This is something I’ve been dreading for years: Being totally transparent with you about who I am. It’s probably because, up until about two weeks ago, I didn’t really know who that person was. I had a vague idea of who I was (Nice? Smart? A great friend and an ok daughter and sister? A wife?) and who I thought I wanted to be. (Rich? An influencer who gets thousands of likes on Instagram? Someone who Beyoncé knows exists?)
I was much clearer about who I wasn’t. Me and my failings were like THIS. I worshipped them at any and every free moment, feeling their shape and weight like beads on a rosary, petting each one to remind myself that yup, they were still there, and yuuuup, I still wasn’t shit.
It’s a tiring and toxic cycle in general, but especially in this age of social media and comparison and personalities as brands. I had created an image of who the founder of mater mea should be, and even though I am the founder of mater mea, that person looked nothing like me:
She should be a mother.
I’m not a mother to a child yet, and may not be for awhile: After almost a year of trying, my husband Scott and I learned we’ll have to do IVF and recently decided to take a break from the whole process to heal and focus on our relationship. Dealing with infertility (and a whole host of other grown folks’ problems™) can really hurt a marriage, let me tell you.
She should be Black AF.
I have been told—both directly and indirectly—that my diction, my quirks, and my white husband make me decidedly not Black AF. Apparently what would most likely be a 100% African origin 23andme result is null and void once you’ve had a white dick in you. (I’ve checked: The Black Delegation represented in The Shade Room comments is very strict on this.)
She should be confident, slayed to the gods, and slim thicc.
I have no idea how to wear makeup or do my own hair, and I haven’t been slim anything since I discovered beer and late-night $1.25 tacos al pastor circa 2005. And there’s usually an internal monologue in my head that goes “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, have they figured out I’m a fraud yet?”
I had created a false reality where I couldn’t be myself. You’d see me for the disappointment I knew I was, and that you hadn’t discovered yet. So I hid in plain sight. For years I let people think that mater mea was run by a team instead of just one incredibly anxious and burnt-out woman. I hid behind the stories of women who were more successful than me, more confident than me, who were braver than me. I hid behind the mission: I just love telling Black women’s stories, I would say, I’m just a writer. Monetization? Who is that? I don’t know her. I hid behind inconsistency, perfectionism, and the site’s past success.
I was very good at hiding, or so I thought. I told myself that while I wasn’t happy about not being seen, it was better than the alternative—being called out and rejected.
Thankfully, at the end of 2019, I met a woman who introduced me to a personal and professional development workshop called Momentum Education here in New York. It is an overused phrase, but I say this with an earnestness that used to embarass me: Momentum Education changed my life.
Throughout the process, I had a mirror held up to me and how I was choosing to show up in the world, and I did not like it. That my people pleasing—my need to be liked by everyone—meant I didn’t like myself. And my fear of failure meant that I hadn’t really been living my life for me, I had just been existing.
During one of my Momentum classes, a classmate stood in front of the room and said, “FEAR stands for False Evidence Appearing Real.” It struck me: I had all this evidence as to why I should be afraid of being me: being bullied and called ugly for years, being the only daughter and eldest child of Nigerian immigrants, having my first romantic relationship be a very toxic (and, now I can admit, an abusive) one, having my former business partner tell me mater mea would fail if I took it on by myself and and and and…
I was so afraid of living and failing, that I stopped trying. I pulled all of these big traumas and small slights as evidence that I was a failure. That I needed to hide. Even my name was a disguise: My full name is Anthonia Oluwatomi Akitunde, and I went by Tomi until middle school. When I stood up on the first day of 6th grade and said “My name is Tomi Akitunde,” the laughter… the mocking… I started shrinking right then and there. I took it as evidence that who I am was wrong, and crafted an identity that thrived on external validation. I became “Anthonia.”
But was that serving me now?
Was all of that “evidence” going to get me to where I’ve always known I wanted to go, but had been too afraid to reach?
The internal conflict that I had been wrestling with for more than 20 years wasn’t that I was afraid I was worthless. I was afraid of my power.
But thanks to some transformative personal work, I know who I am now.
I am a worthy, courageous, beautiful, and powerful woman. I’m Black AF. And my name is Tomi Akitunde. I’m the founder of mater mea.
It is so nice to finally meet you.