Womanist in a Patriarchy

This post was first published on connectedafrica.com

Erin McKean once said ‘prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked female.’ This isn’t to say there is something wrong with being pretty, but you don’t owe anyone prettiness. The world is being rocked by a self-love movement steeped in melanin. One needs only search the hashtag #melaninmagic on Instagram and see images of black girls loving themselves and their beauty.

There is a school of thought that says we must tell girls they are smart instead of beautiful, and I agree with the principle. Women’s value lies beyond her aesthetic. Nonetheless, I think it is important to also tell young black girls that they are beautiful because society doesn’t. Black girls, particularly darker skinned black girls, aren’t adequately represented in pop culture; growing up and only seeing people who look like you playing stereotypical roles of struggle on TV can jade someone and make them feel inadequate. The same society that touts self-esteem as an attractive trait in women is the same society that tells women that they need to look a certain way to be worthy of love, acceptance and dignity. My awakening came when I realized that every time I hate a part of my body, an old white man becomes richer. Billion dollar cosmetic dynasties have been built on exploiting black women into believing our aesthetic is unattractive.

I genuinely appreciate the women who are trying to love themselves in this world. A world that has made our insecurities into commodities. A world that has said our features are flaws. When I learned that I could not love myself into a version I would love, I started appreciating that I could stop chasing an image of beauty that does not even exist. I have more to offer the world than just pretty. Insecurities are part of life, but I am committed to not comparing myself to a Eurocentric beauty standard.

We need to move beyond allowing ourselves to be defined by compliments, particularly because a lot of these compliments are slights. Some things may seem innocuous but words have infinite power. When you compliment a black woman by telling her she looks like another ethnicity, you’re saying to her that the traits that make her attractive are her non-black characteristics. It’s not endearment, it’s offensive. It’s saying “you’re too beautiful to be just black” as though being “just black” isn’t enough.

We aren’t beautiful in spite of our blackness, we are beautiful because of it.

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