Black girl beauty

By TRACEY MICHAE’L LEWIS-GIGGETTS

Check the scene:

K: *ties a blue towel around her neck and flips her ponytail over her shoulder* Look Mommy! I’m Elsa.

Mommy: Ummm no. You’re K.

K: *looks at me like I’m dumb* But I want to be Elsa!

Mommy: Why, K?

K: Because Elsa has pretty hair and dresses.

Mommy: Well you have pretty hair too. And Mommy and Daddy can buy you a pretty dress.

K: *throws down the towel and runs off to play puzzles* Okay!

Well played, Sweet Pea. Well played.

In truth, this wasn’t the first time I’d had this conversation with my preschooler. The whole “Elsa’s hair is white and pretty but yours is black and beautiful” discussion has been ongoing for the last year or so. I’d hoped and prayed that I would have more time. Like, maybe we wouldn’t have to deal with self-image until around first grade or maybe even third. But nope, how a child sees themselves at even the earliest ages inevitably lays a foundation for how they will view themselves as adults.

I know.

Big Lips.

Gumby.

Lionhead.

These were just a few of the names I was called as a child. Sure, children can be, at best, brutally honest, and at worst, terribly cruel. And most of the time, children who are struggling with their own insecurities are the ones doing most of the teasing. But you couldn’t tell my seven- or twelve- year-old self that. My parents, God bless them, were from the “suck it up” generation. When I came home crying because a boy I liked had called me a name, they essentially told me to suck it up. They told me to not allow my feelings to be hurt by him. They told me he was stupid and didn’t know what he was talking about. My lips weren’t too big, they said. My hair didn’t look like a lion’s, they said.

And that was all good. It was what they knew to say and do.

But deep down in my 7- and 12- and 15-year-old soul, I still broke a little. So much so that I rarely smiled in pics until I was in my mid-twenties. And I didn’t become comfortable with the thick mass of African and Native American curls on my head until I was almost 30.

I think what I needed to hear was, “Your lips are not too big” AND “They are full and absolutely BEAUTIFUL!” What I needed affirmed was, “Your hair does not look like a lion’s” AND “It’s gorgeous just the way it is.” What I needed reinforced was not just the fact that what my tormentors were saying was mean and stupid but that how God created me—my toasty brown complexion and almond eyes, the curves of my quick-budding breasts and shape of my thighs—all of it, all of me was absolutely as it should be.

That’s what I want for my own sweet girl. It’s not enough for me to tell her she doesn’t need to look like Elsa to be beautiful. I must tell her the fascinating history of her skin. I must show her all the awesome styles she can wear her hair because of its incredible texture (something my Mom has now learned to do with her biracial granddaughter, my niece, who is regularly teased by her white friends about her hair). I must remind her that it’s not just Mommy and Daddy who thinks she perfectly made, but even God says so. And He wants us to acknowledge His craftsmanship (see Eph 2:10) as well.

I praise you [God] because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. – Psalms 139:14, NIV

I know that full well.

Now.

So as much as my sweet girl and I love to sing Frozen’s “Let it Go” at the top of our lungs on the way to her summer camp, there are no Elsas living in our house. And for that matter, there are no Rachel Dolezals either.

Hmph.

Because setting aside the fact that she is proving herself to be an opportunistic fraud performing the worst kind of cultural colonization, I find myself also wondering how absolutely psychologically broken she must be to not want to be the white woman she is. To not see value in who she is authentically. Beyond media speculations, what really happened to her? When did her soul break? At what point did she decide that commandeering the experiences of an entire race and culture and risking the public humiliation that comes with exposure, is somehow better than walking fully and completely and proudly in her own skin?

But dare I ask, is she really alone in this? Though never to such a ridiculous and damaging extreme, I can admit to a time in my life when I wished I was someone else. That I looked like someone else. I even once believed that my life would be better living out someone else’s pain because, though they were hurting, people accepted them. People respected them. They were loved.

What a twisted, perverted way of seeing yourself.

And incredibly hard on the soul.

It’s what happens when no one ever tells you that other humans can never determine your true worth; only the One who created the masterpiece that is you does. And you’re made in His image, so there’s that.

So nope, nope, nope! Did I say nope? If I can help it, there will be no Elsas or Rachels over here. Just an amazing, brilliant, and beautiful brown girl learning to love the skin she’s in.

From day one.

* * *

This post is the latest in Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts’ “Faith & Motherhood” series.

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Tracey Michae'l

Tracey Michae'l is a writer and educator based out of the Philadelphia area. She is a wife to William and a mother to a beautiful two-year old little girl. You can find her on the web at www.traceymlewis.com.

2 Comments

  1. I have thought a lot about this. We’ve filled our home with brown dolls, brown art, brown books. But there are a few Elsa/Rapunzel dolls around. I’ve struggled. I don’t want to deny my children to see a film or like a character because there are white characters (even white heroines)—-because, well, we are white, so what message does that send? That white isn’t okay (when their parents are white)….yet when my daughter said she wanted “hair like Rapnunzel’s” I told her, “No one has hair like Rapunzel’s. It’s pretend. You have beautiful hair that is curly and can be cornrowed and has beads. It’s SO awesome.” The next time she got her hair done, she asked for extensions, which we allowed (length-appropriate, as deemed by her hair braider), because she wanted longer hair. She was SO happy with the results, but I still felt conflicted. My girls, so far, seem to be very confident in their skin and love their hair…but I fear that all the media that promotes whiteness will get to them, no matter how careful we are about monitoring what they see/hear/watch/read. That’s why we’ve worked so hard to fill our home with Black beauty, even down to the magazines we get in the mail, because we want them to see Blackness as a priority in our home, as wonderful and special. Also, having strong, Black female role models is especially important to our family—women who embody Black beauty and who can encourage/support our girls in their beauty. I can be many things for my children, but I obviously can’t be the person who mirrors Black beauty. I am constantly wondering if I’m doing enough for my children….if I’m making the right choices, but I remember that the point is to MAKE AN EFFORT and to keep learning and growing and changing. GREAT ARTICLE !

    • Thanks. It sounds to me like you are doing all that you can. Keep it up! And as she gets older, have the hard conversations with her too. About WHY American society raises up one standard of beauty over another. About WHY some people are privileged and others aren’t. Discuss the history of it so she understands it as more than just this bad thing that some people do but as a systemic problem that she will likely have to overcome. Great job, Mom!

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