By Paige Smith
To be young, black, and beautiful…To be completely candid, there was a time I considered this a full time job. Young I could do, black was a given, but beautiful??? That would take concerted time, energy and resources to achieve for sure. Or so I thought as a brown girl coming of age and attempting to find myself.
Beauty was such an elusive concept to me. I grappled with its meaning: was beauty reserved for women with a particular personality type, length of hair, body type, complexion? It seemed to be the stick-thin airbrushed models plastered across magazines and then it would confusingly switch to the bodacious booty shaking video vixens that seemed to be the object of every Black man’s desire. Whatever beauty was at that particular moment, I knew I desperately wanted to be it.
Throughout my teenage years I took myself through an exhausting and often self-destructive journey trying to figure out what was beautiful, if I was, and then if I wasn’t how to convince others that I was. It was a dangerous spiral.
For instance, I would finally decide what was beautiful (usually with the help of some mainstream media source) and then quickly come to the conclusion that no, I did not meet that standard. My response to this was to cover and hide everything I falsely determined unattractive about myself.
All resources were used: statement jewelry, makeup, trendy clothing, funky hairstyles, and eventually heels. It got to a point where I would not leave the house without a full face of make-up, a trendy and “flattering” outfit (by “flattering” I meant made me look as if I had the hourglass body shape I so coveted rather than the lanky V body shape I now know I’ve been blessed with), and matching shoes and accessories.
My perception of myself was painfully warped, yet I didn’t see it at the time. The most deceptive part was that many peers saw me as an example of a young, black, and beautiful woman not realizing what they were admiring was only the carefully assembled superficial version of Paige I presented to the world.
The real Paige was behind all of this glitz and glam in fear of being discovered. This fear was horribly irrational. Through a process of healing, growth, empowerment, and reflection these fears of transparency were torn down (and in some areas are under construction). It was one of the most difficult yet liberating processes I’ve ever gone through.
I slowly began to wear less and less make up—not to say that make up is in any way negative, but my reasons for wearing it were not to enhance my natural beauty but instead to try to create beauty.
Also, the summer after freshman year in college I did what I had wanted to do since freshmen year in high school: go natural. It was a spontaneous decision that I made before any of the nagging voices of doubt could convince me otherwise.
I remembered a question my dad had always challenged me with: “If you had no fear, what would you do?” Looking at my terribly damaged half natural/half relaxed mane in the dorm mirror that late summer night I realized fear of what others would think of me with a short afro was the only factor keeping me from cutting off all my relaxed hair.
My medium to long relaxed hair was one thing I had tenaciously held on to; never convinced I was “pretty enough” to pull off a short hairstyle. After cutting my hair I actually realized how naturally pretty my own face was and even after not wearing makeup I came to the conclusion that I am naturally beautiful!
For those who might be discouraged by this seeming instantaneous breakthrough, this was by no means an immediate conclusion. It instead came from a process of surrounding myself with friends that genuinely found me beautiful and loved me enough to say it when I believed it least and telling myself I was beautiful even when I didn’t feel it. I posted up inspirational quotes and scriptures all over my walls, created a vision board that I looked at daily, and would intentionally begin to think more affirming thoughts about my image.
On the latter end of this journey I can say that I finally know what it means to be young, black, and beautiful. It means to fully embrace who you were created to be. To realize that beauty is not an exclusive trait meant for only those with certain features but is universal to all young black women!
No one woman is created exactly like another. Even if you have an identical twin, you both cannot share the same finger print or DNA. Not only is each woman unique from the other in appearance, but in their personalities, preferences, experiences, gifts, and so much more.
We can understand this easily when we look at a rainbow. Each color is so vibrant and unique and can hardly be compared to the next. We can look at it and know it is beautiful and then look at the next color and be equally amazed by its beauty.
We have to learn to see ourselves in the same way. Not looking to compare, but allowing ourselves to fully behold appreciate the beauty that surrounds us without envy and to finally acknowledge the beauty that we ourselves possess. Because the truth is is that we are all uniquely and innately beautiful.
I wrote this poem for every young woman like myself who may have found herself frustrated by society’s fluctuating standards of beauty. This is my ode to you:
What is beauty?
Can it be found in a tiny glass cosmetic jar that promises to reverse aging?
Is it in the shiniest gloss,
The inkiest mascara,
The rosiest blush?
Can it be compartmentalized, packaged, bottled, mass produced and sold–does it even have a price??
Maybe it’s a specific hue
Or a certain complexion
A particular grade or length of hair
A size of clothing
Is it even tangible at all?
Is it captured in the combination of thin nose and high cheek bone features?
Can it be photoshopped, cropped,
Filtered to perfection?
–Or maybe beauty IS perfection!
The absence of flaws weaknesses human foibles…is beauty plastic then?
We all know what it means…and then again have no idea what it means
But still desperately hope to have its elusive meaning applied to us
The media loves to define it
But don’t you see they’ve created phantom counterfeit
It morphs and shape shifts
One moment slender Anglican features are the standard of beauty
Next full lips and wide hips
It’s ever changing
They’ve made beauty an unattainable measure
When in fact it is intrinsic to every human being
Did you know that?
That just to be you is be-you-tiful
Did you know You are fearfully and wonderfully made
I’m talking especially to the Daughters of men
Who have been torn down by the lies of this world
But here is the truth:
You are Mighty pillars hewn by the Lords own hands
And you will be rebuilt
You do not need to purchase beauty, manipulate your natural features to achieve it, bleach your skin, starve yourself
You ARE beautiful
You are fair
Young brown skin girl
You are dark and lovely
Like a lily of the valley: unique and delicate and precious
Meticulously designed in your mother’s womb
There is no other made just like you
None on this earth exactly like you You
One look at you and the Father is ravished
He wants to see your face and hear your voice
And this is His ode to you
His forehead kiss for every compliment missed
They didn’t know
Remember only the King knew Esther was his queen
So what is Beauty?
Behold beloved–BEAUTY IS YOU!
I pray this post has been encouraging for you! We are all in a journey and I have shared a piece of mine in hopes it would inspire you to loving and celebrating exactly who God has made you to be. As young Black women our self-image and self-worth seems to constantly be under an onslaught of attack from all around us. It is so important to be reminded of our innate and unique beauty.
How has your self-image changed over time? Has this post helped you see yourself a beautiful daughter of the King? Please share, we love hearing from you!