“I not beautiful, Mommy” – Raising Black Girls in a Predominantly White Girls World

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Beauty is hard to define, but it is one of those things that society knows when it sees it. However, in the US, our society is so diverse that it’s hard to give one solid definition of beauty that every person can accept. As a black woman raising two little girls in a culture where the beauty culture is still predominantly defined by white people, I am worried that I am unable to make them realize that their skin and hair is as beautiful as anyone else’s.

Currently, this is really bothering me because my daughters are obsessed with Cinderella, Tinkerbell and Barbie. My oldest daughter wanted to dress up as “yellow [hair]” Barbie for Halloween this year; the youngest dressed as Tinkerbell. Although they have brown-skinned Barbie dolls that they adore, I am still worried about what is going on in their little minds?

My youngest daughter, Jo-Jo, is 2.5 years-old, and she loves Cinderella. She is now going through a phase where she doesn’t think she is beautiful or pretty unless she is wearing a dress and shiny “tap-tap” shoes. Even with constant reassurances of her intelligence and beauty since she was born, she will still cry
“I not beautiful” if she’s in pants.

Dew, my oldest daughter is a little more reasonable, but also feels prettier in a dress. I don’t know if it is because they’re living out some type of princess fantasy or if they truly believe they’re ugly if they’re not dressed like a 12″ fashion doll. I try not to overreact (which is really hard since I am an over-reactor), because I don’t want them to think that this a big deal or create some type of neurosis.

But, admittedly, I am sending mixing signals. I wear make-up and adore wearing sparkly accessories. I don’t feel less beautiful when I’m not made up or wearing my costume jewels, but it is obvious that I feel better when I do. My daughters like to watch me get ready for work. They want to be like Mommy. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I’m looking at 70-pounds of flattery every day.

My oldest is more into my routine than my youngest, because I used to sit her on my bed and put on make-up before I got pregnant with her younger sister. At just 16-months, Dew would help me rub on my scented lotion. Dew, now 4, likes it when I allow her to wear bit of my lotion or perfume because they “smell beautiful like Mommy.” (Insert here, me reassuring Dew that she smells beautiful even without Mommy’s lotions. She’ll chime in “you too, Mommy!”)

Dew and Jo-Jo like to take the brushes and swirl it around their faces. They really like putting on lip gloss, and look forward to Mommy painting their toe nails. It’s hard to explain to them at this age that I like to this because it is like playing dress-up everyday, not because I’m not beautiful without it. They see it as part of being a grown up woman–something that has to be done when they’re adults.

There’s also the matter of hair. Black women have issues with their hair that has been passed down to their daughters like it was built into our genetic code. From the moment hair spouted on their heads, I’ve always brushed it while whispering the kind words that their hair was beautiful. Dew’s hair is thick, coarse, and can hold a style. Jo-Jo’s hair is thick, soft, and can’t hold a style. Some Black folks would call Jo-Jo’s hair “good hair,” because it is soft and can be combed with minimal effort. (I don’t let these folks speak that way in front of my kids.)

I am a natural hair woman. I’ve never had a chemical in my head to straighten it. My mom was adamant that she didn’t want me to have one. Besides the hot comb, the world of Black hair care was a near mystery to me. All I knew is that it required lots of products, trips to the beautician, and you shouldn’t admit to having a weave. (Well, back in 1986 it was still taboo.) In college, I learned a style that I could maintain that was natural, and I cut it off once I became a mom. Although the double strand twists that became my trademark was easy to maintain, it took a long time to do.

Recently, I tried to trim my medium-sized Afro and ended up bald (long story) and now I am wearing a wig that mimics black, relaxed & curled hair. My wearing a wig, or “pretend hair” as my daughters call it, has caused another level of stress for me. Dew, from what I intimated from her simple vocabulary, is upset by my bald head for it is more closely cropped than her father’s. This morning, I dared to go to the laundry mat in just a hat without the wig, and she freaked out.

After a firm yet sensitive Mommy-daughter chat, she revealed that my wig was “more fun” to look at and that I should wear it all of the time. Not wanting to upset her any further, I made her a promise that I would wear my wig whenever I go outside and a pretty scarf on my head whenever I was in the house so she wouldn’t have to see my head until the hair grew back. This made her happy. I was the “bestest” Mommy again, but I was also a disappointed Mommy on the inside. This could have been a prime time to introduce a conversation about the sin of vanity, and make a declaration to embrace my Capt. Picard ‘do in and out of the house by tossing down the wig. But, after weeks and weeks of trying to teach my girls that everyone is a beauty despite what is judged as acceptable, I ended up teaching them that you should cover up parts of yourself that may offend others’ sense of what is beautiful.


  • brooklynshoebabe

    Mom of two girls and married for 17 years. A librarian with a love for red carpet shows, make up blogs, romance novels, fashion days on QVC and HSN, plus-size protaganists, and pedicures.


  1. I definitely think this says a lot for where society is right now, but I also think that it takes little people awhile to decide who they really are going to be beyond the world of their books, toys, and parents.

  2. I think you’re right to worry about the images your daughters see and idolize, even at such a young age. But I think you can steer some of these behaviors into good habits yet!

    For instance, their insistance on wearing dresses to feel prettier: there is a value to putting on ‘real clothes’ every day. Whether black, white, asian, or antarctican, people who get dressed and groomed everyday exude more confidence and get noticed. Not to mention it’s much easier to maintain weight and your ‘normal’ size when you have to button your jeans instead of tying the drawstring on your sweats.

    Also make sure that they are ok being themselves (whether thats a tomboy or a girly-girl) because that is the best tool you can give them to bulding their self-esteem.

  3. I would imagine it’s hard Rakisha, raising two girls. You want to teach them it’s what on the outside that counts. But how to explain that you won’t leave the house without makeup on (you meaning me!) Adding to that, the whole “Barbie” factor (society’s idea of the perfect woman). Which is even hard on me, a grown white woman, let alone a little black girl.
    .-= stef´s last blog ..e.l.f. smudge brush – the best $3 you’ll ever spend! =-.

  4. Well, if makes you feel any better; my nieces are just as obsessed with the Princesses too! They have it all, dresses, shoes, tiaras, dolls, tea sets – princess, princess, princess! And everything around and on them must be “pretty” (and god help you if you call them cute). I think a big part of is the age of the girls and the times (seriously, Disney is omnipresent for kids today).

    My older niece has slightly grown out of the “All Things Princess” phase, but she definitely has much stronger opinions and feelings on how she is dressed/how she looks then I remember having as a kid. I was strangely indifferent to cloths until at least 12. It seems the push to have “cool” (or whatever the kids call it these days) clothes, shoes, etc., starts at a much younger age (and the Disney Princess phase may be the starting point).

    Rakisha, don’t stress too much! It sounds like you are a great, loving mom and will raise thoughtful and self-confident girls. And, just think, while they may idolize your makeup routine and girly touches now, who knows what will happen when they’re in there teens?! Maybe (just to be as different as possible) your Dew or Jo-Jo will sprout into a no makeup, neo hippie just because!
    .-= Tyna Werner´s last blog ..Green Monday Find – Stainless Steel Straws! =-.

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. It is raw and honest, which is beautiful to me. It is hard to reconcile our ideals and values to reality, to the society we live in, the lives we lead.

    Your decisions do greatly affect your children. Ultimately, however, they have to reconcile their own values with those they were taught. Your sincerity and transparency will serve them well on that journey.

  6. Your post really had a strong affect on me too, Rakisha! I read it yesterday morning and have been thinking about it since then. I suppose it’s because my daughter was just born 6 months ago, and already people upon seeing her talk about how beautiful she is first and foremost – we keep saying we’re going to have to be very careful about this as she grows. My mom has always been really good about this concept – she reinforces inner beauty everytime sometime talks about outer beauty by saying things like “she’s just as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside” or “she’s very sweet and smart too.” I totally agree with what everyone else is saying too that they are going to have to find their own way on this one, but if you are reinforcing and modeling other positive values, they more than likely are going to end up alright! Also though, I do believe that a little vanity is ok – why else are we all here on this site?! Looking put-together and your best is a fine thing, just shouldn’t of course be our only focus. If you keep reinforcing that, which I’m sure you are, your girls are going to be sweet, smart, and beautiful I’m sure!!

  7. I don’t’ have children, but I have 3 nieces, that are at that age when they are concerned about what they look like and what people think about their appearances. One of the twins thinks she is fat, and trust me she is not.. but in her head she thinks she is because some little twerp said she was.. Oh, man… kids can be so cruel. The thing that I was glad about was just how her Mommy (my sister) handled the situation. The communication between them is strong and they talk about things to quickly quell her insecurities. These kids learn that looks and outer appearance mean nothing.. it’s who you are inside as a person that matters most..

  8. Wow…I’m overwhelmed by everyone’s comments. Thank you for all your thoughtfulness. As a mom, I sometimes get caught up in the “am I doing the right thing” cycle. I’m glad I’m not alone, and that people understand where I’m coming from. :-)

  9. As a mother of a 4 year old little girl who is obsessed with every Disney princess invented and playing dress up on a daily basis, I know exactly what you are going through. Just know that this phase is completely normal. What a great post Rakisha. I applaud you for putting this out there because I think raising a daughter is tough job…much harder than raising a son in my opinion. There is so much pressure out there for women to be perfect and it starts at such a young age. I’ve had friends tell me their 5 year old daughters are already obsessed with weight gain, clothing choices and what their peers think of them. I think one of the best things we can do as moms is to praise our daughter’s inner beauty on a daily basis and try not to emphasize outer beauty as much (easy to say, but harder to do). This has been one of my goals this year, but I’ll be the first to admit it’s hard.

    If you haven’t seen this videos done by Dove, it’s an eye opener for any woman to see and I highly recommend it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYhCn0jf46U

    This one is also great: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ei6JvK0W60I

  10. I think it depends on how you parent and what you want your daughters to know. Growing up, my mom never wore make-up, so it taught me being natural was okay. I was allowed to play with Miss Petite make-up as long as I washed it off before I left and my grandma always put a little blush and lipstick on me for fun. My grandma taught me about make-up, not my mom.

    However, my mom was always someone who made sure I got diversity in my activities. I had a million patches on my jeans and I always came in with my t-shirt or dress filthy from playing in the sand, paint or shaving cream (and inevitably, dirt from being so clumsy). I spent as much time outside as inside because my mom taught me it’s okay for girls to rough house or play cops and robbers on bicycles. It helped that my dad was in the Army so I was moving constantly and all the girls were like me in terms that we were active outside. It also helped I owned very active dogs and would walk them all the time (I owned a black Labrador until I was six and a Greyhound until I was 13). My Greyhound followed me everywhere and loved digging so I dug with her. Just as I read to her and colored in my coloring books near her.

    I didn’t exit that Barbie/Dress-up/Paper Doll phase until I learned it was taboo when I was 12. What you don’t know is that I’m Autistic, so when I was teased about wanting a Barbie, they didn’t understand I age differently.

    It’s important to teach your children that it’s okay to be girly, but they need to get dirty too. It may be havoc for you to wash their clothes, but it’s okay. You need to show them playing in the dirt and sand is okay just as it’s okay to play house and dollies. I think every girl and woman is always trying to conform and rebel against society standards and trying to negotiate that line of “traditional patriarchal woman” and “modern feminist woman” (Feminism, in this case, referring to the stereotypical image). It’s a new phenomenon in terms of women history. It’s something called the “conflicted woman.” I learned that in Women in Literature class. Black women have a unique situation considering they must not only become aware of white man’s oppression but black man’s oppression as well.

  11. Thanks for sharing that Rakisha!! You sound like a really wonderful Mom :)
    Your girls are lucky to have you!!

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