This is the first of a three-part series focusing on the European beauty standards imposed on black women, how our own community has divided us into good hair/ bad hair and how we grow through it all
I remember receiving my favourite doll from my brother; I still have it up to this day because I said I’d pass it down to my own daughter someday. Now I’m not so sure if I should. Some of the reasons I loved that doll was because it had my skin colour, I could move the waist…and her hair was sweeping the floor.
As a child, I was obsessed with long flowing hair. I loved my curls but I always felt as if it needed to be longer to be considered beautiful, like my doll. In those days a black doll was a rarity, all my other Barbie’s were white so I should be glad that I at least had something which looked like me right? The thing is though, it didn’t.
I did not have long flowing hair. Most of us don’t. But if you look on the TV or in the magazines you’d see where we’re encouraged to apply heat, straighten and press our hair until it reaches their standards. Or the hair is taken from a Brazilian somewhere (hats off to them, because I know we are all grateful for a good wig).
My point is there is always something being taken away from us as black women or something being added. We are never just allowed to be. If we should throw our hair up in a messy bun we would be seen as sloppy. If we should don sweatpants and head out we’re deemed as unkempt. But if the woman with naturally straight hair does it, she’s cute or she’s sporting the girl next door look.
Society’s beauty standards told us we were too thick yet at the same time “they” are paying to look like us, our lips are too full yet the surgeons are making a killing from all the injections they’re filling. We are too dark but “they” always want a tan.
I could go on and on about the bias-filled world we’re living in but back to my doll. Now that I’m older I can appreciate my doll for what it is, just a toy, but back then I saw myself in that doll and I know that our kids are looking at the TV, books, magazines, society for something that they can identify with so it’s important that we be mindful of what we are allowing them to see….
Do they look at the TV and see doctors saving lives? See beautiful art being created? Do they see scholars and intellects? Or do they see ratchet videos portraying our women as ghetto? Do they see teenagers aspiring to go to college or do they see get rich quick schemes that say college and getting an education is a waste of time? We can’t blame it all on the media or society though because we have our part to play in the world we create.
It’s important for us, especially as expats, to share our stories with those back home. Share our sacrifices, losses and our triumphs. Provide them with hope that in this global age we are no longer limited by geographical borders or by small-minded thinking. We are no longer limited by the toys we see being mass-produced or the ads we see on TV.
As Marcus Garvey said “if you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life,” the odds are already stacked against us so why are we working so hard to build another? It’s time for us to look within, search deep within us for that strength that took our ancestors out of chains and use it to carve our own path and destiny. Once we do that then we will be our own representation. We will no longer need “them” to produce toys of colour, we can do it ourselves. We will be our own lawyers, doctors, TV show hosts, writers and journalists. We will represent ourselves and carve out our own narratives. Let’s take our truth to the world and make them read and put some respeck on it!
Shauna R is a Jamaican native currently living and teaching in China creating her own version of "eat, pray, love". A young woman with a curious mind as well as a passionate reader; this is Shauna's first foray into writing. The gift of gab and storytelling is one of those skills passed down from her dad, who used to regale the family with many lores.