“I like that picture of me as a baby mom, my skin was nice and white,” my daughter told me last week.
“What?” I asked her. Thinking I heard right, but hoping I didn’t.
“My skin was white, I wish I could go back to that,” she clarified.
“Your skin is beautiful the way it is, you don’t need to be different,” I said.
“But I do! And I wish my hair was straight!”
“Because then when I go swimming it would be silky smooth when I come out of the water,” she told me.
Ok, well, that kind of made sense. We have some serious detangling sessions after swimming in the pool. But I told her that happens to everyone, whether your hair is curly or straight.
“Your curly hair and skin are both beautiful,” I told her. “You’re brown like mommy and white like daddy, we made you the way you are.”
“You MADE ME?” She asked. Oops. This conversation was quickly taking a sharp turn toward another chat I wasn’t ready for.
“I mean, you’re just how you’re suppose to be, and we love the way you are.”
“But I want to be graceful, like Elsa. …What is ‘graceful’ anyway?”
I took this opportunity to try to turn things around.
“It’s when you’re elegant, calm, and gentle.”
“So basically the opposite of my brother?” She asked.
“Right… You ARE graceful.”
Her face lit up and she squealed with glee.
“Ok, I love my skin and hair!”
I knew the conversation was over for now, but not for good.
I distinctly remember in kindergarten was when I started to “wake up” to what other girls saw as pretty. And it wasn’t me. Some even went as far to call my skin ugly. To my knowledge this hasn’t happened to my daughter yet.
It’s left me wondering how I’ll react when she brings it up again, because I think she probably will at some point. I think it’s normal–not preferred of course–but somewhat expected given the society we live in.
I wonder, do little white girls ever tell their parents they wish they were brown? Do 5-year-old girls with straight hair ever wish for a head full of curls? Or has society’s showcase of beauty made that a non-issue?
When you go to school, turn on the TV, or watch Disney princess movies where very few look like you, it can alter your sense of what’s beautiful.
Ok yea, sure, there’s princess Tiana, and I love the movie, but I’ll be the first to admit how disappointed I was that she was a frog for 90% of the movie. I wanted my daughter and other little girls to fall in love with a dark-skinned princess singing and dancing in her gown throughout the movie, like little girls could during all of the other movies.
Nevertheless, she knows she can embody any princess she wants to be. I’ve made it a point to make sure the books on our shelves are filled with beautiful brown boys and girls who look like me, and my children.
Now I’m becoming more aware of opportunities to point out people who challenge the norm. Black ballerinas, cheerleaders, actors and figure skaters. Though I’ve always told her she can be anything she wants to be, I think it’s important for me to show her people who are doing the things she loves and aspires to do. People she can see as beautiful and talented who also look like her.
Monica Kaufman, Atlanta’s top anchor for decades, and Oprah both played a huge part in my aspiring to be a news anchor. They were beautiful, talented, doing amazing things, and they looked like me. Somehow seeing them made that dream seem more realistic.
I know to some people it doesn’t seem like that should be important, but I’d argue otherwise. Just like we want our daughters to see women doctors, leaders, and other women doing wonderful things, and being role models; I’m wanting to see more of that for women of color.
My daughter and I have had similar conversations before, and I can tell the way she self-identifies is evolving. I’m trying to be careful not to overreact because the mind of a child works much differently than the mind of an adult. I just want to do my part in making sure she grows up to be proud of who she is, inside and out.