Beauty Is In the Eye Of The Beholder: Learning to Embrace Me

Why did it take a third of my life to embrace all of me?  When did I stop loving me?  I know the answer to the latter: I never did.

My family all sang the same lyrics: “You big-lipped, black nappy-headed-look-just-like-yo-daddy-wit-dem-big-lips-fool.” until I believed it. I truly believed I was as black and ugly as they come.

The following is a childhood story that almost  changed me forever:

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In my second grade class, we had to create a profile silhouette of ourselves. Our teacher (let’s call her Mrs. Price) instructed each of us stand sideways in front of a bright light, next to a wall with white paper pinned to it.  I could feel the gentle heat of the lamp massaging the right side of my face and neck as she traced the voluptuous curves of my forehead, nose, lips, and chin.  I could feel the fidgety stares of  giggling kids as they watched Mrs. Price etch the outline of my  profile. I grew hot, flushed and embarrassed, desperate for her to hurry. What took only minutes seemed like a lifetime in my little mind.

After carefully following Mrs. Price’s instructions to cut around my atrocious profile, I sloppily pasted the black paper against a lighter sheet. It was my turn for Mrs. Price to hold up that ghastly piece of artwork for the rest of the kids to see. They laughed in unison. My eyes met the freshly waxed floor in shame.  I felt like I was the center of a joke… 

I’ve always wondered why I brought that cursed piece of artwork home. Maybe, something inside of me hoped that someone would tell me it would was beautiful just like me. I took the messy cutout home and hesitantly laid it out for my cousins and grandmother to see.  Even now my heart breaks when I recall the giggles that came from, not only my cousins, but from my grandmother. I remember shouting, “It’s not funny!” My grandmother retorted, “Oh, girl, shut up, ain’t nothing wrong with that thang!” More giggles followed. I stumped away to my room, hurt, angry and appalled that I really was black and ugly.

I don’t know what became of that dreaded piece of artwork… it didn’t matter, because it was painfully tattooed on my heart and mind, a scar that almost permanently became a member of my belief system.

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That scar reminded me of my ugliness every, single day of my young life… It reminded me that I wasn’t worthy… I couldn’t do anything right… I was less than those kids, teenagers, college girls who were light skinned, light-eyed, and adorned soft, curly hair (called ‘good’ hair at the time). I couldn’t compete against a population of family and community who deemed me “big-lipped, black nappy-headed-look-just-like-yo-daddy-wit-dem-big-lips-fool.”

As I grew older, I faced the same degradation, just in a different way, like when a boy I liked didn’t like me, because he only liked light-skinned girls. Or when I dated my first boyfriend in high school, and he later dumped me for a pretty light skinned girl. It seemed I always lingered in the shadows of light skinned Black kids… never acknowledged… never noticed… but, always rejected.

The biggest highlight of my life was visiting my Aunt LaVerne. She would gently stare at me for an uncomfortably long time. Then she would whisper, “Look at dat pretty smile. You have such a beautiful smile. Don’t let nobody tell you otherwise.”  I can still hear her voice today. Her loving affirmation about my smile gave me a little glimmer of hope as a child… that there was something pretty about me. She was the only one during my childhood that planted that tiny hope in me.

It wasn’t until I’d turned 16 when a man told me my lips were beautiful. Shortly after that compliment, I took notice of myself more.  I would stand in the bathroom mirror and study my reflection, observing my almond-shaped dark eyes, my dark smooth skin, and my soft, full lips.

After years of comparing myself to others and breeding negative thoughts, I finally asked myself why? Why am I allowing my past to determine who I am today?  Why am I inviting the prejudices of this society to influence who I am and how I look? Today, I embrace the color of my skin, the shape of my eyes and my fabulous full lips. I walk and speak with confidence, and unapologetically hold my head up high!

It wasn’t until the last few years that I’ve completely accepted my natural hair! All those years, I chemically treated my hair with relaxers, and made sure I touched up that “kitchen”.  That “kitchen” was my true hair texture! I should have been proud of my coily, springy hair.  But, I was caught up in the same self-hating world-wind all the other women in my family were caught up in!

When I finally decided to cut off my hair to prepare for locks, I was nervous and didn’t know how it would impact my dating life or job. But, I did it! I whacked off the perm, started my locks and never looked back!  

Sometimes, I think about all those years I spent hating myself.  Now, I spend more time pleasantly contemplating on my natural beauty inside and out! All God’s creations are perfect! I am a perfect creation! I thank God that He has allowed me to witness the day that I’ve come to embrace me!

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