Indoctrination, according to Webster, means to “imbue with a usually partisan or sectarian opinion, point of view, or principle.” Until recent years, plus sized women in America have been indoctrinated to believe that their bodies are something prohibitive – a roadblock on their journey to self-improvement, self-sufficiency, or most importantly self love. In the music industry, where confidence and one’s ability to sell themselves is key, this is particularly problematic. Because for many women of size trying to make it in the business, an inevitable war with the self must take place – one that dredges up years of bullying, shame, and even repressed memories. This means a total rejecting; a total de-programming of the self-hate narrative is necessary. And that’s going to require a kind of rebellion, a defiance of the systematic prejudice against women of size, in order to reach a place of healing and true confidence.
Deonna Nichole is an actress, singer, and healer from the Bay Area of Northern California. As a jazz musician’s daughter that loves pop and metal, former religious school student turned Reiki practitioner, and fiercely passionate body-positive advocate, she’s somewhat of a rebel indeed (even down to her bright purple hair). From the moment she walks in my door, it’s pretty clear she’s the kind of person that enjoys defying convention. “The kind of music I want to sing is definitely something that’s a crossover between folk, jazz, and something with an edge of musical theater brightness like Sara Bareilles. Growing up being a big black girl, I was supposed to just have this booming, belty, gospel-y, Mahalia Jackson kind of sound and that was a problem for me because I was listening to *NSYNC and Britney Spears in sixth grade.”
While we sit on my couch, she tells me about thought beliefs, the notion of abundance, and energies. “If you haven’t noticed I’m a very metaphysical person”, she giggles. And unlike the vast majority of us who found sisterhood in the plus sized bodies on Instagram, Deonna was finding it in books, movies, and strange corners of the internet years before the app even existed. Her foray into the world of body positivity grew out of total necessity and began well before it was fashionable.
Like so many women, Deonna’s relationship with her body was complicated growing up. “When I was in the 8th grade, I attempted to overdose on weight loss pills… I was so emotionally distressed and I just wanted it to be over and that’s what I did. I did it at school. I didn’t wait ‘til I got home. I just decided to do it. I had like a whole week’s worth of samples in my bag, and I took them–all of them. Quietly, I went to the bathroom and I took them, and then I went back into my class. And then I was feeling horrible, and I told [my friend] what I did, and I asked her to see if her mom could take me home. Because at that point I was just retching…I couldn’t stop throwing up and some part of me knew I would be fine, I was just miserable.” This story, unfortunately, is too common among women suffering under the crippling pressure to be thin. “That whole feeling of being accepted by people was so heavy…it was heavier than the numbers on that scale…It was like being stuck in quicksand where I was just emotionally killing myself. We were so suffocated by the world’s perceptions of what it is to be fat at 11, 12, 13 years old that we didn’t even understand the possibility that a fat woman could be confidant in who she is and think that she’s beautiful.” It wasn’t long after this incident that Deonna began seeking out representations of that kind of woman. She found comfort in films like Mo’Nique’s Fat Girls, and the Lena Matthews novel The Blacker the Berry – stories depicting plus-sized woman at the heart of romantic entanglements and in positions of unexpected power.
In 2013, having spent many years in the Bay Area, Deonna finally took the plunge and headed to Los Angeles where she landed in a house full of other musicians. It was there she began cultivating the idea of becoming an artist, after telling herself she’d only made the move to pursue film. “[I came here for] acting primarily, and to find my way through music. Music was always part of the goal, but that’s what I was telling myself…And I realized that at some point in my life I took my greatest dream of being a phenomenal singer and like shut it down and made it really small…I just told myself I couldn’t do it.” And it’s something so very many of us have done. As larger women, we have a way of brushing our struggles under the rug. We deny our dreams to the point that we believe we don’t even have them anymore. What’s worse is we start to feel okay with that. We start accepting it. For Deonna, just acknowledging and referring to herself as a “singer” amongst her musical peers didn’t feel quite right until recent months, despite the burning desire to create her own music for so long. “My seed is my body. Even once I got over my body, it was still the seed that I had planted so many other doubts about myself from.”
While the confidence in her musical journey has come only recently, Deonna’s path in healing has been in progress for some time. And it’s from this place – a place of oneness and openness with the universe – that she seems so firmly rooted. In her YouTube video “Your Mind is the Vehicle,” she discusses the importance of inner dialogues and the power hidden within our everyday thoughts. As I sit with her, listening to her truly beautiful perspectives on how humans exist and move within the world around them, I get the sense that Deonna’s story is one of manifestation. While other aspiring artists may invest their time and money into things like wardrobe or online promo, Deonna Nichole is focused intently on investing energy. She’s very cognizant of where it’s spent – always making sure that’s in a place of abundance and light. As we end our conversation, she gives me a quote that I know immediately will be the close to this article: “I’m like that artist who stares endlessly at a lump of clay, circling it, envisioning its possibilities, imagining what it could be thinking of, where to begin, how to touch, how to approach it, what tools to use to bring out what I see inside. Except, the clay is me, and everything I hold dear in who I want to be and what I want to bring into the world – singing, acting, writing, loving – all the while being stalked by my fears.” I can’t help but relate.
Watch “Your Mind is the Vehicle” on YouTube:
Follow Deonna on Instagram: @iamdeonnanichole