Kara, I will sing to you of beautiful. The tall, graceful Masai women of Tanzania, whose bodies sway like the wind in a sea of oats when they want you to admire their earrings, their multicolored necklaces. Of Somali women with slightly slanted eyes, mocha skin, broad foreheads, and sharp chins. Of Zulu and Hutu and Tutsi women and the women of the markets, women with skin so black it has a tinge of blue. Women whose great broad hips sway in the sun in perfect balance to the baskets they heft. Women whose deep set eyes and broad noses and strong faces appear suddenly, in silence, in the forests of Rwanda as they balance great heavy branches on their heads. They move like gazelles, effortless, with all the colors of the rainbow draped across their hips and shoulders.
Let me sing to you of beautiful, the women of the Ugandan markets, whose warm hands guide me to view the bright clothing, whose musical laughter fills the air like song, and whose songs fill the night lit by the fires.
You want to see beautiful, Kara? Come to Africa. There the women wear their color and their hair and their smiles and their noses with enormous pride. Their tight kinks and long braids and cornrows and their turbans, a million million different versions of lovely.
It’s breathtaking. And ultimately freeing.
The women you see who are representing Black in American media are so often considered lovely because of how Anglo their features are. I hear you. However, where I travel in the world, the women with Black skin are in their skin, unapologetic, dignified, proud.
My guess, although I don’t know if this is accurate, is that if I had grown up in an African village as a white woman, I might be measuring my beauty by my lack of a broad nose, kinky hair, broad hips and large curving lips. I can’t possibly know that. But if the handsome young men of my village, when it came time to pick a partner, eschewed me for women with blue black skin and kinky hair and broad noses, I’d feel ugly.
This is our humanity. We judge ourselves with terrible finality by others’ standards, when in truth, in the eyes of our Maker, we are quite lovely enough. My second mother was Black. Large, generous, with great strong arms with which she held me many a time. She was beautiful. And she didn’t look anything like any actress, any model. She was just fully herself, standing in the kitchen making biscuits and fried chicken, singing a song to her disabled grandson, cradling us in turn.
Shall I sing you a song of beauty, Kara?
Look in the mirror.