So last weekend I took a 12-hour long bus trip home, got picked up and had to drive another 2.5 hours to get to my rural home in Maclear, KatKop, only to arrive to work and early morning rising. Needless to say, my physical appearance was really just not a priority at any point when I was there, and on Sunday morning I wake up at 06:00 am to go prepare food for my brother who is currently going through his introduction into manhood (Initiation school).
I got out of bed, put on a sweater and sweatpants over my pyjamas (it’s really cold back home now in winter, it’s in between mountains and not far from the Maloti Mountains of Lesotho), put on my Uggs and headed to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. When I got there, my mom, dad and aunt were up already having themselves cups of coffee. My dad looked at me as I walked in with the biggest smile and said “molo mamGqwashu” (Morning, mamGqwashu – my clan name, and a term of endearment from him) and I responded smiling “molo tata” (Morning dad). He walked over to give me a hug, and my mom said mockingly “It’s so nice having a father”. We laughed and I proceeded to making my coffee.
They carried on chatting and I joined in on the conversation. We sat around the table drinking our coffee, then my mom got up to prepare some porridge for us. As she was getting up, my dad took out his phone and I continued chatting with my aunt. Next thing I know there is a camera flashing in my face. My immediate response was, “Why are you taking pictures of me so early in the morning and I’m looking so crusty?”so I started ducking and diving, and was like, “Okay well let me fix myself a little”. He stopped and said to me “there’s no need to fix yourself, you fine as you are right now”
I responded, “but the picture won’t look nice, because I won’t be looking my greatest”
My dad replied, “I don’t like these things of your guys, all of this stuff you put on. Nibe nijija imilomo apha (you twisting your mouths – Pouting-) and your endless posing. I think that you’re your most beautiful when you’re in your most natural self, when you’re yourself, that’s why I’m taking the picture now cause that’s how I like to remember you”.
So I then sat there, without smiling, and just looked at the camera, he took the picture and was very happy with the outcome. I still thought I looked crusty as hell, but he was happy and I could continue with my morning.
Later on in the week, having done another 12-hour trip back to Johannesburg on Monday evening, I was reading blog entries on black beauty standards and was listening to this song by Robert Glasper Ft. Musiq Soulchild and Chrisette Michele “Ah Yeah” on repeat. I mean all of this was just igniting the space to write this piece, which then reminded me of my interface with my dad.
This interface with my dad struck a deeper chord in me than just the outward appearance in its rawness. It, combined with interrogating my own beauty ideals and understandings, brought me into a deeper interface about the term beautiful/beauty. I ask myself the question continuously:
What is beautiful and why do I want to be called beautiful if everyone is beautiful?
Why must I be adorned with those compliments when everyone is fitting of the compliment?
I mean I cannot answer those questions at the moment, because I too am still doing some soul searching. However maybe you can help me answer them. When we talk about transcending what we have been taught in terms of how we understand ourselves, does that not mean how we re-learn and re-shape our mind space is just as vital as how we reconceive the world? I infer from this that we should then be exiting the frames and language of beauty -- we create another language more fitting for what we are trying to imagine and thus live. Maybe I’m crazy and have psychoanalyzed this too much, but then again maybe I am not!
Blackness is political. Beauty is political. Femininity is political. Geography is political. Sexuality is political. The whole idea of living as a black female is political; thus our identities are layered and convoluted concepts of who we are to ourselves and what we mean in the world.
Now the black female standards of physical beauty are conceived of in different ways based on location, cultural exposure, class, the private space and levels of agency. We know that in the public spaces, the black feminine physique has been kidnapped and reformed to fit the mould of “genuine mainstream European beauty” standards. It has then transcended to a place of appropriation, by the mainstream culture again to fit a new mould of the “exotic” standard of beauty.
“They” (all those of us whom assimilate and accept this culture) who have this arrogance and entitlement to the black feminine body and what it is, accept this language and thus recreate even when we are “Woke”. The reality is that not every black girl has curves, not every black girls has ass, not every black girl has dark chocolate clear skin, not every black girl can grow a large ass, not every black girl can grow something that seems as simple as hair, not every black girl can dance, not every black can bare a corpus amount of children with their wide hips, not every black girl has wide hips to bare those children! My point is it’s a pool of soooooooooooo much physical difference that cannot be covered in just one blog post, so why is it that we continue to focus on the word and language of beauty?
I am interested in authenticity. I am interested in the black girls’ soul. I am interested in demolishing all those lies about the Black girls beauty through penetrating their spirit and reviving it without having to talk about their physical appearance. I want to talk about how enough they are, how great they can be, how they can be whomever they want in the black and white community. I want to dispel the lies of beauty, because there is no one way to the ideals of “beauty” we can argue till we are blue in the face, “beauty” is based on what we see and how we see it, if we can see physical beauty we can see physical ugliness. The two don’t exist without the other. If we accept the concepts of beauty, It means we agree and accept that there are ugly black girls and is this something we want to accept?
For the most part I really like the word beauty and beautiful, I have often found myself saying I prefer being called beautiful than hot. But the more I have come to understand myself and the kind of woman I would like to be, I have come to question what beauty actually means and how I want to raise my daughter one day.
I can accept that for now, I don’t really like that I don’t really like that it has come to be the one of the significant factors in how I see myself and other black girls. I don’t like how it has given people the authority to determine who is and who isn’t. I don’t like the fact that for many young black girls it has been a determining factor, in our black communities, whether you are given a chance or not. I don’t like that it has had so much power in who I am because I am more than my face and my physical body.
What I don’t know as yet is how to get around the term and language of beauty -- how to re-develop my mind heart and soul to speak outside of the physical focus more on the spiritual being. I am unsure how I will relay this this to my daughters one day; I am unsure how to relate this to people in general. One of these days I hope to figure it out, and if not I will pass it on for others to do so; beauty is overrated and we need to find a way to underrate it.
Somikazi Tom is a blogger, academic and black girl who is passionate about youth development through economic upliftment.