(I wanted to start the following sentence with the phrase “like a lot of girls,” but truly, that’s a reductive statement, and only belittles my/our pain; I mention this in case anyone else often feels inclined to conform to this rather sexist statement.)
I have always wanted to be pretty. Growing up, I believed that I was. But, with every year that passed, it’s as if I became more aware of all of the reasons that I wasn’t. I noticed those pretentious distinctions between myself, and the girls that everyone, peers, siblings, youth leaders, teachers, etc. called pretty. Typically, their hair was straighter, their skin was lighter, and there was nothing “too big” or “too small” about their face. I was not “the pretty girl.”
Of course, that in itself was never the issue. I remember having beautiful friends when I wasn’t hyper aware of beauty standards and the culture that surrounded it; and never once did I compare myself. What really hurt was eventually noticing the difference in treatment between them and me. When kids would throw things at my face, when guys would make me the butt of the joke, or when I would simply get ignored as soon as the “pretty girl” or the “lighter girl” was in proximity, I always noticed.
I ended up internalizing the pain that this caused me for so many years until I became comfortable viewing the world as a place that had no place for me. This view remained even when guys started taking an interest in me. I developed a habit of self-loathing and meditating on anger rather than letting go; the thought of the latter never even occurred to me. I know that this experience is shared among women of all racial backgrounds. But, as a black girl, and the only one in my family, my pain grew particularly rancid. In other people’s eyes, not excluding some family members, I had become “that black girl with a bad attitude,” hence no need to figure out why.
As I grew into my late teens, my insecurities grew with me; I still compared myself to “prettier girls”, and in the mirror, still only looked at what wasn’t European enough. But, my knowledge of the origin was no longer at the forefront of my mind. All I knew was that I didn’t feel as good about myself as I wanted to; and the confusion as to why led me to blame myself, and thus inevitably led to depression.
I wasn’t aware of how dangerous this way of being was until one day, I realized that I didn’t have any, nor was I able to make any friends. Even recently, I got into a relationship with someone I had wanted for years, but as soon as I found out that he had previously been in a relationship with the beautiful white girl we grew up with, whom I had always envied for having an insane amount of pretty-privilege, it triggered me so severely that I literally watched the hope I had for a future with him disintegrate into a familiar, lonely void. I didn’t realize how many years worth of trauma I had created by never addressing the root of my pain.
It took an incredible loss to realize how much work needed to be done within me, that I may finally set myself free from this commercialized, commodified mode of comparison that has robbed me of relationships as well as the truth that I am my own kind of beautiful. I can make my own definition, and in doing so find the foundation that I’ve never had, SELF-LOVE. It’s a shame that I had to lose someone that I whole-heartedly thought the world of in order to realize this. But, because I was in need of so much self-love at this point in my life, the price inevitably stacked up pretty fucking high. Though after all, love always demands a deep sacrifice.
I’m so glad that self-care and self-love has become a trend in this day and age; it means that little girls, little black girls will have a better chance of becoming aware of it’s vitality early on. I wish for all little black girls, resilience, no matter how the world treats them.