myself to appease others (despite being outspoken in certain areas of my life).

Becoming self-aware is also hard work, it doesn’t stop and there’s no right way to do it. One thing I’ve learned now is that my younger self needed is to quiet the noise and go inward. Choosing myself, not carrying guilt and letting myself learn how to just put one foot in front of the other  are some of the ways I have to re-parent my younger self now.

The most recent example I’ve seen of a self-love journey that mirrors mine, is from actress, singer and businesswoman, Mary J. Blige. In the recently released Amazon original documentary, “My Life,”the songstress takes us back to 1994, to share the behind the scenes of the making of her second album, also titled “My Life.” Although I was born the year after this album came out, I was introduced to it through my father, who was a DJ when I was growing up. Our shared favourites off the album were “Be Happy” and “You Bring Me Joy,” but now that I’m grown, the lyrics to the entire project hit harder. Especially knowing she was reflecting on her life at just 23. The title track, “My Life,” holds a special connection to where I am now in my own life.

Music was (Mary’s) coping mechanism to escape the realities of her childhood – just like it was mine.

Watching the film, I see myself in her pain, trauma and the whirlwind to find her footing in her career. I can relate when she reflects on her personal connection to the 1976 Roy Ayers ubiquity hit  “Everybody Loves The Sunshine.” Music was her coping mechanism to escape the realities of her childhood – just like it was mine.

“ “My Life in the Sunshine,” that  record made me feel something … I could have something … I couldn’t get my hands on it but it was something I wanted,” Blige says in the film.

I relate to this because throughout my childhood and early 20s, I wanted to change things I had no control over. Often making it harder on myself by being consumed by my circumstances – whether that was a living situation or insecurities I was feeling over that situation instead of accepting and understanding that they were all temporary situations and would eventually change.

In the film Mary shares how going through growing pains in the public eye, she didn’t’t love herself and just focused on surviving. “For a long time, I didn’t know I was successful on the outside because I was a wreck on the inside,” she says.

Like Mary’s journey, I’ve had to go back and figure out what I want for my life rather than just accept what’s happening around me.

Like Mary’s journey, I’ve had to go back and figure out what I want for my life rather than just accept what’s happening around me. When the singer is watching a tape of her younger self, she gets emotional on-screen sharing that “she didn’t know she was mean.” This was painful for me because my outlook on life until now has been a reflection of how angry I was about my past, when I longed for guidance, was full of insecurity and refused to accept people and some relationships for who and what they were.

Now at 25, I’ve unearthed a lot that I was unaware that I was holding onto in the first place. I’ve spent a lot of time in survival mode, because it’s all I knew. Reading is one of the main vessels that helped in gaining this understanding. In the book, “After The Rain,” author Alex Elle writes, “Healing doesn’t stop until you die.” While that’s a bit morbid, it rings true of not only my personal journey in life, but everyone’s.  

Another artist’s musical work that impacted me in this way is rapper Nicki Minaj.

Her “Beam Me Up Scotty” mixtapecame out 12 years ago at a time in my life when music was the biggest thing to me.  Songs like “Can Anybody Hear Me” , “Still I Rise” and “Go Hard” featuring Lil Wayne meant something to me because they were honest about her journey as a woman and artist. At that time her mixtapes represented a style and confidence that young women wanted to copy. Similar to how many felt about Mary.

One of my favourite songs from her “Sucka Free” mixtape is “Autobiography.” Her ability to talk to her younger self, forgive herself and be transparent on a song was something I hadn’t seen before from a female rapper.

Beyond music, Nicki’s bangs, pink hair and girly Barbie-like persona made me love her. The rapper’s style is opposite to all the 90s fashion and looks we love from Mary, but both women are living examples of how despite struggles and flaws art can be used to create something that’s bigger than circumstances.

I’m still learning how to do that. Forgiveness, vulnerability and building self-worth aren’t things that come naturally to me. I’m still building these muscles, but I’m not hiding from myself anymore. I’m building a life I no longer want to escape from by figuring out my needs and wants, letting go of guilt and learning how to set boundaries, I create my own definition of what self-love means for  me.

I take responsibility for myself and practice what Mary says is the key to making it through to the other side of life: “The only thing that’s gonna fix your life is you learning to love yourself.”

Photo by Alex Green from Pexels

Gabrielle Austin is a writer who is passionate about all things film, TV, music and culture related. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism at Humber College after receiving her Advanced Diploma in 2016. When she’s not looking for her next writing idea, you can probably find her watching some kind of reality show or reading a book.

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