A Case for Black Beauty
There was a time when a guy told me that I reminded him of “the woman from the James Bond movie — with the buzz cut”. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but after a while realized that he was referring to Grace Jones. I couldn’t tell if he was serious or if he was giving me some sort of backhanded compliment, but at that very moment, I was livid.
Before I said something I might regret I had to ask myself why this bothered me so much. Grace Jones was known for being fierce, bold, strong and original — a powerhouse in the fashion world. Why wouldn’t I want to remind someone of her? Maybe because the guy who said this, despite being out with me at the moment, had a regular habit of making is weekly #WCWs (Woman Crush Wednesday — for those not in the loop) women who looked nothing like Grace Jones — in pigmentation or physique. Let’s just say he seemed to have more love for “Becky with the good hair”.
As a Black girl, I am not “also beautiful” nor am I “beautiful, too”. I’m not beautiful despite not looking like the status quo — “pretty for a Black girl” as they say.
Growing up, I never had issues with my skin color or colorism as it’s called. Looking at my family, I saw tones from across the African Diaspora, and no one was deemed more desirable than someone else. I’d say most days in my adulthood I still don’t have instances of colorism. I guess the topic never really came up or I’ve done a great job staying surrounded by the socially conscious.
But when the issue did arise, and I was forced to realize that I was a Black girl with darker skin, it was as if suddenly I was expected to have some sort of insecure complex about my complexion. Media and many times the Black community perpetuate the idea that lighter skin is better. The roots of such prejudice run deep and go back generations, and its effects aren’t exclusive to those with darker skin, women or Black Americans. Nonetheless, despite recent run-ins with facing colorism head-on, I’ve caught myself almost buying into the lie. This lie that says I’m supposed to feel ashamed for the way I look. The way I’ve been created.
“I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” — Psalm 139:14
There will always be critics. I’m grateful that the true source of my beauty was instilled in me at a young age.
From Lauryn to Janelle. My beauty isn’t defined and then realized only by an India Arie anthem. It’s not defined by Beyonce’s exhort to get information and slay. Or visuals of seeing Black women come together and recognize their worth. These are powerful images and certainly an art to be celebrated, but no 3–4 minute song can wipe out all of society’s 24/7 expectations.
My beauty isn’t defined by that one rapper who “makes an effort” to have dark-skinned Black women — or Black women at all — in his music videos. Sorry sir, but you don’t get a cookie because my beauty also is not determined by any dude.
My beauty isn’t defined by a belief that my “good hair” is the result of something non-Black. Any supposed absence of Blackness doesn’t make me more desirable.
My beauty isn’t defined by Hollywood’s ever-changing obsession with the current Black “It” Girl from Grace Jones to Lupita Nyong’o. Because Black beauty won’t stop simply when Hollyweird decides to move on to another fad.
As a Black girl, I am not “also beautiful” nor am I “beautiful, too”. I’m not beautiful despite not looking like the status quo — “pretty for a Black girl” as they say. No, I can’t let you minimize me in such a way. Because of who created me, I’m simply beautiful. I have inherent value and inherent dignity.
So I repeat those words to myself: “fearfully and wonderfully”. Not for a Black girl. Not for a dark-skinned girl. But simply because I’m made in the image of a beautiful God.