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A letter of self-love by Lebohang ‘Nova’ Masango

In a new series on 10and5, we explore the notion of radical self-love through letters written by South African womxn to themselves. In part three, student, writer, poet and Feminist Stokvel member, Lebohang ‘Nova’ Masango pens herself a letter of scars, memories, anxieties and endless self-love. 

Dear, Nova


You, sad girl wonder with the pretty eyes and heirloom heart, begin with gravity.

The anchorage of your spirit, what guarantees you another day on this earth, is your body. Through it, you’ve lived to experience your favourite time of year again. On the occasions that you remember to venture outside of your own head, leave the work and the worry to itself and step into the sunshine – you’re met with the sight of expectant peach buds, denser leaves on trees and the small beginnings of maroon and green beetroot shoots bursting through the brown soil.

You enjoy these small trips while marvelling at the intensity of life uninterruptedly happening anew each day. You breathe in the freshness of the season and brush your feet against the scorched grass. The sun is like mantra, reminding you that as it rises, so should you – just to dare, just to try a little more than you could yesterday. In your deep gratitude for how nature exists as a grand lesson on purpose, you exhale slowly: “small mercies”. It is in this way that I love you, for every day that you make it out of bed and dance yourself into morning.

And someday, I will love you even when you cannot. For every time the sun finds you, under your duvet and impossible. For every moment you are weighed down by the mass of dark clouds that anchor your small body, despondent. You squander your hours on social media, stewing in other people’s perfectly filtered, unattainable, unattainable joy. I will learn to be patient with you, even then. I will become better at quietening the comparisons and the self-doubt that plague your peace. I will learn to handle you with all heart and healing hands, to hold you soft and kind until you find your smile again.



On the days when you are too miserable to move, paralysed by the imminent failure that lurks on every blank page and every incomplete to-do list, the weight of wanting more yet become by anxiety – a fit even more intimate than your tattoos – I promise to learn to make a habit out of my love for you. I will temper it in ways that do not allow you to wallow and waste away these seemingly endless yet precious hours. And when you do, I will forgive you anyway.

I will forgive you with as much intensity as you have not forgiven that one jejune boy, whose shadow still plays dress-up with the swagger of manhood all over this city, while all the pretty girls dem swoon. It was in his raspy voice and guillotine tongue that you learned to loathe your small breasts, your lithe and little body. Had to set fire to everything you thought you knew about love and still claw yourself out of the hottest hell to heal your heart, safe enough to hold you again, in a language that is fully your own. And thank god for how you now adore these dainty, half-citrus wonders like good fruit, mama. And damn the ones who won’t. What is much harder, however, is forgiving you for having acne – which is to say, a face marred with the consequences of an unpredictable chemistry; not as effortlessly beautiful as your mother, well-peppered with freckles that you will never not envy. You rage a relentless war until a bloody parade storms your skin. Rather, the scars.


Call it vanity, but it’s hard to accept yourself and to believe it completely when the surface that you gaze out into the world from is a burdened moon with none of the magic. Maybe that’s why you can’t get out of bed, some days. It’s shameful to even admit, that women like you, who have been taught that they ought to value their intelligence above all else, would even entertain such a lowly conceit and stoop even lower to meet it. But sometimes, you just want to exist in the world and like yourself, without caring when people’s eyes poke at you askance.  

So, you sit with it, this feeling of having betrayed something bigger than yourself every time your face defeats you. What does it mean to proclaim a certain politics (to know that Grada, Milisuthando, aus’ Lebogang, Nolwazi do the work with all of the dedication and none of the excuses) yet here you are, stunted by the inability to accept anything other than a particular pretty you can feel at home enough to roll your sleeves and get to work in? “I could not make a move, without making love”, says Miranda July. Which is to say, love is the prerequisite that begets any other kind of possibility. Perhaps that’s what it boils down to.



And what did James Baldwin say? “Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war, love is a growing up”. So, to honour you, is to give the truth room. It has been alarming to watch you grow both in years and graceful disdain for everything around you, your unrelenting wry eye. Yet, it is comforting to know that never leaving home without your cynicism saves you, from those who hello like honey yet intend to hurt like poison. Although your warmth with people is a slow easing into only really made possible by wine, the best parts of your little glories happen within you, and for you, witnessed by the sound of Jazz when the world sleeps and your spirit takes flight. With all your sadness, your oceans for eyes and this heirloom heart that lugs around an inheritance of ache from your blood– someday, I will love you. I will rise with the sun and watch the stars kiss themselves alight into a waiting black sky, having known a day, a year, a lifetime of love – wild and full in abandon – with a ferocity that conquers the whole body. 



Photos and .gif by Lauren Mitchell.

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