Gabourey Sidibe: I Show Up When Others Might Be Ashamed
Feb 15, 2018
When Gabourey Sidibe talks about confidence she wants to make one thing perfectly clear. "When you ask me how I'm so confident, I know what you're really asking: How could someone like me be confident?" the actor, director and author told more than 500 guests at the MAKERS Conference in L.A.
Here's the thing—Sidibe doesn't have a sob story about "bullying, or color or weight," she says.
"I actually had zero friends from fourth grade to sixth grade. Why didn't they like me? Well, I was fat. That's true. I still am. I had dark skin and weird hair. I still do. But the truth is ... they hated me because I was an a--hole, like a pompous a--hole," Sidibe confessed during her live monologue that was part of the Real.Life.Stories. series produced and directed by Kathy Najimy. "Those kids couldn't get couldn't get a word in edgewise without me cutting them off and reminding them that I was smarter, I was funnier, I was wittier."
The actress defied assumptions that she had to build confidence because of her appearance. In her case, it was the exact opposite: She grew up self-assured and no one could convince her to think less of herself.
"I spoke so highly of myself all the time is because no one else ever did," Sidibe says. And she was never afraid to declare what she wanted or what she felt she deserved. "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 anyone else might hide their face and their entire body in shame," she says. "I show up because I want to have a good time."
And to all of the people who question her ambition, who troll her when she's on the red carpet, who told her she didn't deserve to feel proud because of her weight or her skin, Sidibe wants to say give you a shout-out.
"If I hadn't been told that I was garbage, I wouldn't have learned how to show people that I'm talented! If everyone had always laughed at all of my jokes, I wouldn't have figured out how to be so funny! If they hadn't told me that I was ugly, I never would've searched for my beauty. Andif they hadn't tried to break me down, I wouldn't know that I'm f***ing unbreakable."
Read her full remarks below:
"One of the first things people ask me is, Gabourey how are you so confident? I always wonder if that's the first thing they ask Rihanna when they meet her. Ri-Ri, how are you so confident? Of course not. Everybody knows why Rihanna is confident. She's beautiful. But me? Constantly.
And they always ask the same, incredulous disbelief every, single time. You seem so confident. How is that? So what is with all this unwarranted confidence? Well when I was about 10 years old and in the fifth grade, that was me. I know, I was stunning.
When I was in fifth grade my teacher, Mrs. Loeb, announced that my class would be having a holiday party right before Christmas break. And she asked that we all bring snacks, and soda, and juice to share with class for the party. She also said that we have the option of cooking something for the class if we wanted to. And I was super, super excited, OK?
I immediately decided that I was going to bake gingerbread cookies and that everyone was going to love them. Right? So I told my mom my plan. And I asked her for money so that I can buy the ingredients. And she thought I should just, like, buy some cookies. But I told her that look, store bought cookies just don't have love in them. And so they had to be homemade.
So I bought the mix and cookie cutters in the shape of like bells and Christmas trees—like Christmas-y stuff, you know? And I made a practice batch of cookies that went horribly wrong, like really, really bad. But the good thing is that they were just a practice batch. And so the night before the party, I made the hero batch. And they were still terrible, but they looked a lot better. So, doing good.
So I carefully put them all into a giant Ziploc bag and I stashed them for the party, the next day. When I got to school in the morning, I just, like, could not wait until that party. I was so proud of those cookies and all of the effort and the love that I put right into them, you know? And you know, they were really pretty.
And I was starting to think you know, maybe I wouldn't just be the first black female president. You know? Like, maybe I'd also be a celebrity chef. I mean, like, why should I limit myself? Right?
So the party was set to take place during the last hour of school. And I waited excitedly for that party all day long. So finally, it's the last hours school. And it was finally party time. And my teacher asked what every one brought. And I proudly announce that I baked cookies for the class. I was even prouder knowing that, like, everyone else just bought stuff. OK? I was the only one who actually made anything because I'm just, like, a little more clever than most people. You know? It was like a little, like, a better person, you know?
So as the party starts, I walk around the class and I proudly offer up these cookies to every single person in the class. And no one took a cookie—no one. No one, except for Nicholas. He was the first person I offered 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 he gave the cookie back. That's shade, right?
But I continued my walk around the class until I ended up back at my desk with the same amount of cookies that I'd started out with. And I just sat at my desk alone, eating those gross gingerbread cookies that took me hours to make. And I ate them all by myself.
You know, I wasn't surprised. I just sort of forgot for a moment that everyone in my entire class actually hated me. I didn't have any friends at all. I actually had zero friends from fourth grade to sixth grade. I mean, who the hell was I making cookies for? I really just got so excited to bake that I'd forgotten that everyone hated my guts.
Why didn't they like me? Well, I was fat. That's true. I still am. I had dark skin and weird hair. I still do. But the truth is, this isn't a story about bullying or color or weight. They hated me because I was an asshole—like a real asshole, like a pompous asshole you guys, I swear. So like remember back a few minutes ago when I said that I thought I was like a little bit cleverer and like a better person than most? I did believe that. And I told them that every single day. Really, those kids couldn't get couldn't get a word in edgewise without me cutting them off and reminding them that I was smarter, I was funnier, I was wittier—just again, a better person.
I was always really sarcastic. I always called sarcasm my birth defect. But you know, kids don't get sarcasm ... Stupid kids.
It's not my fault if you don't get it. I'm just saying. But they never knew what the hell I was talking about. And when they'd say, wait huh? I'd say, my God, Alicia, read a book. Who was I? Asshole, right? I just spoke differently than them. I sounded more like a valley girl than a Brooklyn girl. And my classmates always asked me if I were adopted by white people. And I'd say, oh no. Both of my parents went to college.
And I feel like that's too advanced shade for a child, but I had it. I had it. I was a prodigy. I have to say that 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 actually teenagers when they had them. And my parents were 30 when they had me.
My father was born in Senegal. And his father was the mayor of the capital city, Dekar. And we often went back to Africa with him. My mother was a teacher in my school, which is why I went there. But also, my mom had a really great voice. And so, she was a singer. And when I was nine years old, she quit teaching in order to become a subway singer, full-time. She actually made more money singing in the subway than she ever made as a teacher.
Either way, that equaled out to me being, like, a huge snob. And I just kind of really did think I was better than the kids in my class. It was my duty to let them know that I was better. And that's why they didn't like me, surprisingly. I think the reason I spoke so highly of myself all the time is because no one else ever did. I figured out that I was smart because when my mother yelled at my older brother she'd say, your little sister is going to pass you in school. She's going to graduate before you.
But she never turned to me and said, you are smart. What she did say was, you are fat. I got the message that I might not be pretty. I might not be normal. But I was smart, like, I had that at least. Well, why wouldn't they just say that to me? You're smart. See how easy that was? You're smart.
My dad would yell at my brother and say, Gabourey does her homework by herself. Why can't you? But he never said to me, good job. He said, you need to lose weight so that I can be proud of you. So I got made fun of at school and I got made fun of at home, too.
My older brother hated me. My dad didn't really understand me. And my mother, who was a fat little girl herself at my age, understood me perfectly but she berated me because she was so afraid of the life she thought I would lead. So I only felt safe when I was alone. And my response was always to eat more because nothing says, you hurt my feelings, f--k you, like a delicious cookie.
Gabourey, how are you so confident? It's actually not super easy. It's really hard to get dressed up for award shows and red carpets when I know that I will be made fun of because of my weight. There's always a big chance that if I wear purple, somebody will call me Barney. If I wear white, a frozen turkey. If I wear a red, a pitcher of Kool-Aid.
These are actual tweets I've gotten, you guys. Twitter will blow up with nasty comments about how that recent earthquake was caused by me running to a hot dog cart. This is super shady. I didn't read this, but it's really funny also.
Diet or die, they say. This is what I deal with every time I put on a dress. It's what I deal with every time someone takes a picture of me. Sometimes when I'm being interviewed by a fashion reporter, I can just hear their inner dialogue in their eyes. How is she getting away with this? Why is she so confident? Like, what does she do? How does she deal with that body? Oh my God, that body. Holy s--t, I'm going to catch fat!
When I was eight, my mom moved my brother and I to my aunt's house. Her name is Dorothy Pitman Hughes and she's a feminist, an activist, and a longtime friend of Gloria Steinem. Every day, I had to get up and go to school where everyone made fun of me. And then, I had to go home where everyone made fun of me. And every day, it was really hard to get going no matter which direction I was going.
But on my way out of the house, I found strength. In the morning on my way out into the world, I passed a portrait of my aunt and Gloria together.
Side by side, they stood-- one with long beautiful hair and the other with the roundest afro I've ever seen. They both held their fists really high in the air-- powerful, confident. And everyday, I'd leave the room my mother, my brother, and I shared. And I'd give that photo the fist right back. And I'd march off into battle. And at the end of the day when I walked back up the stairs, I'd give that photo the face again. And I'd continue my march back into more battle. And I didn't really know that I was being inspired, then. But I was. I mean, if-- if they could be that cool and that strong, like, maybe I could too.
So OK, let's go back. We're still in fifth grade. I'd just been rejected by 28 kids in a row. And now, I'm sitting alone at my desk with an empty Ziploc bag, crumbs on my lap because I ate every single one of those gross cookies. I looked at this great party that I had waited all week for that I actually wasn't invited to.
But for some reason, I got up. You know? I got up. I sat on my desk. I laughed really loud when something funny happened. And when my teacher put on music, I was the first one to get up and dance. I joined a limbo contest. And I ate chips and I ate other people's cookies. And I drank soda. And I had the best time ever. And you know why? Because I'm still an asshole. And what I wanted was more important than what those 28 other kids wanted. I wanted a party and they didn't want me to be there. But all I know is, I actually had a super good time.
So how am I so confident? Because it's my good time and my good life, despite what you think of me. I live my life.
I live my life because I dare. I dare to show up still when anyone else might hide their face and their entire body in shame. I show up because I want to have a good time. My mother and my father, they wanted the best for me. And I'm grateful to them. And I'm grateful to my fifth grade class. Because if they hadn't made me cry, I wouldn't be able to cry on cue right now. These are fake tears.
If I hadn't been told that I was garbage, I wouldn't have learned how to show people that I'm talented. If everyone had always laughed at my jokes, I wouldn't have figured out how to be funny. And 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, I wouldn't know that I am fucking unbreakable.
So when you ask me how I'm so confident, I know what you're really asking. How could someone like me be confident? Go ask Rhianna and stop undressing me with your eyes!"