What God Made Photo Gallery a celebration of brown girl beauty
She was only 4 years old when it happened. I had one of my favorite pictures of my daughter in my hand. In the picture, she wore a pink ruffled dress, smiling radiantly with an afro crown of glory accented with a single pink flower – she was sweet girl gorgeous! “Ohhh, look at this picture! Such a pretty girl!” When she turned her eyes toward her own image, I expected an echoing of my sentiments, words or a grin that would reciprocate my love with self-love, but she looked at the photograph, and said words I won’t forget – “I look like a dog.” What?!?
My girl’s beauty was not just that of a mother’s pride. It was a beauty that had been the general consensus of even strangers, strangers that would rush to gaze at her as a baby, strangers that I had caught peeking around store aisle corners to get another look. This same little girl looked at her hair and to my own confusion and horror declared five words in disgust: I. Look. Like. A. Dog.
I felt like fightin’. You think Muhammad Ali float like a butterfly, sting like a bee? Mess with my baby and he ain’t got nuthin’ on me! lol Who told her she looked like a dog? In the words of that great American hero, Mr. T, I pity the fool! But it had not come from an individual. I would soon find out that this bully had no body…and yet it had many. It had no form, and yet it was everywhere. The attacker on my daughter’s thoughts was invisible. Yet, it had been through her eyes that it had snaked into her subconscious and slithered to her identity; And to attack her identity was to attack her life. Yeah. I felt like fightin’.
To attack her identity was to attack her life.
So, what did this momma do? Well, first, I preached like a mad woman that day – with fire and anointing – that she is WHAT GOD MADE! (And EVERYTHING God made, He called it GOOD!) How dare the enemy attack the esteem and confidence of just a little girl!! (Mission 1 was “Call down heaven”. Check.)
Mission 2: Understand the attack. I needed to know how, HOW, did my daughter, MY daughter, who is surrounded by beautiful confident brown skin women that celebrate both themselves and her, how did she come to such a toxic and erroneous conclusion about her own hair and appearance.
MY daughter…how did she come to such a toxic and erroneous conclusion about her own hair and appearance.
One of the sources of this newly expressed marred view of herself could be found in the images she encountered all around her. Television commercials, magazines, TV shows, movies (animated and otherwise) – all touted and declared an image and standard of beauty that did not reflect even the most basic of her physical characteristics: skin color and hair type.
If the paragons of beauty, happiness, talent and desirability weren’t portrayed in unicolor White (or 50 shades of beige), then the female models and actresses tended to have stereotypical Black-White biracial features – light skin, long loose curly hair, etc. And because these were images in common or popular media, she perceived them to be authorities on the matter. But this is not just a preschooler’s problem.
Research across disciplines echo various aspects of this sad situation affecting non-White girls and women (and men) all over the world. The conclusion? The stench of colonialism is still stinkin’ up the joint. Its twin brother – institutional racism – eventually teamed up with the mass exportation of American media and has effectively deformed perceptions of beauty for everybody involved- White folks included. Thanks to that fearsome threesome and more, skin bleaching cream has been one of the top cosmetic products sold worldwide, some of its largest consumers being from the country of India, the continent of Africa, and the people of the Americas. Ain’t that a trip?
You see, colonialism is colorism’s daddy, and Euro-White supremacy is its grandma. That’s why I cringe when I hear some Black folks say things like, “We are the only ones still doing this!”, asserting that Black folks are stuck in some kind of Bill Murray Groundhog Day, intraracially perpetuating colorism day after day while all other racial groups rise to the zenith of skin tone solidarity. Chile, please! I despise colorism as much as the next bloke (well, probably more considering its prevalence), and cha-ru-ly it takes a special grace from the Lord God on high to be in the presence of that mess, knowing what a mess it can make. Nevertheless, in spite of the dysfunction that colorism both yields and is symptomatic of, it must be remembered that colorism was handed to Black folks like a smallpox infested blanket. And Black folks aren’t the only ones culturally suffering in this way. When it comes to colorism, Indians (from India) do it. Africans do it. The Chinese do it. Mexicans and Puerto Ricans do it. They’re all culturally struggling with it on some level both presently and historically, choking on it like bile.
You see, colonialism is colorism’s daddy, and Euro-White supremacy is its grandma.
White Europeans literally colonized the world (click here to see a map), and in a Skinnerian stroke of Satanic genius, everywhere colonizers went, they engineered societies in which the delivery of reinforcers (life, food, freedom, access to family, respect, safety, economic opportunity) was consistently paired with the visual stimulus of skin color via a racial caste system. Depending on the year/region/country of origin, that system wasn’t even always Black and White. Sometimes, it was quadroon, octoroon, and many other gradations of color coded dignity.
European explorers were far from the proverbial Three Wise Men bearing gifts; they came bearing disease and chains. Those bearing White skin became standard bearers, wreaking havoc on the cultural, political, and reproductive life of non-white peoples the world over. Interestingly, data suggest that the favoring of Whiteness has less to do with the population numbers of the racial majority, and everything to do with power. The infectious disease of White supremacy’s affects on the self-evaluation of non-White peoples even showed up when children were tested in societies in which their racial group was the majority in population but the minority in power (in other words, a country in which POC are the largest racial group, but that country was colonized by White/less pigmented Europeans and is still politically and socioeconomically ruled by the descendants of those colonizers and those that look like them). And so it goes, White, Black, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Punjabi, South African, Mexican, Dominican – all of us are LIVING BEINGS shaped by our experiences and susceptible to these subtle cues, exemplars, and motivating operations in our environments.
White, Black American, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Punjabi, South African, Mexican, Dominican – all of us are LIVING BEINGS shaped by our experiences and susceptible to these subtle cues…
As long as societies and systems esteem Whiteness and proximity to Whiteness higher than any other singular human characteristic, as long as that esteeming is evident in the distribution of rewards (whether that reward be access to safety, access to the benefit of the doubt, humane treatment, or just a role as an animated princess that doesn’t spend 2/3 of the movie in the form of a frog), as long as it is evident in the racially inequitable assignment of punishments, as long as proximity to Whiteness can increase one’s likelihood of receiving everything from jobs to validation – as long as these things be true, White children and non-White children alike will receive one message: “Non-White is a’ight sometimes like when we need pop culture and sports. But if you want to be smart OR a superhero OR a scientist OR looked up to by children of all races for the brilliance of your culture and the achievements of your people OR your ancestors’ contributions to building America taught about in school OR aspire your skin tone and hair type to appear in commercials with the same ubiquity and fervor as the characteristics of most of its current stars – if that is your desire, then, Chile, you better whiten up!” It was this message that my 4 year old had received loud and clear.
And because these were images in common or popular media, she perceived them as authorities on the matter.
I needed to undo what this world was doing to her. The destructive daily flood of images had overpowered my affirmations of her beauty and left her sight of self in the debris. I needed to build a dam: No more magazines, and I started changing the channel every time a television commercial came on that showed lovely white women reveling in made up faces and strands of long hair in slow motion. In other words, I seized control of the stimuli in her environment. I had no choice. She had to be signed out of the White Desirability Immersion Program that is American media. The levels of exposure there to these fallacies of beauty were too much, too persuasive, and too toxic to the formation of healthy self-esteem. (And might I add, it’s not just harmful for non-White children, but for White children, too. It inflates White children’s sense of self in relation to non-White others and helps to impart and later strengthen the presence of subconscious biases against POC in their minds. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again – White supremacy is damaging for everyone involved.)
I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again – White supremacy is damaging for everyone involved.
Images and media were the weapons used to start this mess, so images and media is what I would use to combat it. I needed to neutralize the effects of what she had seen. I searched the internet to find images of women that bore characteristics more like her own – chocolatey brown or darker skin, thick super kinky or shorter natural hair, etc. Unfortunately, I kept running into a little problem as I scoured photographs from facebook communities to tumblr accounts (instagram was barely a thing back then lol). So many of the pictures found wouldn’t quite do for my purposes; they weren’t always the most child-friendly pictures, shall we say. Most were women truly doing #GrownandSexy, if you catch my drift. (And the sexualization of little girls through images is a whole ‘nutha sit’tiation! Lawd!) I needed to literally show her, present to her Exhibits A through Z, proof that she didn’t have to be overtly sexual, or lighter, whiter, body thinner, hair longer or straighter in order to be fly, to #werk, or be beautiful. I had taught it to her through my words and by displaying confidence and comfortability in my own being, but now she needed to see with her own eyes that beauty comes in many forms, that her beauty is one of those forms, and that her momma wasn’t the only one who knew so!
…she needed to see with her own eyes that beauty comes in many forms – and that her beauty is one of those forms…
Sure, I’d find pictures and YouTube videos here and there that I could show her, but what I really wished was that there was a single place where I could find images of Black and brown women in a form of beauty that she as a young child could relate to more. I never found that place. So I created it. Here. Not just for my daughter, but for my son, and your daughter, and your son, and shoot – even for us grown-ups! who need to see images of beautiful brown women and girls just being gorgeously, confidently, simply and fabulously What God Made.
*As I reference cultures, nations, and races, I speak in generalities.
Non-POC, Before You Come For Me lol: The photos shown here are NOT to say that “This is the only thing God made” or “This is the only thing that is beautiful.” No way. God made us all – from albino, to pale, blonde, long hair, straight hair to kinky tight curls, short hair or skin with hues like that of the night sky. And it’s ALL GOOD. Human beings are an aesthetically stunning creation. The purpose of this feature is to celebrate a specific form of beauty rarely seen or celebrated in media, to show the young bearers of these less-honored traits a beauty they can identify with, see themselves in, and even aspire to, to further affirm that they are enough and gorgeous, to provide a place of visual wonder and joy for girls like my chocolate-skin 4c hair daughter who are contending with messaging to the contrary from the world around them.