I’ve been thinking about Kanye West all day, following the news that his mother — Dr. Donda West, the former professor and chair of Chicago State University’s English department, author of Raising Kanye: Life Lessons From the Mother of a Hip-Hop Superstar, CEO of Super Good, the parent company of Kanye West Enterprises — had passed away at the age of 58. The circumstances of her passing are still murky — doctors are coming forth for their fifteen minutes on TMZ, and an autopsy will be performed tomorrow in an effort to find out exactly what caused her untimely demise. Right now, what we do know is this — this weekend, Dr. Donda West died from complications following cosmetic surgery.
Kanye wears his heart on his sleeve so much, his whole life has been laid out for the world so plainly, it’s impossible to not feel for him now. He is known for having a great, strong relationship with his mother. He’s alluded to her so many times in his lyrics, and payed tribute to her time and time again. She made him who he is, and he will admit that proudly. Anyone who has lost a parent – especially their mother – will tell you it’s a pivotal point in your life. A moment that lives with you forever. The worst news you could get. I cannot even imagine the pain Kanye’s going through right now.
The news has made headlines worldwide – it’s being repeated over and over again on CNN, and the blogosphere has been going nuts on the story since it broke. Most of the reaction has been respectful and seemingly genuine. And then there’s the idiots. I swear, I don’t even know why I continue to look at the comments on mainstream gossip websites, where racists and degenerates and broken minded people flock to spout their most cruel and depraved thoughts under guard of internet anonymity. I know the people who post the kinds of comments I saw aren’t worth the time I spent skimming over their poorly spelled words, but I keep seeing a repeated kind of statement that really, really bothers me — that she somehow deserved her death because she was having voluntary plastic surgery. People saying things like, “what was she thinking?” and, “at her age…” Please. Give me a break. The stink of that hypocrisy is making me light-headed, and I feel the need to address it. The whole incident makes me think about the things we women do to be beautiful.
Why do most people have cosmetic surgery, anyway? There are so many reasons, most of which lead back to self esteem. We want to look beautiful. We’re conditioned that way, thanks to society and the media and those nagging voices inside ourselves. We aspire to be slender but stacked, sculpted and soft in the right places all at the same time. If your pockets are deep enough, you too can create the perfect visage — wrinkle-free, with a pert nose, wider eyes, perkier boobs, and a flatter stomach than the next woman. As a woman grows older, feelings of insecurity tend to increase. We live in an ageist society, it’s now commonplace for a woman to botox the years off her forehead to stave off the inevitable.
In an era when there’s Dr. 90210, Extreme Makeover, and Nip/Tuck, when plastic surgery is shown in television shows on a regular basis, it’s easy to think that it’s not that big of a deal to go under the knife. It’s generally depicted as the ultimate solution to a lifetime of self esteem issues. Rarely do those programs show the downside, the painful recoveries, the possible risks, the psychological damage. But surgery is still surgery, and there are always serious risks.
The fear of death or disfiguration is the one thing that’s prevented my Mama Bella from having some kind of work done, our family history of high blood pressure gives her enough cause to say no despite her admitted vanity. But I know if she had a clean bill of health and the money to pay for it, she’d totally go for it. Even though I’d be extremely concerned — extremely — as her daughter I would support her in whatever she wanted to do, so long as it made her feel good about herself. I know so many older women who would spring for a nip here and a tuck there, if it were just that simple. You look at women like Sharon Stone, Michelle Pfeiffer, Vivica Fox, Demi Moore, and Nicole Kidman — all of whom have been accused of undergoing cosmetic surgery procedures to stay eternally gorgeous — and there’s a desire to emulate that kind of glacier-paced aging. It’s such an understandable desire.
I told a friend of mine about Dr. West’s sudden death yesterday. His first response was “Wow.” Then a heavy sigh, a long pause. Then he said “Damn. I guess that’s life, huh?” The comment struck me as kind of cold, it seemed amazingly fatalistic at the time. But it’s resonating with me now that it’s past midnight and I’m up late writing, alone, thinking about life and death. None of us know when it’s coming. All we can do is live every day to the fullest while we can, and let the people we love know how wonderful they make our lives. All we can do is be thankful for what we’ve got, and try to not take this gift of life for granted.
Dr. Donda West was an intelligent, strong, loving woman who did the best she could to raise her child. She comes across so wise and warm in this recent interview on WGN. As he said in his song, Hey Mama – “I just want you to be proud of me.” Kanye’s lucky in that aspect. His mother was extremely proud of his success, and she was right there alongside him to realize their dreams.
Kanye made an official statement that I read on Miss Info. It reads in part — “In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Dr. Westâ€™s name to the Kanye West Foundation/Loop Dreams Teacher Training Institute. Those donations can be made by visiting the Foundationâ€™s Web site, www.KanyeWestFoundation.org or by mail at Kanye West Foundation, 8560 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069.”
My heart goes out to the West family at this terrible and tragic time. If you haven’t talked to your mom or dad in a while, maybe this could be a catalyst. There’s no time like the present to pick up that phone and let them know how much you love them.