Black girls need to know they are beautiful too

A meme with the photo of a brown-haired white woman. It reads "We get so worried about being pretty. Let's be pretty kind. Pretty funny. Pretty smart. Pretty strong."
Says the white woman who is seen as the standard of beauty.

 

Quotes like these make me roll my eyes, honestly. I’ve seen so many of these types of memes making their rounds on social media.

The first time I saw this meme was before I had my own daughters. It ruffled my feathers then because I remembered my years in school as a dark-skinned, skinny Black girl in Montreal.

My parents never talked about beauty or who was pretty. It wasn’t a priority for them. What was a priority? Going to school and getting your education. Being smart was what was important.

And I was a smart kid. I always did well at school. Honour roll and all things academic. I was funny and I was kind.

I was never popular, which didn’t really bug me. I was friends or friendly with a lot of the kids at my high school, but I was quiet. I preferred read or play cards with my friends rather than crack jokes with the cool kids in the cafeteria.

In Grade 9, I was in the cafeteria with my friends eating lunch and minding my business when a boy–whose name I still remember–got up on a table and yelled that I was the ugliest girl in the school.

If I tell you I was crushed, it would be an understatement. I was destroyed. I went from quiet to silent. I cried all the way home from school. And for many, many years later, I couldn’t be convinced that I wasn’t the ugliest thing to walk the streets. I turned inward and found it very hard to raise my hand to speak out because I didn’t want anyone to look at me because I was ugly.

This is why memes and attitudes like this annoy me. It’s not that beauty is important, but building strong self-esteem and confidence in our daughters is necessary, especially if you are parenting a Black daughter.

Black women have had the pleasure of reading articles that say we’re not going to get married, that ask why are Black women are unattractive, and highlightΒ how we aren’t valued in society. Why shouldn’t someone tell me that I’m pretty. Just pretty. Just beautiful. I’m already strong, smart, confident, and more. Why can’t my kinky hair and dark skin just be beautiful?

I was not equipped to look that boy in the face and say, “what the hell are you talking about? I’m beautiful” because no one had ever told me that. I didn’t see myself reflected in media until I saw Naomi Campbell with her full lips and dark skin. Until I saw Karyn White as a sex symbol, R&B singer. Until I saw Lauryn Hill as a dope and gorgeous hip hop artist.

I didn’t know I was beautiful–and a lot of young Black girls and women don’t know that they are beautiful…until we tell them and lift them up in their glorious Black girl beauty.

Collage of Naomi Campbell in a black dress on a Cosmo cover, Karyn White's sepia Romantic CD cover, and Lauryn Hill against a white background in a grey t-shirt, with medium-length locs and silver bracelets on.
Naomi Campbell, Karyn White, Lauryn Hill–some of the women that made me look at myself in a different light.

We can be beautiful and everything else

Maybe this is a mantra that white parents can tell their white daughters who see themselves reflected everywhere as the standard of beauty.

Maybe this is OK for parents of daughters who aren’t overweight, aren’t disabled, who aren’t bullied at school and made fun of because of how they look.

Maybe men like the boy who embarrassed me all those years ago in the cafeteria at Lachine High can say this to his daughters if he has any.

(To put an end to the story about this dusty dude, about three years after that incident in the cafeteria, he tried to get my number at Angrignon metro station. Yeah, I paid him dust.)

For me, in a world where Black women specifically are made to feel ugly and are unappreciated, our Black daughters need to know that they are beautiful.

For Black women, it’s never been just about being beautiful. We never had the luxury of being the standard of beauty in this society. We’ve always been on the outskirts of what the world sees as and says is beautiful.

But for me and the daughters that I have? They know and will continue to know that they are beautiful because I will tell them. I reinforce how smart they are and how strong they are and how they can do anything they put their minds to, but they will always know that their mother thinks that they are the most beautiful creatures to ever walk the earth.

My daughters need to know they are beautiful–and strong and confident and smart. They won’t shy away from speaking out because they feel they are ugly and don’t want anyone to look at them.

My girls won’t be impressed by someone saying they are pretty because they’ll already know that they are.

So when someone’s dusty son or daughter wants to come for them and make them feel small and ugly for a cheap laugh or for some attention, no one will be able to tell my Black daughters that they aren’t the most glorious Black queens to ever walk the earth–because their momma told them that they are from birth.

Don’t at me.

 

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