Celebrate. Empower. Educate. Inspire.
I already know what my smarty arty eldest daughter would say about me writing this article: “Well, you haven’t fully raised us yet, so how do you know that it worked?” Similar to what she said when I told her that I was speaking on a panel about getting kids into college: “But you haven’t gotten your four kids into college yet, so…” In some ways, she’s right. You don’t know until you know. And I’ve learned along the way that you do have to check in because what you think you know may not be the real deal, you know? More on that later. But as a beautifully brown girl myself, a former teacher of many beautifully brown girls, and, yes, the mother of four beautifully brown girls, I feel like I have something to offer here. In fact, that’s why I felt the need to respond to my calling and finally found Beautifully Brown Me.
Today, I embrace my “me,” unapologetically! I love who I am, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, I am happy to be here. I love my hair, my skin, my body that has given birth to four daughters (even though my workout regimen needed to start yesterday). I love it all and that is an amazingly freeing feeling! I want my daughters to feel this way–able to enjoy life without insecurity. Feeling free to be who they are; loving what God has given them; understanding that they matter and have both a right and an obligation to share their gifts with the world; expending their energy on being their best selves, not aspiring to live someone else’s life. But what I had almost forgotten is that this has been a journey. And this happens when you get older (sighhhhh)–you sometimes forget where you came from; you just know that you have arrived.
My journey to beautiful has been exactly that–a journey. A process that is certainly one to which all women can relate. All girls are surely challenged with trying to meet unrealistic standards of beauty. Brown girls, in particular, may struggle to even find themselves in the picture, leading to a devaluation of worth. This is so dangerous! I am grateful for a mom, as well as aunties, teachers, and other role models, who nurtured me and helped me to form a strong sense of self. On the other hand, I have seen the detrimental impact of the reverse, even in my own rocky moments along the way. When the path has been most difficult for me, it was because I didn’t believe in myself, I forgot my worth, I didn’t trust that I was enough, and I wasn’t my best me.
As I now embark on this journey with my daughters, I look at the world through a different lens. I can, personally, look at movies, shows, and advertisements and detach from them. Today, I don’t look at those images longing for different hair, skin, or otherwise. (Though I may long for a pair of hot shoes!) They no longer personally impact me. I am neutral to the images I see. I know who I am and what I see no longer impacts who I am. Who I want to be is more about being my best, healthiest, strongest, driven self. Not being the Clairol model. I know that any message that says they brown girls are “less than” is wrong. It’s not me, it’s them.
But when I sit and look at these same things through the eyes of my daughters, I realize that I have to intentionally counteract the overwhelmingly white images that they see every single day. They don’t always get that what they see has nothing to do with them personally, but is a symptom of systemic racism. They don’t always get that they are beautiful and worthy just because they exist, not because anybody says so. Sometimes they just want to have hair that they can swing. If I left it to chance, my girls would start to believe the hype. And I can’t have that. And let me be clear, it’s not that the images that we are bombarded with aren’t beautiful. It’s that we, the brown women and girls of the world, are also beautiful. With our hair of a thousand textures and our skin of a million shades, we, too, are beautiful. We, too, are important. We are all of those things because we are here. And we are a force to be reckoned with. I have to teach my girls that every single day. I have to lend them my confidence while they develop their own.
I want to believe in a color-blind, post-racial world where I can just send my kids off into life without these lessons. But it’s not here yet. And it may never be in this lifetime. And honestly, even if it did exist, I think I would still want my girls to know how amazingly, beautifully brown they are. I don’t want any doubt of that fact to deter them from their biggest dreams—not today, not tomorrow, not ever. It is not always easy and it’s sometimes painful, but it’s a journey that we all face. My job is to ensure that my girls come through it whole, fully loving their beautifully brown selves! And if I can help other girls along the way, that is chocolate icing on the cake!