I rushed out and bought a bunch of beautiful dresses and frilly booties and flouncy hats the second I found out my Mari was a girl. No, seriously: my first and second stops after the sonogram were to Space Kiddets, a New York City boutique with an incredible collection of European children’s wear, and ABC Carpet & Home, where they used to have this absolutely glorious children’s boutique down in the basement full of pretty little things for pretty little girls. I swear, I literally skipped down the streets of lower Manhattan while I burned a hot hole in my purse buying clothes to fill my yet-to-be-born baby’s closet.
Her wardrobe was to-die-for a gorgeous collection for what I was confident was going to be a stunning little girl.
And like any mother who tucks her new baby girl into her first lovely dress, I looked at Mari’s face and stared into her eyes and pulled her chubby little cheeks to mine and marveled at how striking she was.
And every morning, still, I do the same with both my girls. Some days, they’ll just be talking to me about nothing in particular and I’ll look up and catch a glimpse of Lila’s big ol’ almond eyes and that Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate-colored skin of hers, or Mari’s perfect apple face and that ancient Egyptian nose, looking like it was carved to match the Sphinx, and it literally takes my breath away.
They are, simply, beautiful girls.
I tell them this often.
Not just because I believe it to the core, but because the world conspires to tell my babies different—to ingrain in their brains that something is wrong with their kinky hair and their juicy lips and their dark skin and their piercing brown eyes and their bubble butts and thick thighs and black girl goodness. I promise you, it feels like I’m guarding them from a tsunami of you’re ugly pronouncements; magazines and TV shows and popular radio and movies and all of the rest of pop culture insist on squeezing all of us women into a ridiculously Eurocentric, blonde-haired, light-eyed standard of beauty, but good God, unless you’re parenting a little black girl, you have absolutely no earthly idea how exhausting it is to be media whipped for not being a white girl. I mean, for all the cocky, I-love-me-exactly-the-way-I-am declarations we black women make, some days, I wonder why we are not hurling our collective bodies off the side of Mt. Kilimanjaro and just ending it all.
For sure, I was waving the white flag in surrender this week when I saw this madness shoot like wildfire across my favorite social media haunts: Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women. It’s an article written by a researcher who thought it important enough to figure out who’s prettiest, and printed by Psychology Today, a reputable scientific media outlet that found the researchers arguments worth posting. I refuse to mention the researcher’s name and I refuse to post links to the site; I’ll be damned if I send traffic to either one of them after that kind of dis. But, for the sake of showing you just how utterly ridiculous and disgusting the researcher’s study was, I will quote the most offensive piece of reasoning he used to deduce why black women are the ugliest of any other race of people on the planet:
The only thing I can think of that might potentially explain the lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women is testosterone. Africans on average have higher levels of testosterone than other races, and testosterone, being an androgen (male hormone), affects the physical attractiveness of men and women differently. Men with higher levels of testosterone have more masculine features and are therefore more physically attractive. In contrast, women with higher levels of testosterone also have more masculine features and are therefore less physically attractive. The race differences in the level of testosterone can therefore potentially explain why black women are less physically attractive than women of other races, while (net of intelligence) black men are more physically attractive than men of other races.
Translation: My babies, beautiful as they are, will grow up to look like ugly, manly she-girls who, having nowhere near what it takes to have a man find her attractive enough to forge any kind of meaningful relationship, will die alone in their studio apartments in the hood, trails of dried butter pecan Haagen Daz dribbling down the corners of their mouths, surrounded by a bunch of cats, with old Meet The Browns reruns blaring from their tiny TVs. Surely, at their funerals, there will be no men to speak of; their ugliness will be far too much to bear for any man to want to be bothered to attend.
No, the study didn’t go all the way there. But dammit, that’s how it read to me, a black woman raising two black daughters—like someone had lifted excerpts from a Klan pamphlet, slapped some scientific research on top of it, parked it on a reputable site, and masqueraded it as stone, cold fact.
To me, the study harkened back to the era of eugenics, when it was the order of the day to find some bogus scientific validation for the kind of biases passed on to people by their parents and their people when folk grasped for anything to try to justify their bigotry and hatred. I’m not naive enough to think we’re past bias in our global community; what we find attractive as African Americans, Africans, Asians, Indians, Europeans, Latinos or whoever is often very particular to that continent, that region, that country, that city, that block. Beauty is such an individual thing such a wonderful, particular, person-by-person thing that has nothing to do with scientific formulas or anything that anyone can measure. How ridiculously worthless is it, then, to try to reduce an entire race and gender to some kind of value in a graph? To say that a billion women in one race suck because they don’t look like the billion in another?
Ridiculous as I think it is, though, the kind of pronouncement made by the researcher in Psychology Today is just another in a long line of gut-checks that, in this already youth/thin/plastic surgery obsessed culture, pound away at black women’s self image. It wasn’t just the Rutgers Women’s Basketball Team that was hurt when Don Imus called the championship-winning team a bunch of nappy-headed hoes. And it seared like fire when John Mayer said he doesn’t date black women because his peen is a racist—a quote that made many of his black fans, myself included, feel like he absolutely hates, with an unyielding passion, black girls. Hell, we even get it from our own: Dumb ass Albert Hayensworth, an African American, Washington Redskins football player defended himself against sexual assault charges by saying he couldn’t and wouldn’t have groped the breast of an African American waitress because she’s “a little black girl who’s just upset I have a white girlfriend. I couldn’t tell you the last time I dated a black girl. I don’t even like black girls.”
Deep, deep sigh.
Look, I don’t need validation from Don Imus or John Mayer or dumb ass Al Hayensworth or anyone else. But I am trying desperately to save my little girls. From the magazine editors who refuse to put brown-skinned girls on their covers and in their pages. From the TV show producers who shovel shows on Disney and Nickelodeon without a care in the world that my brown babies go, literally, for hours without seeing one character who looks like them. From the music and movie industries, which, even when brown girls are involved, puts greater stock in light skin and long, flowing weaves. From the book industry, which seems like it’ll suck blood from a stone before it backs books featuring black children like it does books featuring white ones.
And I’m trying to save my girls from celebrities and singers and pro ballers and anyone else who has a microphone and especially researchers who will, by any means necessary, tell them that their brown skin and thick lips and pudgy noses and kinky hair make them ugly and manly and unattractive and undesireable.
But you know what? That’s a whole lot of fighting. A whole lot of guarding. A whole lot of explaining. A whole lot of counterbalancing.
And on days like these, I get tired, y’all.
And wish that we me and my beautiful black girls could just… be.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.