In this society, physical attractiveness is the foundational criterion to determine someone’s self-worth; the more attractive one is, the more one is likely to be identified with positive markers, such as “goodness”, “Intelligence”, “leadership”, etc. It is for this reason that prospective parents are often teased by people praying the baby takes after the more attractive side of the family or thinking a comment of “the baby is so precious” instead of “cute” could be grounds for ending friendships.
For the majority of this society, the standard of physical attractiveness is Western European Beauty. We’re taught it from childhood with fairy tales and it is reinforced with the majority of television shows and movies that are produced this year. Even the English language, the primary language spoken in this society, has codified color terms, in which white is pureness and good and black is dirty and evil. Therefore, there’s no wonder why you get a documentary like this:
Now, as for my journey…
- My mother didn’t let me play with white Barbies, let alone own one. I’d wanted one, though; not because the doll was white, but because the doll came with the accessories I needed to continue playing with my black dolls, and I couldn’t understand why my mother couldn’t understand that. But she did—the white doll was more expensive because it had more value, and that wasn’t just monetary, either.
- Of all the childhood games my sister and I played, I don’t ever recall playing “Princess”; maybe this is because we didn’t think, subconsciously, princesses could be black. We played the hell out of “Shipwreck” and “Pirates”, though.
- My mother was my first standard of beauty, and she still is. Apparently, she was also a lot of men’s, too, and still is. But that standard was rarely reflected on TV and in movies, and she died when I was nine.
- My first “One True Pairing” (OTP) was Heathcliff and Clair Huxtable. My second was Dwayne and Whitley Wayne.
- I had my very first white friend in first grade when I went to Catholic school (from pre-K–5th grade I’d attended a black school save the first grade). She was blonde and blue-eyed and looked like she came right out of a fairy tale, like Cinderella before she grew up. We only hung out in the parking lot of the school at the end of the day while our mothers chit-chatted, and never went to each other’s houses like I did with my other black friends. I never saw her again when I left that school.
- I was first touched inappropriately when I was in third grade, except I didn’t know it other than I was confused why my classmate kept trying to stick his hands between my legs. My mother marched down to that as if she had the hounds of hell on leads. The boy didn’t return for fourth grade.
- I first remember being sexualized when I was in fifth grade, because my booty was the first to transform from a child’s shape to a woman’s. “Baby Got Back” became my theme song and I hated it. I was still a child; that song was entirely inappropriate for any of us to be singing at the ages of 9–11, but that was the first realization that this society doesn’t treat black children as children, just little adults, even if none of us were savvy enough to realize that consciously.
- I could never understand why Lisa Turtle, who was arguably the prettiest and flyest girl at Bayside High, could never find a mutual attraction for her, and had a dorky Screech after her for “comic relief”. Takeaway #1—liking a black girl is a funny thing. Takeaway #2—better to be single than to settle (of course, this one, I think, was far more subtle for me).
- Living Single was groundbreaking and I didn’t even know it, for it showed various-bodied-and-hued black women being regarded as sexy, beautiful, lovable, and desirable, something that I took for granted because that was my reality watching my mother and older female cousins. Not only that, the show aged very well. RIDE THE MAVERICK!!
- I had my very first crush (a black boy) when I was three years old, but didn’t do anything because he was shy and probably thought I had cooties. I had my second crush (a white boy) when I was twelve years old, but I didn’t do anything because he was popular and probably wouldn’t be interested because I’m black.
- Also when I was twelve, someone thought my eight-year-old sister was my daughter. …
- I used to be jealous of my younger sister because everyone would say she looked like our mother, which meant she was beautiful (which she is); and few would ever say I looked like anyone, which I took to mean I wasn’t. And when they did give me a relation, it was my grandmother. Way to make a teenage girl feel better by comparing her to her 70-something grandmother! And what made this even worse was a boy in my 8th-grade home room said I had “grandma hands”.
- By the time I reached high school, I figured out the definition of “hot” for a girl was almost the direct opposite of me, which was just as well because I couldn’t date in high school anyway and I wasn’t attracted to many of the guys at my school (although this isn’t to say none of them were attractive).
- I think I fell in love for the first time during the summer when I was thirteen and an older boy (South Asian) made me feel like a girl.
- At fourteen I started flipping through Sweet Valley High books to see if a black girl was given some “screen time”; if not, I didn’t check it out.
- At fifteen I started following boy bands and would get excited whenever there was a black girl cast in the videos.
- My third OTP, Shawn and Angela from Boy Meets World, will forever be one because for once, being in love with a black girl on a teen-oriented show wasn’t treated as a joke (yes, this includes Family Matters, even if I were rooting for Urkel/Laura).
- I was sixteen years old the first time a black boy (and yes, a crush) told me he didn’t black girls, and I remember being seized with a slight panic that if black boys didn’t date black girls, who in the world did?
- My school had a clothing drive and I went to the grocery store to buy diapers for it. The cashier asked me how old my child was. Considering I’ve always looked younger than I am, this really took me aback. But I only looked younger in the face; my body was that of a grown woman, very curvy and shapely, and I’d always been self-conscious about drawing attention.
- I was seventeen when I got my first “marriage proposal” as well as when the first unrelated male told me I was beautiful. (two separate boys, only one was serious.) We were told to write down something nice about our classmates, and the majority was the usual “funny”, “smart”, “nice” accolades I’d get; but the “beautiful” one stunned me so much that later that evening I’d asked him if he’d meant it, afraid it was joke. He said he meant it, and I barely contained my tears. The first time I thought I was beautiful was later that year when I was in a cotillion. Unfortunately, nobody mentioned it.
- Eighteen was a busy year—first kiss, second molestation, although this molestation was by a man old enough to be my father. It took me months to tell someone because I didn’t think anyone would believe me or folks would think it was my fault. But last time I checked, being braless and wearing shorts in one’s own home during the summer in the South wasn’t grounds for uninvited touches.
- I’d never felt uglier, unwanted, and unlovable in my life than during my four years of college and the four years after it—The Boston Years. It was as if I were living out a rom-com where I was the black, fat, sassy, asexual mammy/BFF who provided the laughs and the sage advice but would never be in consideration for a romantic “happily ever after”. The one and only date I went on during this time was with an ex-con who worked security at my summer job—mind, I didn’t know he was an ex-con until we were on the date. And he kept asking if I could cook (which I must be able to do because I’m a big black woman from the South and all), so yeah, that was a no-go. Incidentally, this is also the time I decided I would give a shot at the writing thing.
- On the other hand, around this time interracial pairings on soap operas featuring black women had, for some reason exploded on soap operas…and quite predictably crashed and burned; but while they were on there, they were awesome. My favorites were Fox/Whitney—Passions (I’m still bitter by how they destroyed this one), Nik/Gia—General Hospital, Paco/Preta—Da Cor do Pecado (a Portuguese telenovela dubbed in Spanish was how I watched, loved this one, probably because this was the only one that got a happily ever after), and Evangeline/almost anyone—One Life to Live. And now I can admit another reason why these relationships were frustrating was because just about all of them were “standard-acceptable” beauties; basically the Lisa Turtles who finally got some loving (as did Lisa for one episode, with Zach…yeah, bitter about that too).
- My heroines tend to fit my very first standard of beauty, that of my mother and other women in my family, which means they are usually short, usually curvy/full-figured, and usually dark to medium-toned in skin color. The more society-standard beauties are usually secondary/tertiary characters. I know for a lot of people, romances are about the fantasy. Well, one of my fantasies is for people who look like me to be unapologetically loved and considered beautiful.
- I get ridiculously excited whenever I see a black woman being loved in real life and in media because the sight is about as frequent as Halley’s Comet. It gives me hope that could be me one day.
- One of my good friends from home gave me an assignment to pick one thing I liked about myself, with special emphasis on the physical self. I had extreme difficulty with the exercise.
- Barack and Michelle Obama are fourth OTP because for once, a black woman being loved is something that cannot be dismissed or ignored on a national stage. If they ever break up (which I forbid them to do) I will be shedding some seriously fugly tears.
- When I was twenty-five I attracted another security guard’s attention, another man old enough to be my father. It was disconcerting because he would always stare at me when I walked in the building and continue to stare until I got on the elevator. Finally one day he said “You have a nice walk.” Freaked me out so badly I muttered a quick thanks and sped-walked to the elevator because I could not determine if his comment was lust or genuine admiration.
- When I was twenty-six, Disney finally decided to create a Black princess, yet I couldn’t be as thrilled as I liked because she spent the majority of the film as a frog.
- For Lent 2010, I decided I would give up low self-esteem, which meant I had to stop sipping on the “I’m Not Good Enough” syrup that had been my BFF since birth. The withdrawal was brutal, and there are still times I fall off the wagon; but I’m much better at running to catch up to it now than before. One of the things I’ve accepted about myself was I’ll never be a single-digit dress size no matter how much weight I lose; and it was okay for me to like the curves I have. And my walk.
- When I was about to turn twenty-seven, my grandmother died. During this time I took a lot of pictures with my camera phone of old pictures of her. She was beautiful, so I guess that means I’m beautiful too (and yes, as soon as I typed that out I burst in to tears, because that, right then, was the first time I said it and truly, truly meant it).
- Yesterday, there was an article explaining why black women were ugly, and I was laughing to myself about the utter nonsense of it all until I became irate that this “PhD” was passing off his conclusions as “scientific fact” instead of his racist opinion. But my favorite part was the author’s confusion why the black women in his “study” thought of themselves as physically attractive when “science” says they’re not. And just thinking about my long, winding struggle to get to a revelation many women never reach, let alone black women, and his attempt to nullify these black women’s opinions of themselves because they do not conform to his/Western-European standard of beauty really pissed me off. But now, I want to give these women high fives for owning their beauty for themselves and refusing to sip the “You’re Not Good Enough” syrup this “PhD” was trying to shove down their throats.
Perhaps it is threatening to some when black women stop believing they can only be asexual mammies or hypersexual Jezebels, or that they can only consider themselves beautiful when a Western European society deems them so…or they have to have enough European or nonblack blood to even hope to be considered beautiful in the first place. That their bodies are always there for the taking—whether by permission or not, and rarely with tenderness and care—and that little black girls (and boys) aren’t little black girls (and boys) because they are merely pre-adults. The politics of respectability are alive and well, making black women scared of their femininity and being unreceptive to genuine, respectful appreciation or not treating themselves as the valuable beings they truly are because being marked as “ugly” means unvaluable, so they treat their bodies any kind of way and allow others to do the same. Every damn day we’re told black women aren’t capable of being loving or being loved; that just because can “do bad all by ourselves” (why it gotta be bad?) we don’t desire to “do good with a supportive partner”. I’m tired of trying to reach a standard I was never supposed to meet; but more importantly I’m tired of being fed the line there is only one standard to meet in the first damn place. I don’t need to be beautiful for everyone—hell, I don’t even need to be beautiful—but I do need to be a good person, and that has nothing to do with my dress size or the perfect symmetry of my face.
All that to say, I’m fierce as hell, and you can kick rocks if you disagree.