Gabourey Sidibe’s Wonderful Speech On Confidence From the Ms. Foundation Gala
I’m so excited to be here. Really, really excited. Okay, I’ll get to it. Hi. One of the first things people usually ask me is, “Gabourey, how are you so confident?” I hate that. I always wonder if that’s the first thing they ask Rihanna when they meet her. “RiRi! How are you so confident?” Nope. No. No. But me? They ask me with that same incredulous disbelief every single time. “You seem so confident! How is that?”
When I was ten years, in the fifth grade, my teacher, Miss Lowe had announced that my class would be having a holiday party right before the Christmas break. She asked if we all could all bring snacks or soda or juice to the class party. She also said we had the option of cooking something, if we like. I was so excited. I immediately decided that I would make gingerbread cookies, and that everyone would love them. I told my mom my plan, and I asked her for money to go buy the ingredients. She thought I should just buy store-bought cookies, but I told her, “Those cookies didn’t have enough love in them!” I had to make the cookies. So I bought the mix, and I bought cookie cutters in the shape of Christmas trees and bells, and I made a practice batch of cookies that went horribly wrong. Good thing they were a practice batch. They were awful. And then the night before the party, I made another batch of cookies. And they were also awful, but they looked a lot better. I carefully put the cookies in a Ziplock bag, so I could take them to school the next day. When I got to school that morning, I could not wait until that party. And I was so proud of those cookies, and all the effort I put into making them, I started to think that maybe I wouldn’t just be the first woman black President — maybe I would also be a celebrity chef! I mean, why limit myself?
The party was set to take place during the last hour of school, and I waited excitedly for it all day long. Finally, it was party time. My teacher asked what everyone brought, and I proudly announced that I had baked cookies for the class. I think I felt prouder knowing that everyone else just bought stuff. I was the only one who made anything, because clearly, I’m a little more clever than anyone else. So as the party starts up, I walk around the class, proudly offering cookies to everyone. No one took a cookie. No one. No one except Nicholas, who was the first person I offered one to. But after a few of our other classmates set him straight, he actually caught up with me as I walked around the class, and gave the cookie back. I walked around the class trying to hand out cookies to my class, until I ended up back at my desk with the same amount of cookies that I started with. I sat at my desk alone, eating those gross gingerbread cookies that took hours to make, all by myself. I put chocolate chips in them, that’s why they were gross. I wasn’t surprised. I just forgot for a moment that my entire class hated me. I had zero friends from the fourth grade to the sixth grade. Who the hell was I baking cookies for? I really got so excited to bake that I had forgotten that everyone hated my guts. Why didn’t they like me? I was fat, yes. I had darker skin and weird hair, yes. But the truth is, this isn’t a story about bulling, or color, or weight. They hated me because… I was an asshole!
Yep. I was a bossy, bossy asshole. See, remember when I said that I thought I was more clever than everyone else? Well, I did! And I told them that — every single day! Those kids couldn’t get a word in edgewise, without me cutting them off to remind them that I was smarter, funnier, and all around wittier than them. I was always sarcastic — I called it my birth defect. And let’s face it, kids don’t get sarcasm. They don’t appreciate it. They never knew what I was talking about. And when they would say, “Wait… huh?” I would say, “My God, Alicia, read a book!” I know. I spoke differently than them, I just did. I sounded more like a Valley Girl than a Brooklyn girl. My classmates always asked me if I was adopted by white people. I’d say, “No. Both my parents went to college.” I know that was rude, but I’m still really proud of that. To be fair, in my neighborhood, not everyone’s parents had the opportunity to go to college. Most of my classmates’ parents were teens when they had them. My parents had me at age 30. My father was born in Senegal. His father was the mayor of the capital city, Dakar, and my dad often took my brother and I back home with him to visit Africa, while most of my classmates had never stepped out of the Lower East Side. My mother was a teacher in high school, that’s why I went there, but my mom also had a voice, so when I was nine, she quit her teaching job to go sing in the subway. She actually made more money as a singer for tips than she made as a teacher! I know! And she was quickly becoming the underground version of Whitney Houston. She was the strongest, smartest, and most talented person I had ever known. Even today, I don’t want to grow up to be anyone as much as I want to grow up to be her. I know!
The point is, I was a snob. I thought I was better than the kids in my class, and I let them know it. That’s why they didn’t like me. I think the reason I thought so highly of myself all the time was because no one else ever did. I figured out I was smart because my mother would yell at my older brother. She’d say, “Your little sister is going to pass you in school. You’re going to get left behind and she’s going to graduate before you.” But she never said to me, “You are smart.” What she did say was, “You are too fat.” I got the message that I wasn’t pretty, and I probably wasn’t normal, but I was smart! Why wouldn’t they just say that? “You’re smart.” It’s actually not that hard. My dad would yell at my brother, “Gabourey does her homework by herself! Why can’t you?” But he never said to me, “Good job.” What he did say was, “You need to lose weight so I can be proud of you.” I know. So I got made fun of at school, I got made fun of at home too, my older brother hated me, my dad just didn’t understand me, and my mom, who had been a fat girl at my age herself, understood me perfectly … but she berated me because she was so afraid of what she knew was to come for me. So I never felt safe when I was at home. And my response was always to eat more, because nothing says, “You hurt my feelings. Fuck you!” like eating a delicious cookie. Cookies never hurt me.
"Gabourey, how are you so confident?" It’s not easy. It’s hard to get dressed up for award shows and red carpets when I know I will be made fun of because of my weight. There’s always a big chance if I wear purple, I will be compared to Barney. If I wear white, a frozen turkey. And if I wear red, that pitcher of Kool-Aid that says, "Oh, yeah!" Twitter will blow up with nasty comments about how the recent earthquake was caused by me running to a hot dog cart or something. And "Diet or Die?" [She gives the finger to that] This is what I deal with every time I put on a dress. This is what I deal with every time someone takes a picture of me. Sometimes when I’m being interviewed by a fashion reporter, I can see it in her eyes, “How is she getting away with this? Why is she so confident? How does she deal with that body? Oh my God, I’m going to catch fat!”
What I would say, is my mom moved my brother and I to my aunt’s house. Her name is Dorothy Pitman Hughes, she is a feminist, an activist, and a lifelong friend of Gloria Steinem. Every day, I had to get up and go to school where everyone made fun of me, and I had to go home to where everyone made fun of me. Every day was hard to get going, no matter which direction I went. And on my way out of the house, I found strength. In the morning on the way out to the world, I passed by a portrait of my aunt and Gloria together. Side by side they stood, one with long beautiful hair and one with the most beautiful, round, Afro hair I had ever seen, both with their fists held high in the air. Powerful. Confident. And every day as I would leave the house… I would give that photo a fist right back. And I’d march off into battle. [She starts crying] I didn’t know that I was being inspired then. On my way home, I’d walk back up those stairs, I’d give that photo the fist again, and continue my march back in for more battle. [She pulls a tissue from her cleavage and dabs her eyes] That’s what boobs are for! I didn’t know I was being inspired then, but I was. If they could feel like that, maybe I could! I just wanted to look that cool. But it made me feel that strong.
So, okay, we’re back in fifth grade, and I just had been rejected by 28 kids in a row. And I was sitting alone at my desk, with an empty Ziplock bag, crumbs in my lap, and I was at this great party that I had waited for all week. I waited all week for this party that I wasn’t invited to. And for some reason I got up, I sat on my desk, and I partied my ass off. I laughed loudly when something funny happened. And when Miss Lowe put on music, I was one of the first ones to get up and dance. I joined the limbo, and ate chips, and drank soda, and I enjoyed myself, even though no one wanted me there. You know why? I told you — I was an asshole! I wanted that party! And what I want trumps what 28 people want me to do, especially when what they want me to do is leave. I had a great time. I did. And if I somehow ruined my classmates’ good time, then that’s on them. “How are you so confident?” “I’m an asshole!” Okay? It’s my good time, and my good life, despite what you think of me. I live my life, because I dare. I dare to show up when everyone else might hide their faces and hide their bodies in shame. I show up because I’m an asshole, and I want to have a good time. And my mother and my father love me. They wanted the best life for me, and they didn’t know how to verbalize it. And I get it. I really do. They were better parents to me than they had themselves. I’m grateful to them, and to my fifth grade class, because if they hadn’t made me cry, I wouldn’t be able to cry on cue now. [Dabs tears] If I hadn’t been told I was garbage, I wouldn’t have learned how to show people I’m talented. And if everyone had always laughed at my jokes, I wouldn’t have figured out how to be so funny. If they hadn’t told me I was ugly, I never would have searched for my beauty. And if they hadn’t tried to break me down, I wouldn’t know that I’m unbreakable. [Dabs tears] So when you ask me how I’m so confident, I know what you’re really asking me: how could someone like me be confident? Go ask Rihanna, asshole!
When you meet a man in the doorway of a Mexican restaurant who later kisses you while explaining that this kiss doesn’t “mean anything” because, much as he likes you, he is not interested in having a relationship with you or anyone right now, just laugh and kiss him back. Your daughter will have his sense of humor. Your son will have his eyes.
The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.
One Christmas at the very beginning of your twenties when your mother gives you a warm coat that she saved for months to buy, don’t look at her skeptically after she tells you she thought the coat was perfect for you. Don’t hold it up and say it’s longer than you like your coats to be and too puffy and possibly even too warm. Your mother will be dead by spring. That coat will be the last gift she gave you. You will regret the small thing you didn’t say for the rest of your life.
It’s hard to say why, in one of the most eventful periods of my life I’ve had so little to share. Near death experience, career-changing developments, invaluable life-lessons, they’ve all happened between the last time I was on this platform and now. But somehow, I didn’t feel the need to share them, and that’s ok. But what I did tell myself is that the first thing that really moves me is the first thing I will post this year. And I finally found it.
So I was recently introduced to an amazing website called Dear Photograph run by Taylor Jones. Basically it’s a portal of old photographs with a twist. Here’s how it works. People take an old photograph (usually from their childhood), then go back to the exact location where the picture was taken, hold up the photograph in-situ and take a photo of that (sounds complex I know, but it isn’t). Lastly, they write a short note to that new photograph starting with the words Dear Photograph. It’s a truly amazing concept and it’s no wonder why so many people have taken a liking to it and posted photos, the captions are also beautiful (see some examples below). In fact, so popular has the site become that Taylor Jones has just released a book with the same title, featuring some of the best photos from the website. Do as I did, check out www.dearphotograph.com and buy the book.
After some time you learn the difference, The subtle difference between holding a hand and chaining a soul. And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning, And company doesn’t always mean security. And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts, And presents aren’t promises. And you begin to accept your defeats, With your head up and your eyes ahead, With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child. And you learn to build all your roads on today, Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans, And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight. After a while you learn, That even the sun burns if you get too much, And learn that it doesn’t matter how much you do care about, Some people simply don’t care at all. And you accept that it doesn’t matter how good a person is, She will hurt you once in a while, And you need to forgive her for that. You learn that talking can relieve emotional pain. You discover that it takes several years to build a relationship based on confi dence, And just a few seconds to destroy it. And that you can do something just in an instant, And which you will regret for the rest of your life. You learn that the true friendships, Continue to grow even from miles away. And that what matters isn’t what you have in your life, But who you have in your life. And that good friends are the family, Which allows us to choose. You learn that we don’t have to switch our friends, If we understand that friends can also change. You realize that you are your best friend, And that you can do do anything, or nothing, And have good moments together. You discover that the people who you most care about in your life, Are taken from you so quickly, So we must always leave the people who we care about with lovely words, It may be the last time we see them. You learn that the circunstances and the enviroment have influence upon us, But we are responsible for ourselves. You start to learn that you should not compare yourself with others, But with the best you can be. You discover that it takes a long time to become the person you wish to be, And that the time is short. You learn that it doesn’t matter where you have reached, But where you are going to. But if you don’t know where you are going to, Anywhere will do. You learn that either you control your acts, Or they shall control you. And that to be flexible doesn’t mean to be weak or not to have personality, Because it doesn’t matter how delicate and fragile the situation is, There are always two sides. You learn that heroes are those who did what was necessary to be done, Facing the consequences. You learn that patience demands a lot of practice. You discover that sometimes, The person who you most expect to be kicked by when you fall, Is one of the few who will help you to stand up. You learn that maturity has more to do with the kinds of experiences you had And what you have learned from them, Than how many birthdays you have celebrated. You learn that there are more from you parents inside you than you thought. You learn that we shall never tell a child that dreams are silly, Very few things are so humiliating, And it would be a tragedy if she belived in it. You learn that when you are angry, You have the right to be angry, But this doesn’t give you the right to be cruel. You discover that only because someone doesn’t love you the way you would like her to, It doesn’t mean that this person doesn’t love you the most she can, Beacuse there are people who love us, But just don’t know how to show or live that. You learn that sometimes it isn’t enough being forgiven by someone, Sometimes you have to learn how to forgive yourself. You learn that with the same harshness you judge, Some day you will be condemned. You learn that it doesn’t matter in how many pieces your heart has been broken, The world doesn’t stop for you to fix it. You learn that time isn’t something you can turn back, Therefore you must plant your own garden and decorate your own soul, Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers. And you learn that you really can endure. You really are strong . And you can go so farther than you thougt you could go. And that life really has a value. And you have value within the life. And that our gifts are betrayers, And make us lose The good we could conquer, If it wasn’t for the fear of trying.
Beyond social contract, YOU are beautiful. YOU are good. YOU belong. When you were small, you should have been told how beautiful and wonderful you were. That your hair, face, body and mind were just as they should be. That no one is better or worse than you because of what they have or how they look. You should have been held in the arms of your parents and felt safe and loved. You should have been protected from ugly words and physical violence. You should have been told that as long as you didn’t hurt yourself or others, you could be and do whatever you wanted, as long as it made you happy. That if you made a mistake, you would be forgiven. You should have been made to feel that all the things that make you different from another human being are simply the beautiful puzzle pieces which come together to make YOU. You should have been told that it doesn’t matter WHO you love as long as you LOVE. You should have been told that you are important and the world wouldn’t be the same without you. That if you put your mind to it, you could do ANYTHING. That being a success is defined by YOU and YOUR personal happiness. And lastly, if at this time someone hurt you and never apologized, I want to do it for them: I am sorry.