Two events happened:
A friend sent me the newest picture and incarnation of Lil’ Kim.
I looked at the picture, really looked (like tens of thousands on Instagram did.) .
The tousled blonde highlighted ponytail. The imaginary sharp cheekbones. The light, light skin that was not Kimberly Jones.
I was not surprised. (Was anyone?) Lil” Kim has been headed in this direction for yeeeaarrrs. I think we all kinda knew this picture was inevitable. My concluding thoughts damngirl. whitesupremacysucks. goodluckwiththat. hopeyou’rehappy. plasticsurgerymustbeadrug.
I honestly didn’t think about it much deeper than that before I was off to the next thing.
By a stroke of luck of grace, I was able to received two free tickets for The Color Purple running on Broadway from the USO (thank you!).
It was powerful, raw, and honest. I’ve read Alice Walker’s novel and watched the movie many times. Like many black women and girls, The Color Purple has long been a part of my pop culture landscape. I quote the movie too. Sometimes inappropriately, I cannot lie.
“You tol’ Harpo to beat me?!!!”
Oh, Oprah…this is my favorite view of you.
I left inspired in that giddy way only Broadway can summon (“I may be black. I may be poor. I may be ugly…but I am still HERE!) Life was not a utopia for black women by any means, but wow, have we come far.
But, I also left with a raging headache. Like the frontal section of my brain was dipped into molten silver.
Over dinner with a friend following the show, we discussed how amazing the cast was, the ridiculous range of the voices, the minimalist production that forced attention to the real emotional complexity of the play.
We also talked about #blackgirlpain. And I had a mini-eureka moment:
I think my headache was related to #blackgirlpain.
“Alice Walker was doing #blackgirlpain when it wasn’t cool.”
Yeah, she was. And a lotta people at the time of releasing the novel The Color Purple were none too happy about it.
But here we are, 2016. On Broadway.
I couldn’t help think about Lil’ Kim again. Pity. Incredulity. Sadness. A hefty sense of moral superiority for loving my black skin. Anger at this world for it’s terrible definitions of “beauty.”
While Walker took #blackgirlpain seriously, there are far too many arenas that gloss over and cheapen it.
I love being a black woman today. Sometimes I look around at what black women are doing and dreaming into being, and I cannot help but shake my head in wonder. Where the hell did we get this audacity from? How do we keep going when everything is telling us to negate ourselves, serve our Kings, call ourselves ugly?
But, there is still so much #blackgirlpain that has not been explored, so much we want to ignore in ourselves and those around us.
I see it in my own desire to look away from Lil’ Kim-gate and think no further. Sure, she’s a celebrity, as distant a relationship as there can be, however, she still reflects a large influence of our society—she is a microcosm of so many ideas about beauty we’d rather ignore.
Lil’ Kim did not want to be a regular black girl. Regular black girls are left by their men for lighter skinned “European” looking girls. They are ignored until they become the definition of outrageous. This is the story Lil’ Kim has about who she is and how she looks.
I honestly hope that her latest transformation provides her with a sense of security and peace.
It would be easy to offer someone aping and thirsting over Eurocentric beauty trends platitudes soaked in #blackgirlmagic and #melaninpoppin.
But is it always that easy? I suspect that a lot of “regular looking black girls” have really had to struggle in this whole self-acceptance, I’m-beautiful thing. Maybe our journeys are not as tortuous and apparent as Lil’ Kim or maybe we grew up surrounded by realistic models of beauty or were told that our abilities held more weight than our looks. (If we could all be so lucky.)
I don’t know. I consider myself a smart woman, one who really wants to dig deeper than the present day surface realities, a woman who has adopted alternative views on a host of traditional aspects in terms of spirituality, gender, race, and yes, Beauty.
I too still have my times of #blackgirlpain. Beauty can be a touchy subject for me. I remember many instances where I would overhear conversations where certain black men picked apart black women based on her phenotypically African features. How certain friends I’ve had are asked if they are of mixed heritage to account for their beauty. Because of course no Regular Black Girl can be pretty. We need something “extra” for that.
This was my past and I wish I could say these things don’t happen in my present. I can’t. I just know enough now not to dwell in certain circles, not to visit certain corners of the Internet.
It’s still out there and surrounding us on all sides anyways: The unexamined assumptions behind phrases like “classically beautiful” and what it means to be blonde/blue-eyed. The billboards and the way women who stray furthest from Eurocentric modes of beauty have to carve out their own niches in fashion and celebration. Thank god for Tumblr.
#blackgirlpain is still here.
Beauty, of course, is not the only space where #blackgirlpain resides. But, it is a commanding one.
I am giving myself permission to really explore my #blackgirlpain, to dive deeper within the realities of collective #blackgirlpain.
Even I need space and time to heal from the harmful messages I have received and continually receive about my worth in this society.
I want to really lean into my desire to exhibit a continual display of bravado in the face of these realities. Why am I not allowing myself to feel the full gamut of emotions around this issue?
I mean, it makes sense that some black women hurt around Beauty. Even a casual look at the world tells us the caveats and small spaces that mainstream culture gives to The Regular Black Girl. I think there should be more spaces where black women are allowed to express and reckon with all of the feels. From crippling self-doubt to deep adoration of their physical self.
How else can we really heal?
I think black women are beautiful. I cannot comprehend the caveats that people place between black women and beauty.
And yet the world will still work to promote a one-dimensional definition of beauty.
Here’s to being more honest to each other about what we see when we look in the mirror. May we find spaces of holding to do this.