By Tori Sampson, Playwright
December 4, 2018
“Black is beauty, Black is me, Black is what I want to be.” A line from a poem that Brittney, my elder sister, wrote in elementary school. My mother was so proud she insisted that all her daughters recite the phrase as we left home and entered the world.
Head held high and expanded chest, Brittney exclaimed the words she sincerely knew to be true.
My twin and I despised this ritual.
We’d roll our eyes on the walk to the bus. They just didn’t get it. Duh, we knew we were Black and also aware that very rarely was our complexion considered beautiful and why did we have to want to be something just because we ARE that thing? What’s so wrong with wanting to be something that you’re not?
I think the last question kept my mother up at night. She prayed for the day ALL her daughters would recognize their beauty. We prayed for the day our “beauty” would be recognizable.
Moesha was a television show that changed the game for millions of Black girls. I remember seeing Brandy on my screen and buggin’ out! She was Black-Black, with chocolate, full lips and she wore braids! And in the 90s, braided hair on a celebrity was a political statement. Her hair became so popular we stopped calling them box braids and renamed them Brandy Braids. AND THEN when we thought it couldn’t get any better…Brandy had the nerve to embody Cinder-freakin’-ella!
"Beauty is a social construct and the definition is in constant flux but — just like race and gender — its implications are very, very real."
Cinderella was White with blonde hair and blue eyes and then, just like that, she wasn’t. Someone with power made a choice to reimagine her. Someone decided that financial, social, and cultural capital existed behind this modification. And it did. Costumes, bookbags, notebooks, lunchboxes, sneakers, t-shirts, you name it. Anything screened with the “Black Cinderella” flew off the shelves. This taught nine-year-old me a few very important truths:
Beauty is a social construct and the definition is in constant flux but — just like race and gender — its implications are very, very real.
There is POWER in beautiful. There is wealth and opportunity in being beautiful. No wonder so many desire it. Dream about it. Work tirelessly to attain it. Beauty opens doors and well…ugly closes them.
Ugly. We’ve all felt it, feel it, know it to live somewhere on us, in us. We try to run but it chases us down. How do we modify when it catches us? How do we cope? How can we escape?
EVERY woman, no matter her race, size, complexion, hair texture/color, height, socioeconomic status, or perceived self esteem, has a journey to BEAUTIFUL. Some, like my sister, get there swiftly, and for the rest of us, just like getting out of bed, choosing to live beautifully — BEYOND another’s definition — is a decision we have to recommit to every day.