Empowerment

To Love a Black Girl: Finding and Maintaining a Positive Self-Image

By: Terryce Boxley

How does one love something that the world has come to hate? How does one openly and unapologetically love something that society regularly slanders, dehumanizes, and simplifies? This may be the basal issue in the lack of self-love that I, as a black girl, have for myself. How do you love a black girl? It seems as though I should know the answer to that question. As a young girl, to be beautiful, my existence had to be modified.

My hair was too difficult to deal with, so the soul was taken out of it by perms. We are not allowed to exist as we are. Too often, little black girls lose the idea of a positive self-image in this struggle to be deemed worthy of the space that they occupy. Each thing we are told to do to conform – whether it is how we wear our hair, what music we listen to, who we date, who our friends are – whittles away at the possibility of having a positive view of not only ourselves, but our fellow black girls.

These continued abuses create a damaging attitude of self-hate and foster a culture of hopelessness. I can say that being attacked on all fronts – by family, peers, and society at large – made me question every move that I made. I felt that everything that I did was questioned by someone.

I was in the orchestra, liked to read books and liked alt rock, so I was too white (in other black peoples’ eyes); I went natural, so I had ruined my hair (in my family’s eyes); I was simply a black girl, so I could only act and look a certain way that I never quite fit into (to society at large). The policing of my identity by everyone but me created devastating insecurities. I still struggle with them today.

Black women’s existence has always been one of two extremes. On the one hand, society loves us: our bodies, our creativity, our spirits and our enduring strength through exploitation and abuse. On the other hand, they hate us. In my experience, who I am as a person, my feelings, and thoughts have been discounted and invalidated due to the simple fact that I am a black woman.

We are only loved in one dimension (physically), it seems. This, in and of itself, is dehumanizing. It reminds me of the story of Sarah Baartman, a woman whose body was put on display for the world to see; whose humanity was erased. To see this trend permeating modern times is discouraging at best. How do you love a black girl?

We as black women/girls must liberate ourselves from the chains of societal expectations. We must not be caged by stereotypes. I think one of the things that the world hates the most is a black woman that truly loves herself and is not afraid to say so, and that is why they have made it so hard for us to love ourselves.

It’s beautiful and encouraging to see my fellow black women/girls embracing all of who they are and want to be – inside and out — without fear of punishment and condemnation from society. Going natural is what started the process of me rebuilding my self-image. I felt that it liberated me from what people expected of me and allowed me to define myself on my own terms, which was something that I’d never done before.

I finally took the time to tell myself that I could exist freely and be truly happy and simultaneously be loved and accepted. I threw away the idea that I had to fit into a certain box to be worthy of existing. I embraced the idea that I could exist just as I am because I rejected the self-hate mantras taught by the women of a subjugated people.

Our history in this country and in the world has caused our mothers, grandmothers and aunts to be harsh in trying to protect us from a world that is not kind or welcoming to us. It is my belief that they mean no harm, but the things they say and do in trying to mold us into the desired individual is damaging and has lasting effects.

We must grow out of this habit of policing young black girls’ identities to break the cycle of self-hate. The things that I see happening now are encouraging. Embracing our differences as black women has allowed so many of us to flourish as individuals, and it’s truly beautiful. It’ll go on to help future generations of black women conquer a world that seeks to destroy them at every turn. We’re beautiful, but we have to see it ourselves before anyone else can.

 

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