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My childhood might have been different if models looked like these women when I was a child. Occasionally, very very seldom, I’d see a beautiful black woman, but almost never would her hair be natural (see the model in green above) and not chemically straightened within an inch of its life. If dark skin and kinky hair were declared gorgeous, the woman who adopted me and two other unfortunate orphans would not have been filled with self loathing because of how she looked. She would not have sought out light skinned kids to adopt to purposely pass us off as her own so she could dishonestly declare to have white ancestors. It was important to her to that others think her capable of producing light skinned children. She would not have projected her hatred on to us, and raged at us that we hated being black and thought we were better than her. I was three years old when I was accused of thinking I was better than her and I knew she hated me for it. This black woman, born in the early 1930’s, would not have tried to claim our so-called “good” hair for herself and forbid us from touching our own hair (seriously) because our hair belonged to her. My classmates would not have teased me for having so-called “bad” hair and they might not have spent afternoons experimenting with different projectiles to see which ones would stick in my poof of frizz. I might not have had a poof of frizz if magazines, my only source of beauty info, recognized that not every reader should be advised to brush her hair upside down with 200 brisk brush strokes to add “body.” My God, kids are cruel when you give them an easy target! Maybe, with models like the women above I would have had choices between acceptable looks instead of straightening my hair within an inch of its life and getting chemical burns on my scalp. Today young black women wear their hair natural with ease and not necessarily as a defiant political statement against restrictive cultural norms–like bra burning. Today, young black women just wear their hair the way it is, and if you have never experienced the strange mix of rejection, hatred and jealousy thrown at me because my mother was white, you cannot even begin to imagine what it is like to…be… acceptable. Even beautiful! I see pictures of models who would have been called “oven-crispy” if they had had my childhood…I see these pictures and I know the significant progress that has made these pictures possible and I am glad I lived to see the day when inclusion and diversity were more than just platitudes. They are life saving realities.
I never imagined that my lips, the same lips kids laughed at for being so full, would one day be used in a picture to advertise whatever stuff they inject into thin lips to give the lips “body.” Things really can change.