Dear Women, We've Been Tricked: Defining Beauty
I’ll never forget the day I walked into a Burger King and the woman walking out gasped, “I wish I could just force feed you Twinkies, girl!” In a split second, I had to prepare a response. Should I insult her back? Should I respond with a vengeance? Should I remind her that despite her feelings, she should keep her thoughts to herself? I could have tried to hurt her, but the truth is, I couldn’t. I vaguely remember responding with an awkward chuckle, I put my head down and I proceeded as though nothing happened.
This moment pretty much sums up my life as a skinny black girl: be very careful with my words when weight comes up and don't respond rudely when someone seeks to comment about mine.
You see, I’ve always been smaller than most, if not all of my peers. I’ve never weighed over 118 pounds. I know 12-year-olds who wear bigger bras than me and I was rarely the girl boys chased after. Women constantly remind me that I am the size of their thigh and every summer, men on social media remind me that I have no business wearing a sundress as if their lustful desires should dictate what I wear. You see, I was and still am a skinny black girl, but what if I told you that my shape and frame don’t make me any better or worse than any woman reading this blog? What if I told you that we’ve all been made to fall for a lie?
Let’s go back to the beginning
The year is 2002. Despite seeing images of skinny women on television, I learned young (through that same media & personal experience) that being skinny is not the most desirable trait in the black community. It's actually often times looked down upon. I was trained through images and music to believe that one could either be skinny & white or black & thick. Any other combination was seemingly unacceptable.
I remember my 6th grade year. I wore baggy clothes and baseball caps. At a predominately black school, I hated life. Boys made fun of me for having no booty & jacked up teeth and girls wanted to fight me for reasons that are still unknown. It was at this place I began to pray that the Lord wouldn't allow me to wake up the next morning. I can hear my mother now, "Hold your head up, Sy! Stop looking down all the time!" It was also the place where I grew thick skin and luckily, I eventually came to learn that we’ve all been tricked.
Fast forward to my adult years
I can recall when a woman I know would post pictures of herself at the gym with the hashtag #StrongNotSkinny. (It's a huge movement apparently.) I bet she thought it was empowering, but it was as if her statement was to distance herself from being skinny, as though to be skinny was to have the plague, as though she needed to offer an explanation for why she was at the gym, and as though she was ashamed of being skinny. It offended me and yet I couldn't quite put my finger on why.
It didn’t really hit me until I heard Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass.” There’s a line where she says, “I’m bringing booty back. Go ahead and tell them skinny b****es that.” I was briefly insulted (I mean, when did booty ever leave and why are you calling me a b***h?) and then I thought, “this is the problem.” I realized then that many women can only find beauty in themselves when they seek to find flaws in someone else. It’s as though we view beauty as a hierarchy where only one shape or size can hold the title and if a woman throws just enough shade at those who look different, she will believe her own lie. It’s the reason I couldn’t snap back at that woman outside of Burger King. Her comment revealed to me her own insecurities. In her mind, she likely believed that I had no insecurities. She likely believed that tearing me down would make herself feel better. I knew that and although her comment hurt, I couldn’t blame her and I refused to tear her down as well. The truth is, it wasn't the first time a woman took a stab at my appearance and I knew it wouldn't be the last.
The crazy thing is we allow companies like Victoria’s Secret and Lane Bryant to pump this imaginary hierarchy into our heads. I didn’t think they had the same target audience, but yet, one company takes shots at the other and then tries to claim it's embracing all shapes & sizes. Their goal is to sell the product, but they play on our emotions by playing into this unnecessary war. Women have long fallen for it, but why? Even I initially wanted to write this blog to solely encourage skinny black girls, but that's hard. I can't deny the undeniable beauty of my friends and cousins who look nothing like me and I don't want young girls to keep believing that they have to down the next chick to feel good about themselves.
As a teen, I would stare at pictures of Meagan Good, Yaya DaCosta, Dawn Richards and my cousin Paris. I thought that maybe someday I would grow up to look like them and being a skinny black girl would be worth it. Worth beauty. Worth attention. Worth love. That's until I found self love and confidence... somewhere between the first and 100th time I listened to Kirk Franklin's "Imagine Me."
We've often heard it said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and yet, we allow the eyes of another to define that beauty for us. It took me years, but I'm glad to say I no longer need that type of validation and I hope many women will begin to feel the same way. I hope we will someday see the beauty within ourselves without needing the world to label it for us first. I hope we will see ourselves through the eyes of the One who created us. I hope we will begin to love our own shapes and sizes and stop the cycle of pushing our own beauty requirements/measurements onto our children. (Yes, I've also been insulted by children. Yes, I've refrained from putting them in check.) Instead, I remind myself of these points:
My beauty is not defined by a man’s attention or preference.
You can believe you are beautiful even if you rarely see yourself in the media.
Finding beauty in yourself does not mean you have to find flaws in someone else.
You can love your body and still seek self-care. Choosing to eat healthy and go to the gym does not mean you hate your current self.
You don’t owe anyone any explanations for your self-care.
You can believe you are beautiful without ever revealing your body to the world.
It is perfectly okay to do squats & lunges. Wanting a little booty hasn't hurt anybody lol.
Number 7 doesn't mean I'm not currently happy with myself.
Despite all of this: what's inside matters most and will always make the difference. "Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised." -Proverbs 31:30
Last year, I walked into a grocery store at a rather fast pace with my head held high. I was on a mission until a man stopped me. He said, "You look like a girl who's damn sure of herself." He was right. I was and it took me a long time to get there.