By: DeeDee Walker
There was this overwhelming sense of guilt that washed over me as I walked through the campus for the first time. This feeling was unwelcome, after all, I had finally made it. Years of hard work studying, doing volunteer work, and saving had all culminated to this point. I was an honors student at one of the largest public universities in the United States, Arizona State University, and I was ready for the adventures to come. That was, until I actually moved into the dorms on campus.
As the movers hoisted my belongings into the giant portable boxes to take up to my room, I took the time to observe the demographic that I was now a part of. Damn, I thought to myself as I looked around at what felt like hundreds of excited campus freshman hustling to move lamps, televisions, furniture and other items into their rooms, I don’t look like them.
It was as if every time I turned around there was a fair skinned face with virtually no body fat percentage beaming as they bustled through the halls. On a campus as large as mine, I thought I would be able to find solace in knowing that there had to be someone on campus who looked like me, a dark skinned black woman with large features and a size 18 on my best day. Wherever that person was, I never found her. I felt like a stain on the reputation of beauty that had been drilled into my head as I prepared for college.
It was almost instantaneous. Practically everyone in Arizona knows that ASU was the place to be, known for large parties and an abundance of beautiful men and women. I started to feel myself walking through the buildings mentally apologizing to everyone who walked past me for my appearance. I’m sorry I’m not skinny, I’m so sorry that I don’t look like her, I’m sorry that I’m not as appealing as everyone else here.
It didn’t help that my suite-mate was a petite, blonde-haired and blue-eyed sorority girl. Her abundance of friends, parties, and dates only aided in the worsening of my symptoms. I started to feel as though I was not entitled to the same college experience, simply because of the way that I looked.
I had seen it with my own eyes, upperclassmen boys gawking at the fair skinned and thin freshman girls as they wandered through the campus, and snickering at those who didn’t quite fit the mold. I was certain that my only interaction with my classmates would be in the classroom, and would not go beyond asking for a pencil, or clarification on what the professor was droning on about that day.
I started to close myself off to people who I hadn’t known since before arriving on campus. I would avoid people who tried to talk to me or hang out with me because I felt as though I would embarrass them if they were seen on campus with someone who looked like me and not like the other girls that had been fawned over on campus.
It wasn’t long before I found myself dragging myself to the gym after class and after meals in order to try and fit the body type of those I saw around me. I would spend hours each day standing in front of the mirror and critiquing every lump, bump, and roll that comprised of my body.
I have always been overweight, and up until attending ASU my size had never bothered me as much as it had in that moment. I would look in the mirror and inspect my features obsessively, searching for the beauty that I could have sworn I had before I arrived on campus to return to me. It didn’t. I became hypercritical of every part of myself. My size, my wide nose, my small almond shaped eyes, my big lips, and my dark skin that – although FINALLY acne free, didn’t glow like the other black girls’ skin did that I had seen throughout the campus.
To look for a solution to my problem, like any other tech-savvy (Google dependent) person would do, I took to the internet for any form of advice that would come from a fellow dark skinned plus size woman who could understand my struggles. What struggles, might you ask? By the fourth week of school I had already spiraled into a phase of self-loathing that I was trying really hard to conceal from my friends and family. I would brave their questions about how campus-life was like with fake smiles and half-truths I mean, how could I tell my mother that being on campus made me feel like retreating into the shadows and finishing my education online from the safety of my dorm room?
I tried to find someone who would understand, an article that would help me learn to love myself as a black woman again, especially amidst a campus of beautiful people. For a moment, I thought I had found a small glimmer of hope when I stumbled upon positive Youtube vlogs like LilySweetz and AfricanExport.
One offered me the body positivity that I desperately craved, while the other offered me the confidence in my dark and radiant black skin. That only did so much for so long, however. Sure, I had a plus-sized example to follow and a separate dark skinned idol, but I still never felt like I had a single source who could relate to myself. Even my closest friends at ASU couldn’t understand to what it felt like.
I remember starting to follow the progression of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. There was this one night when I was reading articles and watching videos about the protests when it just…. clicked. Looking at the plethora of black faces plastered on the television and internet all in solidarity and unity, fighting for our justice. I saw the pain, the determination, the love, and most importantly, the beauty.
I found so much beauty in their strength. It inspired me to want to do better, to be better so that I could uphold all that encompasses being a black person in America. Not only did I find confidence in my blackness, but seeing how all of those magnificent people rising up against the unjust system, despite their differences in body types, helped me to also see the beauty in my own body.
When I looked in the mirror I was no longer depressed by the face that stared back at me. I noticed that my hips that I once thought were too wide were the same hips as the mother of one of the black men killed due to police brutality. I noticed the way my waist curved like the bodies that laid in silence in protest.
I discovered that my lips were the same lips that shouted “BLACK LIVES MATTER” on the screen ever night, my eyes the same small eyes that were sprayed with pepper spray, and stroked by unwarranted blows. I discovered that my search for someone to relate to was far too narrow.
I found a confidant in every single black person who believed in our right to live, and our right to matter. I started to think how I could walk with my head so low when these people my age, from my culture are fighting so hard to prove that we deserve to have them lifted high?
Every morning I would wake up remind myself that I belonged to a culture that has continuously been snubbed by society, and has always risen above. I started to walk the halls with my head held high, and stopped starving myself so that I could resemble everyone else on campus.
I started to realize that my beauty resonated beyond my appearance. I found my confidence in knowing that I was sprung from a beautiful and amazing culture. I learned not to apologize for my appearance, and instead started to focus my energy on loving everything about myself.
I look in the mirror now and I see the woman staring back at me with no remorse. She feels no guilt for her appearance, and she recognizes that her body, her dark skin, and her beautiful black features all culminate to make me the woman that I am today. It may have taken a while to get here, but I now realize that despite whatever beauty standards they have here at ASU, or in the rest of the world, I am a beautiful, powerful, and culturally fulfilled black woman. I may not look like them, but I don’t have to, and I no longer apologize for this – I embrace it.