It took me years to realize that I was a pretty girl.
It would sincerely amaze me that whenever I posted a picture of my body or face or hair online, I’d get a positive feedback. Though I’ve struggled with that feeling for most of my childhood and adult life, I’ve made significant strides in regards to appreciating my fuller lips, “huge” nose, unruly hair, and no-bullshit attitude. But every so often I would catch myself thinking all sorts of thoughts as I transitioned out of my moody teenage years into the harsh times of being an “in-the-know” woman – many thoughts plagued me that would question how “awesome” it was to be a pretty Black woman. “Are they being sincere?” I would think to myself on any given day. “Am I being fetishized? I have to be overthinking.” In a world that tells you that loving yourself is selfish, condescending, and downright wrong, how do you get past all of that?
It’s not a secret – most women have been told at some point in their life to get over their personal issues with body image, with the result that they often become mute on the subject of insecurity and doubt, and correct themselves in order to fit in with the crowd. For the average Black girl such as myself, that confusing feeling of trying to think of myself as more than average would often mean backlash from others, resulting in me shutting down any resounding efforts I might have made to build myself up. Whether it’d be hating my nose or the way my body curves, the fact that I could never achieve the beach hair wavy look, or that I could never fit into clothes from Abercrombie and Fitch or American Eagle, I used to secretly hate every aspect of being a Black girl. From being told by an ex-boyfriend of mine that I’d be “perfect” if I had just a lighter skin tone, or if my curls were just a bit looser, to having the girls in my dance class color in my tights so that they could be “nude,” the insecure girl from my childhood days that remained into my adult years would take continual silent bruises to the ego. There were times I would stand in the mirror and just say out loud “I wish I didn’t look this way,” sending myself into a fury of depression and low self-esteem.
That kind of teetering and self-doubt is what most Black women and girls go through on a daily basis, causing them to place themselves so deeply in a hole of self-loathing that they find it best to not even acknowledge their own beauty – simply because the burden that comes with it is just too much to bear. That sinking feeling is, unfortunately, not as singular as one might think, and isn’t as easy to absolve once it firmly cements its place in the mind. Black women of all shapes, sizes, and tones carry the pressure of these feelings for most days of their lives until finally, a moment comes when they realize that they are, indeed, worthy of praise.
Enter “Black Girl Magic,” the term that was developed by CaShawn Thompson almost two years ago and is now well on its way to becoming a household adjective. Growing into a movement that has empowered Black women all over the globe, Thompson’s “Black Girl Magic” has given women the courage to own their beauty despite the mean comments they’ve told themselves over the years. Though the origin of the B.G.M. movement was well-timed and much appreciated on my end, the feeling of being proud of who I was didn’t exactly hit me when it began. There was still a major part of me, despite seeing all of the Black women around me prospering, that felt it was selfish and wrong to truly believe in my beauty, my talents and, most of all, what made me “magical.”
It wasn’t until Essence Magazine released their special-edition “Black Girl Magic” covers for this year’s Black History Month that I truly understood the power of being a brown-skinned woman in this world. As I scrolled through my Twitter timeline and saw the faces of Yara Shahidi, Johnetta “Netta” Elzie, and Teyonah Parris celebrated for their accomplishments, tears unexpectedly rushed from my eyes. “Damn,” I thought. “I don’t think I’ve ever understood what it meant to see someone who looks like me receive the praise that these women are getting. Could I really be something in this world?”
The Essence cover set the tone for Black History Month and made it easier for the world to comprehend what “Black Girl Magic” truly meant, as the month’s festivities brought to light the astounding resilience of Black women around the world. The celebrations that centered around being a Black woman were more than abundant – particularly during this year’s Super Bowl Weekend. Prior to Beyoncé’s much-talked-about cameo during the 2016 Super Bowl halftime show, admittedly I was a bit skeptical, partly because I was sure that we’d see the same, “Beyoncé is a rock star and don’t you dare think otherwise” performance that we’ve seen from her in the past. What we were met with, however, was a moment so surreal, so prolific, and so unexpected that even I couldn’t initially comprehend its magnitude. For someone such as Beyoncé to use her platform and affirm her magic as loudly as she did was empowering beyond measure, and further underlines that those once-insecure Black girls that lived inside all of us are now becoming positive forces to be reckoned with.
From Beyoncé’s show-stopping performance, along with her statement-making visual and lyrical content for her new single “Formation,” to Viola Davis and Regina King boldly calling out Hollywood for its severe lack of diversity, to Ava Duvernay receiving her very own Barbie Doll, to Shonda Rhimes working continuously to ensure that Black women have the opportunity to shine in the entertainment field, Black women and girls have made magnificent strides in owning their beauty, overcoming their self-doubt, and personifying what Black Girl Magic really means. That little insecure girl from well over a decade ago still lives inside me. And while I thought she would haunt me for the rest of my life, it turns out that she is a special reminder of why celebrating Black History Month and Black Girl Magic is so important. For the first time in my entire life, I felt that insecure girl breathe a sigh of relief as I finally embraced her instead of being ashamed of her. In that moment, I decided that I would not only embrace my privilege of being a Black woman, I would do everything in my power to ensure that my little girl living inside me (and the insecure girl inside every other Black woman across the globe,) would never feel shameful again.
On this last day of Black History Month and as the world returns to its constant state of ignorance, I’d like to say a special thank-you to those that work tirelessly to make sure that girls like me are not only heard, but made to feel that they are indeed, worthy of praise. It’s absolutely okay to believe in your magic. The day that I decided to believe in mine – to accept it and relinquish the thought of it being a burden – I was free. And honestly, what’s better than being free?