Graphic by Kelsey Dowling
Once upon a time, a round-faced girl with curly hair and identity issues was told by someone (that genuinely loved her) that she was not “model pretty” like her sister but that she could be “mother pretty”.
Now, this devastated the little girl because while she had no true ambitions of being a model she also didn’t want to be a mother and had spent much of her life feeling that she would only be loved because of her usefulness. Why had Fates blessed her sister with a slender frame and Esmerelda locks that the world would admire. Only to make her an over-opinionated people pleaser akin to a puzzle you’d find at Gabe’s with pieces that don’t quite fit.
So she told herself lies. And they were good lies, the kind of lies that a girl could believe into womanhood. She rejected suitors (including the future homecoming king). Telling herself that it was a part of a mean joke designed to humiliate her. She told herself that she was less than average and less than loveable. She became jaded and obsessed with the thought of looking like the girls she envied.
As she got older she made sure to work in places that kept her on her feet and she prayed at the church of Hydroxycut daily. And then as the girl was about to reach her 20’s something amazing happened! It seemed like the lies were working and the girl became thinner! Armed with Bianca Johnsons’ fake id she’d reached the coveted holy grail of love and admiration. FREE DRINKS! What could be better she thought between hangovers?
This was okay for a while until the question took on a new meaning… Really something HAD to be better because she didn’t feel loved or even particularly admired. She felt hungry and tired like all of the time. She felt self-conscious and insecure. Her body was slimmer but in a cold war. Her cycle stopped. She got migraines that lasted for hours. Not to mention her stomach felt fawked and she didn’t enjoy the company of most of the people buying the drinks.
So the girl committed to new lies and decided she was just not meant to be a hot girl. And as luck would have it she met a boy working on insecurities that would match her own. Soon they fell in love with each other’s imperfections and she plotted ways to support his dreams (because shit, someone might as well get what they want). Late one night the boy had a vision of country roads and mountain tops and because they didn’t know better they decided to move to WV.
The world got bigger for the girl as she traveled through the strange land. Here was an entire state that seemed to have an identity issue. Surrounded on all sides with seemingly more attractive sisters and really only known for its usefulness. Still there was a wicked sense of humor set in the very FU shape of its border lines. She began to see the undeniable beauty of West Virginia and the girl would fall in love again and again as she began to know the native people of this paradoxical place.
The girl made new friends. A beautiful kaleidoscope of new perspectives and personalities that embraced the girl with open arms. But ultimately it was the women who saved the girl from her self hate. The most interesting women in the world live in WV. Women who were mothers, women who were models, and some that were both! She made friends with women that challenged her thinking on why one type of woman should be more valuable than the other. She met women that made her feel loved and admired, and even bought her free drinks.
Then a very strange thing happened. The kind of thing that makes your stomach turn. The girl realized that some of these ladies had been living with their own nasty lies and that made the girl very sad. She realized that there were generations of women and girls that felt small trying to earn their value through their looks or their service.
The girl thought long and hard about what to do and finally decided she must become a woman. A special kind of woman that loved herself unconditionally and unapologetically. She would treat her body well. She would fill her mind up with good thoughts and she would fill her schedule with good people. If only to ensure that there would be more of those women in the world. She would do her best to set an example and to support the women around her. In fact she would make it her life’s work. She would shape herself like her adopted state into a middle finger to the thoughts and people that made her question her value.
And so the girl sat at the top of a trail that overlooked the city she loved, thinking of all of her mountain mamas and dreaming about the wild and wonderful woman she would work to become.
* Based on a true story.
Angelica Gilleran is a West Virginia transplant who has been wild and wonderful in the mountain state for 7 years proving that anything is possible in West Virginia for a Black woman in central Appalachia. She is the founder and owner of Strong Rapport where she helps her client grow their digital marketing footprint and brand development. Her skills stem from her belief that in order to excel we must prioritize serving others. In this capacity she has worked with American Idol finalists, Vogue featured fashion designers, real (fossilized) dinosaurs.
Her creativity excels not just in her business but also as a performer who starred in the independent film The River of Hope, and currently performs on live TV as the real-life Lady Luck for the WV Lottery. Anjelica lives in Charleston, WV and enjoys spending time with her husband, staying involved with her local community, and loving her two fur children.