Gabourey Sidibe was told by three different psychics on three different occasions that she would someday become famous. They didn’t know how, when, or why, only that she would someday be a household name, even famous enough to meet Oprah. There was something in her eyes, they said, something about the confidence with which she carried herself, that would someday make her a superstar.
As it turned out, those psychics were right, and Gabourey Sidibe has been on the fast track to stardom ever since her breakout role as the titular character in the 2009 film Precious. However, her journey was one filled with uncertainty and fear that she admits she’s only recently begun to overcome.
In her memoir, This is Just My Face, Sidibe talks about her unconventional childhood as the daughter of a subway singer mother and a polygamous father, her struggles with anxiety, depression, and bulimia, and her thoughtful and sharp-witted thoughts on the human experience as she wrestles with who she is versus who she thinks she should be.
The Big Idea: Be your Beautiful, Weird Self
Sidibe’s story is one drenched in self-doubt. From the moment her father, a Senegalese immigrant and cab driver, joked about putting the electric bill in her name, she’d never known a time she wasn’t stressed about money. She grew up in a home with parents who didn’t love each other, and suffered abuse from her controlling and stern father, who would eventually marry his cousin behind his family’s back. When her parents separated, she lived with her mother and brother in a single room of her aunt’s house. They would later move into a two-bedroom apartment, where her mother would sleep in the living room, for most of Sidibe’s adult life.
When people would tell Sidibe they admired her confidence, she couldn’t see what they saw. Her own mind was filled with so much anxiety and doubt that she couldn’t believe that she had a shred of confidence. For most of her life, she did what others wanted her to do. She went to college, though psychological problems led her to flunk out. She got a job (as a phone sex operator), but wanted more out of life and knew she was capable of it. She craved independence and happiness but was too scared to reach for the opportunities that would grant her those things.
It wasn’t until she started to accept herself and her self-prescribed weirdness that Sidibe started to feel the confidence that others saw in her. When she embraced her size, her style, and her awkwardness, life suddenly felt less daunting. Her problems didn’t go away—neither fame nor fortune made her family less fractured, nor did it cure her depression—but having a firm foundation of self-esteem made those problems easier to deal with.
The Takeaway: Using Fear As a Tool
When Sidibe would shrink away from uncomfortable encounters or opportunities, she missed out on things. She almost missed her chance to be Precious, had it not been for a coincidence putting her on the side of town where auditions were taking place.
But leaning into those awkward moments and powering through them ultimately helped her grow as a person. Fearing for her life gave her the strength to get help for her depression and bulimia, even when her family didn’t understand. Fear also gave her the strength to get laparoscopic surgery when her weight was affecting her health.
Some fears can be damaging. Being afraid of what other people think about her has been a problem plaguing Sidibe for her whole life, especially now that her life is under the constant scrutiny of the public. She plans every social media post with utmost care and obsessively checks notifications for both positive and negative comments.
However, her damaging fear of public opinion has also become a learning opportunity for her. The constant barrage of hateful comments she receives has taught her that she can’t control what people think or say about her, but she can control how it makes her feel. She can also control her response; where she might have once retaliated against trolls, she now simply blocks them.
How can fear help you today?