I originally wrote this about a week ago, and I finally worked up the gumption to post it. So here we go…
I got a notification from Twitter this morning saying that some of my friends were tweeting about “#UnconventionalBlackBeauty.” Immediately, I logged on to see what it was all about. I was stunned by the message that Black women especially were sending through this simple hashtag. They were saying, “I am beauty too. I may not be Naomi Campbell with the slender nose and long straight hair extensions, and I may not measure up to the Eurocentric standards that define beauty in today’s society, but I am the image of beauty as much as they are.” It immediately struck a cord with me. I found myself getting emotional, because this message strikes so closely to my own heart as well.
In my opinion, being a Black dancer, is often like being told that you have to fit into a predetermined mold that you often cannot even begin to identify with. Maybe your body fits into the shape, but the color of your skin will never fit the mold. My body doesn’t fit the shape, and for this reason, I have literally hated my body, my God-given shape and genetics, since the 6th grade. I’ve struggled with a positive self-Image for so long that even now the lines still get blurry for me. It’s not that anyone explicitly told me that I was too fat (and too Black) to be a dancer, but I always knew that I would never be able to be a ballerina because I didn’t have the “body” for it. I told myself this so as to not give anyone else a chance to hurt me with this knowledge. I resented the things that made me look so much bigger than the other girls standing at the barre. At 12, I was mistaken for a 16 year old. At first, I thought that this was because of the way I looked in my face, but it was actually because of the way my body had developed.
My senior year in high school, the only thing I wanted to do was lose weight and get into a good dance program. For me those two were tightly linked because my biggest fear was that someone would reject me because they thought I was too big. It got to the point where I lied about my weight on some of my applications.
In college, I started to accept myself for who I was a little more. I’m fortunate to be in a dance department now that is comprised of a variety of body shapes and sizes. It became a little bit less of a worry for me, and after I returned from Costa Rica last June, I was finally able to say that I was happy with my body. I liked the way I looked. But then, those little voices of doubt started to eat away at that self-confidence. I look at pictures of my self and wish my thighs weren’t so big. I wish that I had a thigh gap and a super flat, toned stomach. I wish my leotard didn’t cut into my butt so much.
I’ve contemplated eating disorders. I was a middle schooler counting calories before I really even knew what they were. I’ve cried myself to sleep over this. Agonized over bathing suits and tights over this. I have been miserable because if this.
But today, I realized something: forget trying to fit into the mold. I am unconventional Black beauty. I have hips and a nice, big, round behind. I have thick thighs that spread when I sit down. My stomach isn’t always flat either. These are things that I identify with my ethnic heritage — with my mother and my grandmother and my great aunties — one of the very most important parts of who I am. So I have a message for the dance world: I’m done hating myself to try to make you love me. Either you can accept me as I am or miss out on the gift that God has given me to share with the world. I’m going to share it with or without your approval. I’m going to shatter the tired, Eurocentric standards of beauty and dance to pieces. You can either join me or stand in my wake. I will not rest until I can help another little black girl learn to love herself without all the struggle and heartache that I have endured. #UnconventionalBlackBeauty