Posted on November 7, 2013
While I work this morning I am listening to the new album by Mali artist Rokia Traore, Beautiful 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.
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.
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.
Posted on December 23, 2012
I read in the news this morning about 16-year-old Taylor Townsend. Townsend
is a rising tennis star who is being compared to Serena Williams, not because of her talent, perseverance, courage and devotion to her sport, but because of her color, stature and “baby fat.” I am not surprised that her age is news (wow!), but why is the color and shape of her remarkably (fantastically!) strong and healthy adolescent body news? Really? Aargh! Ms. Townsend is not an automobile. She is not an airplane. She is not a horse. She is not a wrestler trying to make weight for classification. She is a young, very young, girl who, by the way, is a kick ass, winning athlete.
Being a feminist (an equalitist!), a teacher and a mother of two girls, this kind of news, of course, makes me crazy. In educating my 6- and 10-year-old daughters about their bodies, about sex and about equality as reflected in our current cultural values, it’s this last one – our cultural values – that is the most difficult.
I do not intend this rant to be anything other than that – a rant. I don’t have anything particularly fresh or enlightening to contribute to the equality dialog except to stay to the haters and ill-informed: Knock it Off. Stop talking about how girls look. In particular, stop commenting to girls directly. Please stop telling my amazing daughter, “Gosh – you’re soooo big! You must be the biggest kid in kindergarten! And your feet – Wow! They’re huge!” My girls (and yours) don’t need to be told they’re big, tall, blonde, brown, beautiful or even smart. Please don’t tell them anything about themselves. They’re figuring that out on their own. They will define themselves by themselves. Ha! That’s just a mother’s wishful thinking.
If you’re really curious and want to connect with them, how about you ask them a few questions about something other than their size or hair or outfit? Questions like, “What are you reading right now? What kind of music are you into? Seen any good movies lately? Snowboarder or skier? or even Do you have any pets?” Questions like this will get you some real information about these girls. If you’re not really interested, no sweat – there’s no need to say anything.
Of course, dear visitor, if you’re reading this, this rant is not for you. That’s the real problem with people who don’t think they have equality/racist/or judgment issues – they would never read something like this. Or care.
Thanks for letting me blow off some steam.
And thanks for visiting.