This is my personal response to the social media self-love challenge entitled ‘I am a BLACK WOMAN’…
Given that the focus of the world and recent protests over the past weeks have been firmly on the ‘Black’ Experience within the US and now subsequently in the UK, I wanted to take my participation one step further by using my response to the challenge as an opportunity to share my personal reflection on how being a Black woman has shaped my perception of beauty and style.
My stance has always been firm – Difference is beautiful! I do not have a compulsion to be like anyone else – blending in is quite literally the worst thing anyone like me could possibly imagine. I am a champion of uniqueness, difference and diversity and I appreciate the rich potential its acceptance has to offer.
With that said, quite frankly I LOVE being a Black woman! This declaration should in no way be seen by the world or my non-Black peers as a challenge or a threat to undermine women of any other race, but more of a celebration of a different kind of experience of womanhood and an invitation to learn and see it through someone else’s lens.
My first recollection of the existence of beauty norms was at a very young age. I vividly remember being called rubber lips on what felt like a daily basis. In response I use to bite the inside of my top lip hoping it would somehow make it look less pronounced. I was called names because of my hair and like many other Black girls when playing pretend, I would put my cardigan on my head covering my cornrows and toss it around as if I had a head of long flowing Caucasian locks. I didn’t particularly hate my lips or the tightly coiled hair tucked away in cornrows, I was just aware that they were different and to an extent deemed by some as an inferior beauty trait.
Every morning my mum would smother me in the purest of coco butter sourced direct from the islands and when around my white peers they would sniff me and tell me that I smelt funny and a bit like chocolate.
As a teenager attracted to boys, I always had an underlying fear that the object of my affections wouldn’t like me back. Not because I was too fat or too thin, too tall or too short but because of my Blackness and what I at the time believed they deemed as inferior beauty. Don’t get me wrong, I was brought up by a Black woman who instilled a strong sense of Black pride and strong self-esteem within me but there will always be something amiss when a young Black girl grows up in a society that doesn’t show positive representations of her kind of beauty and women who look like her on the TV or in magazines.
Moving through childhood into teenage years and then adulthood, I became more aware of the differences that came with the ‘Black’ experience. Along with siblings and Black peers, we would share our personal accounts of being treated less favourably within the institutions we encountered with cases such as Stephen Lawrence reinforcing our views. Outside of my ‘safe spaces’ I essentially learnt how to shapeshift – how to modify and adapt my being, how I spoke and how I used my body to communicate. Once I entered into the world of work, knowing full well I may be the only person of colour in my environment, I would assess the hair styles I chose, the clothing I wore and even how I painted my nails just to make sure they fit within a certain level of palatability for my colleagues.
The effects of this thinking coupled with personal experiences can only be described as creating a sort of social anxiety – Constantly running through a checklist in your mind to make sure that no one felt too uncomfortable in your presence because of how you spoke, carried yourself or looked. Coupled with issues such as class and gender, this thinking around the perception of my appearance by others I later came to understand made me feel deep down as though I was not good enough in certain social surroundings and fuelled my Imposter Syndrome. I know there have been times in my life and to an extent in business where my thoughts have caused me not to seize opportunities as sometimes it just felt easier to avoid the mental fatigue being a Black woman in an unfamiliar surrounding can create.
With all that has been said, it might be difficult to understand why I would love being something that has constantly forced me to question my level of beauty and acceptance by society. The truth is, if the goal of creating a fairer society was not to see colour, a beautiful part of my being would be completely erased. There is an awesome kind of confidence that comes with being different and the subsequent strength it takes to get to a place of finding and embracing one’s true authentic self. It’s the kind of confidence that gives a woman – any woman permission to not only feel but to exude and radiate her inner beauty.
The curation of my own personal style and in turn my brand, Urbanized Neckwear are both products of my journey of self-acceptance and self-love as a Black woman. The fatigue and frustration from all the years of modifying and adapting, has resulted in me becoming a designer whose ultimate quest is to break free from imposed societal style and beauty norms.
People were never designed to be an homogenous group and like people, our style choices should reflect our uniqueness and diversity. Being different and standing out is something that many aspire to do but it takes a kind of courage few of us have… My brand is for those courageous few.
I believe that what we wear sends out vibrations of who we are and what we aspire to become and the vibrations I choose to channel through the pieces I create are that of fearless strength, bold confidence and unconditional self-love.
I am a BLACK WOMAN….
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