Being a teenage girl is difficult. Puberty sucks. Getting your period sucks. You have no idea if Timmy likes you because last week he said he did but now he’s hanging out with Martha, and you’re just really confused about life in general. This time can be brutal for all girls’ self-esteem but especially for black girls’.
I spent most of my adolescence in a predominantly white, middle class and suburban community. To say that my town lacked diversity would be an understatement. This impacted the way I saw the world. As the daughter of two Kenyan immigrants, I was different, and being different at a young age isn’t easy. My skin never really bothered me. I would make jokes about not having to wear sunscreen or always having a tan to my friends with much paler complexions. But I never felt like I was beautiful. Mostly this derived from my hair.
Everyone around me had variations of long silky hair. Meanwhile, I was left to fight my kinky, curly locks that often broke combs and left me in tears. Even when I used harsh chemicals to straighten it, it was never like everyone else’s. I would stick up when the wind blew in it and while my friends would complain about their hair being too oily, mine wasn’t oily enough.
Watching TV, any black women that I did see were either had mixed ancestry where their hair grew out in nice curls or wore expensive weaves. All the celebrities I saw, all the models, all of the dolls I played with, everything that was supposed to be an example of “beauty” was nothing like what I had. So I found myself to be unbeautiful, because I could not meet the Eurocentric beauty standards set before me.
Unfortunately, this is still the case for many girls today. Actually, not just girls but women as well. But you may say, “Oh no, you had it different, your surroundings are what made you feel this way.” But even within the black community itself, beauty standards are often dictated by colorism and an idea of “good” hair which eventually winds back to those good old Eurocentric beauty ideals. I’ve heard mothers tell their daughters that they need to get their hair done or that they have “bad” hair. By that they mean their daughter need to make themselves look more like their Caucasian counterparts. So this mentality just recycles itself, with generations following one another with this lie that who they are is not as good as others around them.
I’ve spoken with friends who refuse to let the world see their natural hair. They shift from weaves to braids, swearing that no one can ever see them without add-ons because somewhere along the way the world convinced them that who they are, the way they were born, was inadequate. Because over time, the media and the rest of society has shown them that having your hair be a giant fluff ball is not attractive, because the work place has made them feel like the kinky curls so tight that you can only really understand them when you feel them are somehow unprofessional.
As great as it would be to say that beauty doesn’t matter, that it’s all about what’s underneath (which it should be), no one likes to feel like a bump on a log. Feeling beautiful is often tied to people’s self-worth, especially for young women. When people feel that they are undesirable, that they are worth less than others, often times they seek that approval elsewhere. Sometimes, it can be from good sources like education, but often times this sense of approval is sought through other, less beneficial media. To empower young black women, to make them feel like they are beautiful and they’re heard is to change future generations.
This sense of empowerment can only come from ourselves. How we treat one another, how the media portrays their ideas of beauty and strength. In a recent conversation with a friend, they brought up this good question: what would happen in Michelle Obama went natural? How great would it be for other girls throughout the nation see this strong, driven, role model accepting what so many have told them is ugly? But that may turn off other demographics, thinking she’s “too black.” But to quote the first lady herself, “Black girls rock!” and our society needs to start telling them that a little bit more.