Updated: Aug 14, 2020
"I need to see my own beauty and to continue to be reminded that I am enough, that I am worthy of love without effort, that I am beautiful, that the texture of my hair and that the shape of my curves, the size of my lips, the color of my skin, and the feelings that I have are all worthy and okay." ~ Tracee Ellis Ross
Again, thank you all who have continuously read, especially with everything going on. I truly value everyone that takes the time out to read my entries! Every reader is greatly appreciated, and there is more to come! This is a really personal entry and it brought back a lot of emotions, I hope y’all enjoy!
My self-esteem as a Black woman was tested before I even knew what self-esteem was. My mother told me this story of a young, bright-eyed version of Cheyenne. I was in elementary school and it was around Halloween season. I apparently disclosed to my closest friends at that time that I was going to be a princess for this coming Halloween. One of these friends decided to let me know that I cannot be a princess because I am Black. Now honestly I have no recollection of this event nor my feelings after, but my mother told me I was truly devastated when I told her. During this period, there is no Princess and the Frog. Little girls like me during this time did not have Tiana and her prince Naveen for our “happily ever after“ inspiration. They're princesses that look nothing like me, but I always gravitated towards the Pocahontas and the Jasmine simply due to their melanin. Now looking back at this as an adult, I would have schooled her like no other, explaining that her deduction was solely based on anti-Blackness that is instilled in her. Oh, but I would not have stopped there, I then would have continued by also acknowledging her lack of competency and overall ignorance because my people are far greater than any Disney princess. But, hey, we all do not have the pleasure of a “redo button”, so I’ll take that L(esson).
That was then, this is now. But, the feelings are roughly the same.
For some odd reason, I look to others for approval of my appearance, both physical and nonphysical features. I put my entire character into the hands of others. I can’t even imagine how much power that is. Come to find out, that is the foundation for the concept of lookism. Lookism is defined as a preference for attractive or positive stereotypes, prejudice, and preferential treatment to physically attractive people (whose appearance matches cultural values). Researchers found a high correlation between those that are deemed “attractive” with their overall social life. Attractive people typically having more friends, better social skills, and a more active sex life. Not only that but they also experience preferential treatment in hiring, evaluation, promotion, and earning. Yet, as we all know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The concept of beauty is such a fickle thing. It’s so subjective that you will hear a large variety means of attractiveness from person to person. Due to that, there aren’t any federal laws in the United States to protect against appearance-based discrimination (with an exception of a few state laws). Unattractiveness cannot be a discrete category like race or gender because there is not a “concrete” standard of beauty.
I put concrete in quotations simply because though there is not an actual category for unattractiveness, people often get placed in one anyway. I am sure we are all culprits of calling somebody ugly lol. (Today, I will be focusing specifically on Black women’s self-esteem regarding beauty standards with a hope to get a male perspective soon!) Our societal beauty standards are built on gender stereotypes that shape our patriarchal society. For example, traits that are typically associated with women are emotional, helpful, and kind which is in the warm-expressiveness cluster. Even most of the time, considered weak, submissive, and naive. For the most part, our society is in-line with these stereotypes turned expectations, and mirrors the characteristics described. Therefore, this sets the notion that there is no room for those that do not fit this norm. Now, these stereotypes have become prescriptive (what women should be/look like) instead of descriptive.
Unfortunately, Black women do not get the privilege of benefitting from these expectations of beauty. The negative notion of being “difficult”, “ghetto”, “ugly”, “masculine”, “too Black”, and more have placed us on the lowest tier on the social hierarchy. As Malcolm X said, “The most disrespected woman in amerikkka, is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in amerikkka is the Black woman. The most neglected person in amerikkka is the Black woman.” We did not get our first Black princess until 2009 which was 68 years after the first credited Disney princess, Persephone, debuted. I know the topic of princesses seems childish, but think back to yourself as a young kid. You just bought your new Halloween costume with your fresh new bag waiting for the plethora of candy to fall in. And with the biggest smile on your face, you tell your friends you’re a (fill in the blank) just for them to tell you that you CANNOT because of your race. I used to look myself in the mirror as a kid almost every day with disappointment because I internalized the notion of not meeting these beauty standards. As I grew up, my disappointment grew with me. I am actually not sure if I ever grew out of it. Disappointed in my very small body, disappointed in the shape of my nose (you have no idea how many times I’ve googled a rhinoplasty), disappointed with not receiving male attention compared to my other friends... just disappointed with me. I absolutely hated my natural hair and tried to mask/hide it at all costs. I called myself ugly and meant it. Sometimes I am still that little girl in her big purple dress, tiara, and low self-esteem during Halloween, even at the age of 21. We are always our biggest critics, and I am actually remembering the amount of pain I have caused myself while writing this. I cannot even name how many instances where I find myself gaining self-esteem and confidence just to have it questioned or belittled immediately after.
I no longer desire to meet up to anyone’s expectations any longer.
As long as I am the beholder, I am beautiful.