I can’t say that I’m in love with myself. I don’t look in the mirror and think “Damn!” and I also don’t look in the mirror and think hateful thoughts either. I feel as if I’m standing in between self love and self acceptance. For years I would look in the mirror and look at myself with disgust. “Why are my lips so big, why is my nose so huge? why do I look so different from my attractive family?” is what I would often think because my family didn’t instill me a sense of pride or confidence. They instead instilled in me shame.
I didn’t realize until I was in my late 20’s that what everyone was projecting on me was anti blackness and what I was projecting on myself was internalized self hatred. See, Racial ambiguity is applauded in the black community. It’s better to look like you’re mixed with something other than black. Maybe a little Native American on your mom’s side? A little white on your dad’s side? It’s more acceptable to be told “You can’t just be black!!” than actually look black and by looking black I mean ancestry is undeniable in your phenotype. With mines is was unquestionable I was black. I had full lips, a big nose, a big head. I was ugly because of this and somehow masculine as well. Biology had shown otherwise and I never felt I was any other gender, but somehow I was told and made to feel inferior because I was black and looked black. Don’t mistake this begging for sympathy or an attempt to go toe to toe with colorism because I feel this is in the shadows of it. Something that we project that is secondary.
Throughout African American history there was colorism first brought to us by slave masters..We know this, but like trauma, lack of trust, and an inability to feel safe because we knew our freedom could be taken away from us.We never talked about self hatred, we never talked about mental health, we never talked about our fears. So, we kept it in until it’s boiling point reached the surface. We never talked about the flashlight test where other black people pointed a flashlight on the side of a black person’s face to determine entry. If your silhouette checked out you were welcome, but if it didn’t you’re S.O.L. We know about the paper bag test, but we also don’t talk about the comb test which also helped cement a black persons status as an acceptable black by hair texture and if you were denied entry into clubs and education itself which is perceived then to be the great equalizer.
We don’t talk about how these tools of oppression created by our masters quickly became something we accepted as a way of life passed down generation to generation. With the message being clear if you looked black you were ugly and unworthy and if you looked racially ambiguous or white you were exotic or beautiful. I notice this fairly early when I watched television Vanessa Williams was the hottest thing when I was a little girl, Jasmine Guy was the hottest thing, the chick who played Lisa McDowell, and so on and so forth. Advertisements had black women with small noses and pouty lips if they were dark skinned and black women who looked damn near white if they were light skinned. I didn’t realized then that my features were seen as unacceptable, but I knew they were not apart of the beauty norm. I also noticed then because I had a sister people told was beautiful on occasion with no compliments ever sent to me. A sister that no one believed was mine and a sister received preferential treatment and rewards in my family because of her features. I didn’t resent my sister nor was jealous of her. I hated myself then more than I could hate anyone else and I continued to reminded my unworthiness.
I remember liking boys in class being so excited to reveal my feelings with hope that they’d be reciprocated and I would alas have a boyfriend and always being refused. I asked a few boys why and they told me I was ugly and when I had asked “Why?” they’d say because “Your nose is too big and your lips is too big”. Often I would cry and my mother provided no comfort because just like the children she felt I was ugly and doomed. Grown ups were as blatant as children with my own grandmother telling me when I was 10 years old that no one would ever love me because in her words I was a “big nosed dog”.
Something in me as I got older clicked. Maybe it was when I looked in national geographic and history books. When I say West Africans didn’t look so different from me. They were confident, beautiful, and they weren’t ashamed to be connected to their roots, they were unapologetically and unquestionably black and that made them much more beautiful to me. I didn’t look so different from them and what was wrong with that? After the click people insulting me over what I couldn’t control sounded moronic. Instead of hearing “You’re too ugly” I would hear “I don’t like myself much that’s why I’m picking on you” and when I would hear “you look like a man” I would hear “I equate femininity with small European features” and that’s how it is to this day.
So, here I stand between self love and self acceptance. I don’t berate myself when I look in the mirror and I don’t want to kiss reflection. I look like me. I look in the mirror unashamed ready to learn how to wear makeup or figure out a new signature hairdo. I embrace my strong African features in a way I didn’t as a child to adult. Here I was finally ok and every comment I received held no bearing to my day to day life.
It took me a lot to get to this point. To having been told by my boyfriends as an adult “You’d be pretty if” telling me all the things I need to change about myself .When I’d ask why they were with me and when they couldn’t supply a response. I knew it was over and I am now okay with that.
Although I am getting closer to self love by establishing some standards when it came to friends and men, and stopped accepting negative attention and feeling fortunate. I stopped looking to the past and started seeing a future. I stopped wondering what if and starting accepting what is. When I started addressing my trauma, my hurt, and insecurities in a healthy way I knew that I was on the path to self love.