Beauty Questions

Ntozake Shange

Ntozake Shange

My heart ached when I read Trey Anthony’s piece on For Harriet encouraging black women and especially black fathers to praise little black girls about their beauty. She shares her own story:

I vividly remember when I was their age how I wanted someone to call me pretty, or beautiful. How I ached for someone to just see me. How I wanted someone, anyone, to just notice me.

In my own need to be desired, wanted and told that I was beautiful, I stayed in beds that were not safe spaces for me.

I cried for this young lady. But I also wondered how something that was considered unimportant in my family and vain in the Christian culture I grew up in could be so important to not only Trey Anthony but other women as well.

I think of my own story of beauty. My father never or if ever rarely told me I was beautiful but my mother and other maternal figures in my life always did. And I never felt the need for that recognition because I was living up to what I believed was most important–good grades and being a good person. But in my early twenties, a need to be seen and recognized as beautiful developed. Or awakened?? And I wonder if maybe the low-self esteem I suffered from during these years was because I never received that recognition of beauty from my father. Which I am puzzled by.

Why does male affirmation have the most power? It appears to be a must for fathers to tell their daughters that they are beautiful.

Recall the reaction to Alice Robb’s critique of Obama who publicly declared how proud he was that his daughters grew up to be as beautiful as their mom. Even I joined the bandwagon, declaring that black girls needed to hear that they were beautiful less they seek out that affirmation in the arms of losers.

Apparently it is an accepted truth that if a girl does not hear, specifically from her father that she is beautiful, we should expect her to grow up to be promiscuous, suffer from low-self-esteem, and / or be full of self-hatred.

And this desire for male affirmation continues into adulthood. Chine Mbubaegbu, in her blog post, The Admiration of Men declares:

Women care what men think about them. And men play an important part in how we feel about ourselves…I was struck by the fact that a large proportion of married women, or those in long-term relationships, felt good about themselves because their husbands often told them they were beautiful.

Is the reverse true for men? I asked a male figure in my life who believes that women bring/represent beauty and men strength, to whom he looked to for approval of his strength. His response was other men.

Is this a weakness that women have? To desire and need the affirmation of our beauty from men?

Some questions for women:

  1. For women who grew up being told that you were beautiful by your father did that positively impact your self-esteem? Did you avoid the pitfalls of promiscuity?
  2. For women who grew up in households that praised intelligence, hard work and a good character over beauty, did you ever hunger after recognition of your beauty?  Did your self-esteem suffer? Did you wish that your father told you that you were beautiful more often?

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