Beauty is a Beast

by Janelle Harris

74639303I bare my soul in the articles that I write. OK, well maybe not my soul, but I certainly expose more of myself than I would if I was, you know, an average woman with a healthy dose of discretion and common sense. I spill on all my scattered thoughts, tell all my business and use my experiences for your reading entertainment. It’s all for you, Clutchettes. So this article here? This one is no different. If I can help just one person—someone hand me a tissue, please, I’m choking up here—by letting them know that like the great MJ, they are not alone in having crazy random thoughts, then my editorial ramblings have not been typed in vain.

Today class, I’d like to share about my womanly insecurities. Even though I am quite grown with a kid and a car note and a cable bill and a 401(k) to certify that I am in fact an adult, I have these pre-teeny moments of envying other women that take me back, mentally, to the time when I was a pimply-faced 12-year-old cutting out pictures from my mom’s Essence because I wished I looked like the models on the pages. Though I haven’t thrown it back that far (and someone please get Jesus on the mainline if I do regress that much), this I will admit: I have body envy. I look at other women, not—to the chagrin of every stereotypical male fantasy—in a sexual way, and compare myself to them. It’s something I always thought I would grow out of but it can’t get much growner than this. And yet, the condition still lingers.

Case in point: While watching MTV, I secretly had a bout of resentment for not being built like the video girls, balking at God for not ordering me up a tall, stately physique with a Coke bottle shape. On screen, a fancy foreign car with limo tint and a spotless wax job pulls up, center stage. Three buxom brick houses emerge from its back seat, glistening with body oil that accentuates their flawlessness from crown to heel—no love handles, no stretch marks, no rippling cellulite, no evidence of gravity’s betrayal on their breasts, which sit so high they threaten to topple over the tops of their designer string bikinis. I sigh, stretching my mind back to days of old when my own body looked like a chiseled work of art and quickly ingest a gulp of hard reality: wait a minute, my body has never looked like that. Ah well, a sista can romanticize about the glory days that never were. I dust Doritoes crumbs off of my chest and flip the channel, chastising myself for inhaling a bag of snacks that have taken me 35,000 calories farther from even C-list video girl stackedness.

But TV is smoke and mirrors, right? Body parts are taped up, glued down, cosmetically spruced and aesthetically primped into physical superiority. It’s their job to look like walking perfection, I console myself. So not to be deterred from applying my hang-ups to everyday life, I size myself up next to everyday women as well. Case in point: After agreeing to meet a friend downtown for a happy hour-esque poetry event, I walk right into what has to be the largest collective of the most outwardly stunning women in the District of Columbia. If every other lady in there wasn’t qualified to be the lead in the next Ludacris video, then I must be sane (and I think I’ve proven by now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I am not). I scan the room, bubbling with teenage-like awkwardness at the abounding gorgeousness and pick out parts I’d love to claim as my own: this one’s waistline, this one’s bust line, this one’s apple bottom. Leave it to said friend, who herself is an hourglass-shaped knockout, to come up with a place ripe for the America’s Next Top Model picking. I take one for the average girl team and enjoy the evening, intermittently wondering if a local plastic surgeon would be willing to barter with a very unwealthy freelance writer in exchange for a full body reconstruction.

By now, I’m sure my secret is out: my self-esteem isn’t the highest. But I also think I’ve fallen victim to the same unrealistic influences that we warn young girls not to fall prey to. Much like the figures of rail-thin models became the main concept of beauty for misled little white girls, who to this day make up the bulk of eating disorder sufferers, women in our community have been pressed to possess the prototypical, quintessential sista girl shape—thick thighs, full hips, voluptuous breasts and a big ol’ bubble booty, all idealistically packaged with a tiny, inconspicuous waist. While white girls strive to ascertain and keep a waif-like physique, we’ve learned that though the Black version of feminine beauty is far more lenient where having more meat on the bones is concerned, there’s still a standard image to meet up to and contend with. Too thin and you get passed over more times than bad potato salad at a family cookout. Too thick and you’re an unwilling but nonetheless card-carrying inductee into the big girl club.

And who imposes these brutish regulations, these impossible criteria, these imposing benchmarks? That subspecies of human who generally wreck havoc and cause drama in otherwise peaceable female lives. (Stand by for male-bashing moment.) Men themselves can look like five miles of bad road winding all the way down to hell. They can have bulging guts, bad skin, corrupt teeth, receding hairlines, ashy e’rything, flabby rumps and the muscle tone of an embryo. They can be unkempt and generally undereducated, uncouth, unpresentable and undesirable. They can be as homely as the day is long, as naturally unattractive as the underside of a dog’s behind but the gooniest of them all still place demand on Black women to be as perfect as they are not. One look at a hip-hop video, where an entourage of droopy, goofy dudes ogle in the presence of breathtaking albeit misguided ladies, highlights the imbalanced expectations that our community places on the lopsided battle of the sexy—um, sexes. If we are held up to the form of, say, Melyssa Ford or Bria Myles, then it’s only fair to expect each and every man who parts his lips with a critical suggestion to at least have the decency to be built like Nelly or Terrell Owens. After all, fair is fair.

As for me, I am a work in progress, and not just on the physical side. I’m so over comparing myself to other sistas and coming up consistently short. How can it be helpful to my psyche and spirit to continually fail my own test of measuring up to women who, if I’d sit down and talk with, would probably tell me that they too share the same insecurities and perceived shortcomings that I have about myself? Though I playfully (well, kind of playfully) place the blame on our menfolk for pushing these impossible images onto us, it’s really up to me and my tribe of sista girls to balance out the beauty of Black women—starting with our own minds and fanning out into the brown-girl massive. It won’t happen overnight. I’m still two scissor cuts away from creating a throwback inspiration collage like I did back in the day. But maybe, just maybe, if I get myself together, I can throw my pic in amongst the ladies that I think are super duper fly.

  • Cocochanel31

    Wow beautifully written. I think almost every non – “model” chick has felt this way. I know growing up I just felt so awful because I did not fit into this “video girl” mold. I live in the DMV area as well and we definetly have the “exotic/wavy haired/video vixen” women on lock..so for those of us who dont look like that we have to make a conscious decision not to get caught up in that aesthetic hype. Like you I have come to terms with my beautiful albeit “regularness” and have stopped comparing myself to other women and have embraced what I do have, which aint too bad if I say so myself lol

  • Dalili

    LMBO @ “muscle tone of an embryo.” Great read!

  • Orange Starr Happy Hunting

    I am a native Washingtonian and back when I was coming up we was known as some fly chicas. I have to say after the age of 16, I just started owning me by cultivating my own sense of personal style and individuality. I never was one to fit into some mold because often times along with that comes stereotyping/pigeonholing and it would not have been authentic, but I have much rather enjoyed just being me ultimately, not perfect, but I work on what I can for health and aesthetics sake and the rest will take care of itself. The galaxies are composed of many stars that all shine brightly, right there in their own unique space!

  • LeopardSpots

    Very nicely written! I appreciate your story and your honesty…and it’s right on time too. I totally feel the same way and it’s nice to know I’m not alone. I use this feeling as inspiration to keep up my workouts and beauty routines so that I love what I see in the mirror. If we’re honest with ourselves, looking good makes you feel good. Sure, love your body just as it is, but you can also do something to make yourself healthy and gorgeous too!

  • http://Sparklebloom.wordpress.com Nina Renee

    Thank you for your funny, honest, beautiful writing. I’ve had my share of body issues, too. After losing 30 lbs as a teenager, I retained a nice tush but lost a lot of volume in my breasts. I used to feel very self-conscious about them because they’re not perky. While I wouldn’t mind getting a lift without implants, I’ve taken the harder (and cheaper) road of accepting them as they are, at least for now. My mantra is “This is my body, and I accept it as it is and appreciate what it does for me.” Looking in the mirror and repeating that statement a few times–and growing to believe it–has really strengthened my body image.

  • Sept 4th Best Day on Earth(no Bey)

    What I have been told for the last couple of days is that its all how u carry and take care of yourself. Be fit and be healthy so that you can be the best YOU mentally and physically. Plus, u can be the ripest peach in the room and still not like yourself. So own it! You are in control of your body, mind, and spirit! Have a good day!

  • http://stacyaustraliabrice.blogspot.com stacyaustralia

    I share your sentiment. Great story.

  • anon

    great article! I was just at another blog looking at a pic of a girl in a zebra catsuit with an impossibly amazing body. I wished I could look like her for a second but honestly, I have better things to do than put in ALL that work just to be able to pull off a catsuit that i’d never wear anyway. I’m lucky to surround myself with a group of diverse looking and beautiful friends that I admire and who are always free with compliments. When I think of 5 months with a personal trainer or perfecting my own personal style, I’ll take owning my “look.”

  • cabugs

    Tell me about it Cocochanel31! I am from the DMV too and it’s true – the women here are absolutely gorgeous. I’m never one to put someone down due to my jealousy; I admire others’ beauty and give compliments but I can’t help but feel that I don’t measure up. I wish I were “regular” but honestly, I feel that I am below average; i.e. ugly. But you know what they say to us average to below average girls – “work on your personality”! Haha, done that. It works sometimes.

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