Award-winning photojournalist Miki Turner has just the thing you need if one of your New Year’s resolutions is to grow in self-esteem. Her new book, Journey to the Woman I’ve Come to Love, combines engaging photographs with inspirational quotes from a diverse array of 91 women on how they developed complete self-acceptance. Turner asked each woman: At what point did you fall in love with yourself? You will be amazed by the answers. And while you will recognize famous faces such as Sanaa Lathan, Halle Berry, Angelina Jolie and more in the tome, there are also everyday executives, activists and others who are just as inspiring. TheGrio caught up with the author, whose work has appeared in Essence and Ebony among many other outlets, to discuss how her book can help you appreciate every aspect of your being.
Your book was inspired by your own journey to self-love. How did you learn to love yourself?
It was just so organic. I grew up in a situation where actually it was not taught. It came through a series of personal accomplishments and certainly I think going to an HBCU [historically black college or university] helped accelerate that process. I grew up in a very affluent, predominately white community. Going from that extreme to Hampton was challenging, but at the same time really helped me get a sense of who I was, and that’s when I started to love myself.
Was learning to love yourself a gradual process?
It was very gradual. I was a late bloomer in terms of my career. While all my other friends coming out of college were stepping into these great situations, I had to struggle a little bit to find my footing. That didn’t happen until I was about 32 and went to work for the Oakland Tribune and became the first African-American female to be a [regularly featured] sports columnist at a major metropolitan daily. Just to get the response from the community, because I was doing something that had some novelty to it, really helped me gain my confidence, come to terms with myself and love myself.
How did you come to pick such a big array of inspirational figures for your book, ranging from Angela Davis to Halle Berry?
Angela was someone who was kind of a “chance-random.” I had been assigned to interview her. I was talking to her, and then all of a sudden, I thought, “Wow, she should be in the book.” So, I asked her the question at the end of the interview, and she graciously responded. Halle is someone I have known for so long. She was going to be a natural in it.
A lot of the celebrity encounters who were not friends of mine were people I ran into at events, or on assignment. I was trying to make it as diverse as possible[.] There were a couple of people who said they would do it and they wanted money for hair and makeup, and I was like, “This is not that type of party.”
Is there is a specific quality that unites the women who did participate?
The first criteria is that they all had to be over 36, because we theorized that women who are under 36 aren’t quite sure of who they are. At 36 usually you are doing well professionally. If having the husband and kids is the thing you wanted, you usually have that going. You’re pretty much a more complete person. But there are a couple of African women I met, one in Morocco, and one in South Africa, who were under that age, and they were so mature. Their responses were so awesome that I had to include them.
The other thing is, there was a woman I was going to put in, and I even shot her and she looked at her shots and said, “Oh, this is what I was afraid of. This is what I look like now.” And I was like, “You’re not ready for this book,” because basically, the shots are not glam shots. I don’t want you to look at yourself and think, “Oh, I hate it,” or “I hate me.” That wasn’t going to work.
The images are very warm, but also very basic. What kind of statement are you making with this style?
That ties into the premise of this book, in that you should just love yourself as you are[.] There are some women who were all made up, because they were getting ready to do an event or something like Nichelle Nichols. Even her, she didn’t have on a lot of paint, and that’s actually one of the best shots in the book.
What are the critical elements of self-love?
Good question. First of all, you just really have to love yourself as you are. We all wake up in the morning looking a different way, and if we are fortunate and lucky, we have makeup people to make us look a slightly different way. But you’ve got to love the girl behind the paint. And, I think that you have to get to a point — this goes back to the 36-year-old thing — where you just don’t give a damn about what people say about you. You get to a point when you stop sweating the small stuff. Once you start doing that, you start to develop an immense love for yourself, because it’s all about your confidence. It’s all about your own little swagger.
And, I think Angela Davis said it best… “The moment you realize that you’re not as important as the overall community.” You need to go out and help somebody. And in doing that, you will develop a unique love for yourself.
Do you have a favorite story among the many tales of women journeying to self-love?
Probably Robin Roberts[.] I love the part when she was talking about her bald head, and going on national TV. That’s the point where she fell in love with herself.
Older black women typically told me that they fell in love with themselves at a very young age, because their fathers told them that they were the best thing ever.
You’ve made your career as a journalist, which requires an objective approach. What made you decide to tackle this softer subject?
I’ve spent the bulk of my career in sports and entertainment, and burned out on sports early on. Entertainment has kind of run its course, too. Fortunately, working in entertainment has afforded me the opportunity to get a lot of these women that are in the book. But, I wanted to do something that was a little bit more significant. I thought that this would be something that people would have on their coffee tables or on their bookshelves forever and ever, because these messages aren’t going to change. It’s a timeless thing.