Hellobeautiful Featured Video
Miss Lissa Knows MILF Manual

Source: Melissa Finney / @miss_lissa_knows

At eight years old, I had no idea what it meant when I came out the private pool located in my uncle’s condo and his wife’s homegirl exclaimed, “Wow, Melissa has cellulite!” Yes, a grown woman publicly body-shamed a child! I was beyond mortified as I stood there in my peach colored, one-piece bathing suit; without completely understanding what “cellulite” was, or why I wanted to cry. 

When I got home, I looked the word up in the dictionary. It would go on to define my existence for years to come.

I gazed down at my thighs. There were some very slight indentations on them but I never paid them much attention, or thought of these dents in my legs as flaws or defects. Maybe I just assumed my leg dimples were “normal” and never gave them a second thought. I became fully invested in my appearance and how I disliked it. No person, especially a child, should have body image issues. Unfortunately, there I was, an adolescent officially consumed by the skin I was in.

We didn’t have a full length mirror in our apartment. If I wanted to see my whole body, I had to stand on the tub and use the mirror over the sink. This would become a ritual for years to come. Before and after every shower, I’d examine my body in the mirror and find other imperfections that bothered me. 

One evening after my pre-bedtime shower, I noticed these scratch-like marks on the sides of my waistline. I dried off, wrapped the towel around my body and proceeded to the living room to ask my mother, “what are these?” pointing to the scratches. 

“They’re just stretch marks,” she replied as she toked on a Newport. “You get them from gaining weight.” My mother said it so casually, I found she understood what was going on in my head. 

My mom was very loving and patient with me. I’m still a “Daddy’s Girl.” But, being around my mommy is when I felt my most comfortable. She always told me my body perfect and I was “solid, not fat.” If I ever overheard a family member mention anything about my size to my mom, she’d kindly dismiss their concerns. 

I was in the process of a mental labor and delivery as I walked to my room and proceeded to get ready for bed. In those moments my brain was birthing a new fixation for me to feed and watch grow. First cellulite, now stretch marks. *Deep sigh*

By the time I was a teenager I secretly hated everything about myself. I felt fat, ugly, and I wished I looked like the perfect girls I saw on TV and in the magazines. I received lessons on “anorexia” and “bulimia” from watching talk shows with my mom. Both of which I unsuccessfully attempted. I appreciated  food too much to starve myself, so I figured regurgitation was the route for me. It most definitely wasn’t though. After three attempts, (yes, three attempts! I sometimes have to retry something, just to make sure I really don’t like it. Don’t judge me!) I decided bulimia was too repulsive for me to continue. If I was going to lose weight, it was going to be the natural way. Which meant better eating habits and more exercise had to happen.

Physical activity has never been my issue. It’s actually in my DNA to be athletic. My father played football in his youth and my mom was an amazing dancer. They probably both could’ve been professional in their fields had it not been for substance-abuse causing their dreams to be deferred.

My biggest obstacle is emotional eating. A good meal and/or delicious dessert has the ability to (temporarily) pull me out and mental rut. On the flip-side, I thoroughly enjoy celebratory dining! It’s a double edged sword, and the biggest reason why my weight yo-yo’ed for years.

Once I started working, I managed to slim down and maintain. I had my own money and could afford a healthier lifestyle. My first employment opportunity was babysitting, but it was my second job that greatly impacted my life. The position was a foot courier. So basically, I was constantly traveling all around New York City, transporting garment bags and packages, on foot. This became a daily workout and I didn’t have time to stuff my face. 

Beyond that, I got a real intimate look into the fashion industry I idolized. I was picking up from high fashion brands like Prada, Gucci, LVMH, & Donna Karen and dropping them off to notable publications under the Condé Nast umbrella. (Do your googles.) 

Never was I told I couldn’t look inside the garment bags, so I looked. Secretly, I had the privilege of previewing garments, look-books, handbags and accessories before they hit the magazines or the bodies of celebrities. I also got to witness was that these models I admired from the magazine spreads, didn’t really look that way, in real life. Beyond make up applications and plastic surgery, there were also digital enhancements being done to each picture before people, like myself, laid their eyes on the magazine pages and lowered our self-esteem because we felt we didn’t compare to the models staring back at us. 

I needed to see those unedited images in order to shift my perspective and raise my knowledge of self. So many times I beat myself down for not looking like a model/celebrity and hated the skin I was in because I have imperfections like stretch marks and cellulite. Not understanding that these women had them too!

Years later, it feels like things haven’t really changed much in media. If anything, they may have gotten worse. Plastic surgery is even more accessible and people have the ability to Photoshop/edit their own pictures and videos with a smartphone. With my own ears I have heard women say things like, “should I get my body done?”, “why go to the gym when I can get lipo?”, and “I need new breast.” When does it stop? Who will make it “okay” to proudly showcase a natural body, without it being the “before” picture  for a plastic surgery procedure?

I’m definitely not going to act like I’m perfect! I too am guilty of considering surgery and also adding a filter here and there while playing around on social media. Yet, I’ve made it my business not to go overboard and make it a habit. It’s fun when you’re posting on Instagram but I take my professional pictures a lot more seriously. 

Miss Lissa

Source: STAY by Stacey Angela / Charles Mitchell

In a recent photo shoot for STAY By Stacey Angela – a Black-owned swimwear line specializing in crochet pieces – I kindly asked the creative team if they could limit the amount of Photoshop used on my stretch marks. I feel like it’s my duty to add some balance to the system anyway I can. I love to show my imperfections and how perfectly comfortable I am with them. It took a long time for me to get to this place, and now I never want to vacate the premises!


Miss Lissa’s MILF Manual: How I Navigate Motherhood, Meditation & Career

Miss Lissa’s MILF Manual: Motherhood And Makeup; To Beat Or Not To Beat?

For 2024’s iteration of MadameNoire and HelloBeautiful’s annual series Women to Know, we knew we wanted to celebrate the people who help make the joys of film and television possible. To create art is to create magic. This year, we spotlight Hollywood Executive’s changing the face of cinema.