Growing up, I was often told to be myself and love the skin you’re in. But I found myself wondering, “Who’s skin do they really mean?” As an Afro-Caribbean woman living in a white dominated society, I never felt accepted for my looks in either realm. Upon first glance, you might notice that I am very petite. Standing in at a whopping four feet eleven inches and weighing roughly a hundred pounds, I have always been rather small for my age and battled with my size in comparison to black women popular in mainstream media and black family and friends.
The mainstream media often plays up the idea that the ideal black women is curvaceous, but with a slim waist. They portray black women as sexualized props for their publications, perhaps never considering the underlying implications of their actions. Through media portrayal of other black women, I had a certain image in my head of how I am supposed to look in order to be considered a beautiful black woman and grew up discouraged that I had never developed the way I hoped. Making matters worse, through out my life, black peers at predominately black or white schools and family members often teased me for my lack of curves, emphasizing my youthful looks. Upon meeting people for the first time, often people ask me if I am sure of my age, shocked at how young I looked based on my height and size. And at the predominately black high school that I transferred into during the tenth grade, I was too often bullied for my height and size. I was a target. To be curvy in my culture and family is to be sexy, a real woman. It was a rare moment that I have felt like I belonged within my culture.
In contrast, throughout my school life and more so now in a predominately white university, I also battled with the pressure of white society’s beauty ideals. As many of you are well aware, in white society, women with white or tan skin, tall stature, blond long hair and blue eyes are celebrated as beautiful. Unfortunately for my self-esteem, I do not and never will possess any of those attributes. I have dark brown skin, thick, curly textured hair, big lips, brown eyes and a flat nose. Rarely do you see a dark skinned black woman with these features celebrated as being beautiful in the eyes of the media, white society publications or even amongst fellow African-Americans because in white dominated society we are all in someway influenced to believe that these attributes are truly beautiful. In turn, many find dark colored skin unattractive, my natural hair unruly, my lips too big and my nose to wide.
For instance, I recall in the third grade when a black friend attempted to sketch my face as a gift. Upon presenting it, she apologized for the appearance of my lips in the sketch, citing my lips as being “too big” to draw. Since then, I got in the bad habit of hiding my so-called blackness by pulling my lips into my mouth when not talking. Later, in the fourth grade, a white classmate found it pertinent that she had to ask me a question burning inside her for quite some time. If I remember correctly, she asked me “Since, you have black skin, do you get hotter than me when the sun shines?” What’s more, in the sixth grade, a white peer put her hand through my hair remarking on how ‘kinky’ it is, with a look of disdain. Throughout middle school and high school, friends often gathered around comparing skin tones, getting it down to a science the names of the different shades of brown among us. These various memories that are engrained in my being culminated to create feelings of inadequacy. The constant questioning of my differences and feelings of inadequacy turned my worry about my looks into an obsession. Making sure my clothes were trendy and immaculately put together became important because it was the only aspect of my looks that I could control.
Now at Boston College where people are quick to pinpoint the typical BC girl as being white, skinny, pretty, blond haired, model-like and blue-eyed, these same feelings from the past all too often creep up on me. Similarly to when I was younger, at times I am filled with envy of my white friends or lighter complected friends. But since being at BC, I grew tired of comparing myself to others. Self-hatred is an exhausting, all-encompassing disease that I refused to engulf me any longer. I began to evaluate my circumstances. I looked into the history of colorism and racism, realizing that my negative self-image concerning my skin color, features and hair texture were stemming from a history of oppression. Instead of feeling less than for the beauty that I have inherited, I wanted to honor those that suffered during this history with a confidence to have their wide nose, sizable lips, deep, rich skin-tone, and versatile hair.
Instead, for instance, I celebrated the versatility of my hair by donning the different ways that African-Americans can style their hair.With regards to my height and size, I began to accept myself when I realized that everyone, even airbrushed models, had something about them that they wanted to change. I asked myself, if those that are told they are beautiful are not considered good enough to be put on the pages of magazines, why am I killing my spirit with negative thoughts about my size. What’s more, several people who I have shared my story with often tell me that they wish they were less curvy and were thinner while I expressed wishing I had the body typical of black woman in mainstream media.
Taking a step back, I realized, everyone wants what they don’t have. In addition, being that the average woman is petite standing in at five feet four give or take a few inches, does my being shorter than the already short average make a significant difference? Average, too often in our society, has become synonymous with being ugly or not beautiful. We have been told that celebrities or models are an ideal that we should look toward and that they are celebrated for being better than us. But, what’s important to remember is not one single person is average or normal. We should all instead revel in our differences. It makes things a lot more interesting and diverse.
I have revelled in my differences with humor, namely with regards to my height. Recently, I learned from a friend that if I am an official little person, I can receive monetary benefits from the government. Excitedly, I researched further to find exactly how and when I can receive my money! But, to my dismay, at four feet eleven I just missed the mark and I am not an official little person. No government check at the end of this month. What I have gained in lieu of money is a confidence about my body. There is no value that I can place on this love I share with….none other than myself.
A native of Boston, Massachusetts, Jasmine Rose attends Boston College where she is active in anti-racism efforts, spoken word poetry, community service, and immigration reform. Recently, she performed in her college’s production of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues and gained 21 sisters she never knew she needed. In the future, she hopes to become a screenplay writer or actress. You can follow her on twitter or read her weekly rants on her blog.