During a recent IM conversation, a very good male friend of mine asked me if I thought I was beautiful. Before answering his question, my mind went through a bit of mental Olympics trying to formulate an appropriate answer. I wanted my answer to be honest, self-assured, and devoid of vulnerability. I wanted it to be matter of fact. In fact, I wanted it to be so matter of fact that it seemed preposterous that he would ever even ask me such a question. I wanted my answer to end this line of questioning forever.
I typed the following response: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Most often, I think of myself as decently attractive; though perhaps, not in the classical sense of the term. But to the larger point that you are trying to make, I don’t tie my self-worth to beauty, I tie it to me in totality.
I thought about this conversation today after my writing idol Demetria Lucus, over at a Belle in BK, posted an op-ed titled: The Root: Banning Weaves Doesn't Raise Self Esteem. In the piece Demetria talks about recent comments made by Rev. A.J. Aamir, a Texan preacher who asserts that “Black women are getting weaves trying to be something and someone they are not…" Demetria, in pure A Belle in BK style, goes to work deconstructing everything that is right and wrong with what Rev. Aamir had to say:
But black women have to admit that there is something odd about choosing to attach the hair of other races of women to their own hair (sew-in) or scalp (glue-in). In general, black women don't attach hair that mimics the natural texture of their own, and that says a lot about how some -- again, not all -- women feel about their actual hair. To be clear, what it says is: I find this other woman's hair more acceptable or better than my own. That is a problem that deserves addressing. But it's not solved by banning weaves in church.I understand what the pastor is trying to do, but his backhanded way of trying to get women to embrace themselves without enhancements (and get their financial priorities straight) isn't helpful. Frankly, the logic is off. If the minister's belief is that weaves are a sign of low self-esteem, then attacking the weave doesn't solve the problem. Increasing a woman's self-esteem isn't achieved by cutting out a weave. A woman won't mysteriously gain the self-esteem of Iyanla Vanzant by wearing her own hair. The actual, well, root of the self-esteem issue has to be addressed.
First off, as a pun enthusiast, I gleefully applaud the last sentence of this quote. Secondly, and more to the point, I whole heartedly agree with Demetria - the underlying issue worth talking about here is Black women and self-esteem. My concern, however, is that when we discuss issues of self-esteem, we often misidentify women as the culprit of self-esteem issues, instead of the victims. We tell these women that something is wrong with them – that their inability to think highly of themselves is evidence that they are unhappy, broken people. The truth, however, is that most women with low self-esteem are responding quite naturally to the absence of positive external interactions.
Despite what Katt Williams would have you believe, self-esteem is not something one derives independently of others. It is a learned, affirmed, and reinforced perception of self. We begin constructing this idea of ourselves as children, and if we are lucky, we are told by our parents and families that we are beautiful (smart, talented, and hard-working). These are the seeds of self-esteem and this is how we learn to view ourselves as worthy and important. If we are lucky, these seeds are then affirmed by people outside of our families – our neighbors, teachers, and even the random stranger from time to time. And the luckiest among us are blessed to have their sense of beauty subtly reinforced by the media (television, film, advertisements, and music videos) on a daily basis.
Ask these women – who have had their sense of beauty affirmed and reinforced regularly – if they think they are beautiful and you will see little hesitation (though perhaps a bit of tactful modesty) in their response. They intrinsically know they are beautiful. That is how self-esteem works.
Inversely, the absence of positive affirmations and reinforcements (or worse, negative affirmation/reinforcement) are the origins of low self-esteem. So to call a Black woman’s obsession with weave a self-esteem issue, when mainstream media, corporate America and even our own men (via music videos) propagate an almost singular view of Black beauty - slim, fare, with long manageable hair – it feels disingenuous to blame the victims who are clearly just imitating the standard of beauty we as a society have agreed upon.
In a perfect world we’d all believe ourselves beautiful. In an ideal world, all little girls would be routinely told that they are beautiful by loved ones and strangers alike. In reality, if you ask me if I’m beautiful, I’m not sure I’d say yes. That reality is sort of sad, but I know better than to blame myself.