We women want to feel beautiful. It matters to us — to some more than to others — but our looks matter to us.
It does not matter how educated, successful, rich, betrothed, or talented a woman is, she spends time, money, conversation and consternation on her looks. Who remembers Oprah, arguably the most successful television mogul in history, struggling to lose weight over the years? And let’s not pretend that this quest was only about her weight and health. Even she admitted that she wanted to fit into a pair of jeans.
Be clear: I’m not saying that this reality isn’t fucked up. I’m not saying that the fact that we care, that men care, that society places such a high level of importance on the way a woman looks is a good thing. But as the saying goes: it is what is is. And feeling beautiful is important to women.
So, what happens when nothing that the world defines as beautiful looks like you?
What if every night when you were in elementary school, your mother balanced herself at the edge of your bed and read bedtime stories and all of the beautiful princesses, the heroines, the ones that the knight saved, or the Queen never looked like you or your mother? Nor did the Barbie Dolls, the girls on The Brady Bunch, The Mickey Mouse Club, Happy Days, or The Super Friends?
Then when you moved to middle and high school, there were no Brown girls in any magazines and the prettiest girl on television was Daisy from The Dukes of Hazard. Then MTV, and then later, BET became your pop-culture tourist guide, leading you through all things trending, cool, beautiful and sexy. Girls danced on yachts, across concert stages, on the sides of pools, and streets and not one looked like you. At best, Brown meant bi-racial or Latina with long, straight hair.
And every time someone insults you or one of your friends they include “Black” in the insult: you stupid, Black bi$%h, I hate your Black ass, so much so that you unconsciously start to believe that Black is the worst thing you can call someone or be. Black, nappy-headed, big-nosed, big-lipped become synonymous with ugly.
You straighten your hair, long for lighter skin, pray for your hair to grow longer or your nose to be thinner. If only—- could change then you’d be beautiful.
You also become increasingly aware of how hard things are for Black Americans. So, you think that you have a partner in Black men. They have certainly been called “Black” in the derogatory form, or “Nigger”. Even if they haven’t been called a name directly, indirectly they have been given the message that Black is bad: they’ve been stopped by the police multiple times for doing nothing wrong, they’ve watched someone clutch a purse tightly when they get into the elevator, they’ve been turned down from a job or away from receiving service; they have been followed in a store. They watch the news.
But, you truly see the Black man because he is you. He is not ugly or dangerous. And you stay loyal and true to him, the Black man — even if he is overrepresented in jail and underrepresented in colleges and board rooms – because you believe in him. You feel his struggle as you know that he has been trying to make it in the same racist society as you. So you root for him, believe in him, love him. You see his potential. You see his beauty.
But, then you realize that even he doesn’t see yours. He looks away when he walks past you with his White girlfriend or wife. You thought if anyone could see your beauty — it would be him — a Black man because you’ve always seen his. Though your beauty has been rejected by almost all of mainstream society; his rejection stings the most. It feels almost like a betrayal (I thought we were in this together — Brotha?). It scares you (if he – the Black man – doesn’t see our beauty-who will)? It confuses you: so now big butts, full lips, braided hair are attractive assets now that every Kardashian and every Real Housewife has gotten them through surgery, implants or injections? It angers you: don’t you understand that the same racist principles that have depressed the success of Black men is what’s causing you to reject me? Your anger isn’t about the White woman, or your beliefs that all people should be able to love who they want to love, or even about that particular Black man; as much as it is about you and your need to be appreciated and loved if not by society–at least by him (who society has also chiefly rejected).
You want to be absolutely strong — to not care. You are successful, loved by many, oftentimes educated and well-employed. You try to convince yourself (and the people around you) that it is enough. You don’t need to feel pretty. “I don’t need a man, you proclaim.” You are good.
But you aren’t—not really, not all of the time.
And then Jesse Williams comes on stage and the magic of television makes it seem as if he is looking at you. He is handsome — no–that man is drop yo panties, lose your religion, and screw him on the first date type of fine. And he is up on that stage, looking at you, dropping knowledge about the beauty in Blackness: Black history, Black people, Black women, Black you. You are mesmerized. You can count on your fingers the times that Black and beautiful were put in the same sentence. You can’t remember a single time in your life that a Black man declared his admiration for Black women publicly (the way the most powerful man in the world, President Barack Obama, loves his Black wife has come close). And then the camera pans from Jesse to his Black wife sitting in the audience. She’s not “what is she” Black, she’s unquestionably a Sista. And he loves her. She is beautiful to him. She is worthy of love. And suddenly you feel hopeful. You feel the lightness of possibility start to grow in your belly.
And you needed that affirmation and hope. As much as the affirming memes and the late-night, wine-filled girls’ nights have been helpful, you are still left feeling lonely and sometimes scared. Being alone is working for now; but you don’t want it to be forever.
You are strong. And yes, there are times–lots of times–when you you feel absolutely gorgeous. But, if you are honest, there something about the way a Black man loves you that makes you feel your most beautiful because he sees and understands parts of you that others can’t. They are unable. Living in this world as Black Americans is a unique experience; and we beautiful Black women have Tubman’ed the path for all of us. You’d like for Black men to start seeing that-seeing you –just as Jesse did.
And also thank my amazing wife for changing my life. Jesse Williams