A few months ago, little black girls stopped me at the library. They shyly approached me while my head was buried in books, and said, “we like your hair,” giggled and ran off. I heard them whisper, “it’s so long,” in awe. I never had a chance to tell them that it was fake. I regret not telling them that they, too, could grow or buy hair just as long as my own.
I spent most of my childhood lamenting my appearance. I knew I was pretty at 5 years old, but between 8 and 18, longed for skin that wasn’t marked up by acne, teeth that weren’t perpetually crooked, a tummy that didn’t poke out and over ugly jeans, hair that would be bone straight and shiny instead of wavy. I was in awe of older, prettier girls like Tatyana Ali, whose beauty seemed unattainable.
I’m keenly aware how the current day standards of beauty can make little girls feel inadequate. I wrote about it here. Shoot, most of the women on Instagram make *me* feel inadequate, and I’m a grown woman. The collection of images, when seen together, can be an assault on one’s self-esteem.
Nikki from Love and Hip Hop Hollywood
Further, terms like “bad b****es” and “basics” are cruelly used to mark those who come close to society’s version of physical perfection, and those who do not. Both terms are derogatory and exacerbate competition between women (usually) for a man’s attention. With even some career experts suggesting that all women should get plastic surgery to get ahead in their careers, it appears that natural beauty is still under attack.
The only way to counteract the onslaught of these images is to be transparent–to make visible the ways in which women become beautiful. Unfortunately, the images that demonstrate how women become beautiful through the addition of makeup, hair, waist trainers, and fake butts are framed as examples of ‘sorcery’.
underwear butt lifts
before and after on “Makeup Sorcery Men Should Be Aware of”
The way these pictures are framed encourage others to ridicule a woman in her ‘natural state. The headlines read, “Men Beware!”–problematically assuming that the person photographed did this solely for the attention of men.
According to these articles, and the comments that follow, men feel injured that a woman would ‘lie to them’ through the creative use of makeup/hair/girdles. Women commenting on these sites rush to protect their own reputations by saying “I never had to do all that to be pretty”.
Furthermore, the pictures increasingly value smaller noses, lighter skin, tiny waists, and large butts and breasts–a mashup of different types of racial beauty. One of my best friends is convinced that all the plastic surgery and contouring is an attempt at ethnic cleansing.
We don’t value women as they are. The expectations of beauty keep escalating so that only a few can attain them. Women are expected to be naturally pretty when they wake up, and when they fall asleep, and they have to be super intelligent, and they have to know how to cook in 8 inch heels, and they have to run to the plastic surgeon to make parts of their bodies larger, and run to the gym to make other parts of their bodies smaller.
Women have the right to do whatever they want to be beautiful–but we must be thoughtful in the ways we present our choices to little girls, many of whom have fragile egos, who are struggling to come into their own. Let’s not forget that Judy Blume’s Margaret was praying to God for larger breasts, and Toni Morrison’s Pecola was desperate for blue eyes. When the beauty standards keep changing, we have to remember to tell our little girls that they are beautiful just as they are.
One of my goals in 2015 is to be more transparent, especially with teenage girls who are feeling awkward about what they perceive as their physical imperfections.
This is what I would tell any girl about these pictures:
I never wake up like this.
I’m not at all flawless.
That’s not my hair–it’s a human hair and synthetic blended wig, and you better be sure I took it off before I went to sleep. My skin looks lighter than it is because of the bright light in my apartment. I’m wearing foundation, liner, and mascara. I use Colgate Whitening, but my teeth look that white because my lipstick–Mac’s “Ruby Woo” is really, really red. Underneath my coat is an atrocious outfit. I was wearing leggings, a shirt that sports a tiny hole in it, a zip up parka and snow boots that survived 6 Western Mass winters. The whole affair made me look like a mom on a coffee run, and meant that I lost the silent competition between me and the other girls at the bar, who had the good sense to wear cute clothes and earrings. But I was smiling so hard because I got to spend time with my dear friends, because my ugly snow boots didn’t at all matter, and because I was happy that I stumbled into the life I have now.
In fact, this is how I look when I go to sleep: in an old, beat up hoodie, my hair tied up, and t-shirt, with no makeup on whatsoever.
I will never be perfect or flawless when I go to bed, or when I wake up, and that’s okay. In fact, as I get older, my skin will wrinkle. My physical beauty will fade over time, and I will turn less heads when I walk down the street. I’m not afraid, though, because as a former ugly duckling, I learned to invest in all the other things that make me beautiful: my indefatigable spirit, intelligence, positive energy, sense of humor, and belief in God.
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.–Proverbs 31:30.