b e a u t i f u l g i r l s

While I work this morning I am listening to the new album by Mali artist Rokia TraoreBeautiful Africa.  It is gorgeous and good company as I mix and card wools alone in my studio.  The dark color and texture of these wools + the African music led me to think about dreadlocks and a new cousin that was born to our family two weeks ago.  She is the daughter of my 1st cousin’s adopted daughter.  My cousin and her husband adopted this daughter and her brother many years ago from Africa.

They are dark skinned and my cousin and her husband are not.  Neither, of course, are their other two children who came to them through her own pregnancies. My cousin has blue eyes and blondish hair that she can sit on.  I remember when my cousin’s adopted daughter got to the states. One of the first things she wanted to do was get extensions.  This beautiful girl wanted to change something significant about her appearance the moment she got here.  Perhaps she had always wanted extensions, but I cannot imagine there were many children or grown ups wearing them in the orphanage she lived in.  I could be wrong.

Anyway, I’m thinking a lot about this second generation American girl.  This tiny cinnamon girl with lots of dark, curly hair.  I think about her a lot because she’s got a few health issues, she’s brand new and family and I might get to meet her next summer – but I am also thinking about her because of a recent thing I experienced.

I dressed up last weekend to be a fortune teller at my youngest daughter’s school.  I must have looked a bit intimidating as

La Catrina (aka Death).  I was unrecognizable as myself.  I had full face makeup and the kids were a bit hesitant to come up to me until I smiled and offered to tell their fortune and give them a treat.   I invited kids to ask me a question about their future.  Now, kids, especially young ones, don’t think much about their future outside of what they might want to “be” when they grow up (it’s strange and unfortunate that we ask children this all the time – but that’s for a different post).  Anyway, when the kids stared at me blankly, I asked them to give me their palms so I could read them.  All of my answers were positive and sometimes cheeky, especially if I knew the child.  Then one little girl came to me and without any hesitation asked me if she was going to be beautiful when she grew up.  This question surprised me.  Threw me off.  It upset me.  I didn’t show my feelings.  I took her hand, looked at her palm and consulted my crystal ball.

 I closed my eyes for a moment then opened them and said, “Well, the crystal ball is telling me what I already know – that you are beautiful now so of course you’ll continue to be beautiful.  You are also destined to have great adventures …..”  She smiled brightly, took a gumball eyeball and left.  I read many more palms and then I got another girl who asked, “Will I be beautiful when I am eighteen?”  This girl was probably 8.  She was gorgeous.  Her eyes were bright and shiny and she asked with such earnest concern it broke my heart.  I essentially repeated what I’d told the other little girl and she, too, gave me a smile and left.  Some time passed and a third girl came to me with this same question, I looked around to see if she was with the other two girls I’d given fortunes to.  No.  She came alone just as the other two had.  This time I felt angry.  Furious and devastated.  I gave this young girl an honest appraisal of her lovliness and told her she was going to love college.  She blinked behind her glasses and took off with her treat.

For the record, all three of these girls have dark skin.  Gorgeous brown skin.  Two of them wear glasses.  Not one of the white children asked me anything about how they would look when they grow up and no boys asked me.  My daughters have never asked whether they are beautiful or not.  There will come a day, I’m sure, however, when they will wonder if they are pretty in comparison to other girls/women.

It’s a universal currency – beauty – especially for women.  A friend spent his time in the Peace Corps in Cameroon.  He is American and caucasian.  He said that Cameroonian mothers regularly came to him to give him their daughters to take back to the US.  These daughters were not “pretty” and would have a difficult time marrying.  The pretty girls married very early, evidently, and had children early and never left their villages.  These “other” girls were not valued in the same way.  However, they would sometimes get out of their village/s and pursue education.

So my thinking is not about race, really. I’m white and cannot speak to what it’s like to be black.  My thoughts/question is about our perception of beauty and can we turn that around, or, can we love our girls enough and in such a way that they won’t compare themselves and come up short?  I don’t think we can do the inside work for our girls, but I do believe it is up to us to devalue the beauty currency.   We could start by talking about our bodies with reverence. We could show ourselves to each other and our children (figuratively and literally) – scars and sagging and crooked teeth and pocked skin and whatever else – and tell the stories they hold.   What if we really began to believe that we really are beautiful, too?   What if we remember that it’s just ridiculous dumb luck we got to the planet at all and that we have this amazing body to direct and use and the packaging is interesting, but packaging nonetheless.  The contents are the good stuff.

I am challenging myself to live more consciously and in love.  On slow days I am more in love.  The beauty of everything is more obvious to me.  I can linger in moments and really see.  I want to redefine beauty so that it’s described in terms of behaviors.  I want to cheer you on while you fall in love with and live your beautiful life, too – whatever your definition.  Also, we could be genuinely curious and concerned about each other and therefore clearly see the beauty in one another.  I think that would help.

Thanks for stopping by.

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