Gabourey Sidibe’s meteoric rise to fame in the film Precious has reached a new level in her career with the release of her new memoir This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare. The trajectory of stardom in her case was neither typical nor expected according to the typology of actresses in classic Hollywood. Her wondrous presence did not fit the mold, and thankfully people recognized her ability in spite of that fact.
Named Gabourey MaLingair Sidibe by her Senegales father who had little love to give because of his own emotional and cultural issues. Her childhood circumstances were not fertile ground for success in life. In fact her milieu was a paradigm of perpetual discomfort. Her mother Alice tried her best to raise Gabourey and her brother Ahmed but home was perpetually unpredictable.
Her dad Ibnou concocted an elaborate ruse while secretly living a polygamist lifestyle that was part and parcel of his Senegalese culture. “Gabby” (as she is often called) and Ahmed were introduced to a woman who was referred to as dad’s cousin who Ibnou brought to America and moved her in to the family apartment. He insisted she was simply his cousin and no more. Ultimately he obtained an apartment for “his cousin/secret wife” and rarely if ever came home. Gabby refers to her dad as “impenetrable and he often hit us to make the point that we belonged to him.”
Mom Alice was “very forgiving” until the situation became untenable. At the age of six, Alice and Ignou got into a huge fight, and he placed a call to the Child Welfare Department claiming Alice had abused the children. Immediately Gabby and Ahmed were separated and sent to different foster homes. Though their stint away from home was only a few weeks, it was then that Alice finally made the decision to take the kids and move.
Alice’s words of wisdom to Gabby were “Don’t let anyone else take your joy. If they don’t want to be with you, let them go,” and she added, “You came into this world by yourself and the next person’s lungs don’t help you breathe.” These profound words would bolster Gabby through many hurtful experiences that included being taunted during most of her young life for being heavy. More than once she was referred to as a “fat black bitch.”
Gabby has endured a lifelong struggle with an eating disorder, body image, and bouts of depression. She refers to these battles as “my personal 911.” Even now after achieving fame she is ridiculed by people on social media with cruel comments about her and her weight.
As a young woman Gabby’s struggles with her career were ongoing as well. She worked as a phone sex worker. As she explains it, “My instincts had been telling me to pursue something else-art- but my fear had been louder.”
But eventually she tried her hand at acting and the rest as they say, is history. After such a bleak upbringing it was unfathomable that she would meet people like Oprah Winfrey, but she has. Her life now is rich with meaning, though not without some of the same struggles with self-esteem.
As a writer her informal, chatty style engenders a kinship with both her struggles and triumphs. She speaks directly to the reader and welcomes them in to her private thoughts and dreams.
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