In her latest column, Dr Diahanne Rhiney says that it is important to let black girls know that they are wonderful, worthy, multi-dimensional beings, able to be anything they put their minds to
A FEW weeks ago, I stood outside the bedroom door of my pre-teen girls and could hear them playing, laughing, and talking amongst themselves – nothing unusual – but this time something one of them said made me think. One was clearly comforting the other by saying “you’re not ugly, your hair is lovely – it’s just messy”.
But this wasn’t the first time. I’d heard similar words before when the twins started to go to school.
They began to notice the difference between themselves, particularly their hair, and the majority of other children.
One kept saying “my hair is too puffy. I wish I had good hair”. I suggested she put it in braids to which she promptly said: “No way!”. She wanted it out and flowing like her white school friends.
It made me sad because she was clearly upset about feeling different. I began to question whether I had done enough to make them proud of their hair, skin, colour.
But looking around our environment, its true to say that the majority of fashion, hair and beauty adverts and magazines reflect everything but ‘blackness’. We are up against it and have to compete much more than our counterparts.
It had me thinking, as back in the day I was always competing with my colleagues – black or white.
Yes, even amongst ourselves we do it. There was an occasion growing up in a Caribbean household when I was young, black, beautiful, and carefree – or so I thought!
Until Marcia Hendrix, I could never forget that name, it reminded me that my hair favoured peppercorns, and my lips were ‘too big for my face’ and not to even try flirting with Winston, the red skin boy that all the girls were after!
Put up a fight
But who are we fighting with? Ourselves? Institutionalised ‘…isms’ of society – race, education, profession?
I’ve always loved my blackness, foolishness, and distinctive laugh, despite not always feeling self-confident.
That’s why it is so important to me, to not only let my girls but all young black girls know that they are wonderful, worthy, multi-dimensional beings, able to be anything they put their minds to.
We know we live in a world where the vast majority of women who are celebrated by mainstream media look nothing like us, speak nothing like us nor necessarily dress like us, but do we still need to continue fighting hundreds of years of brutal conditioning of being considered less than – through everyday language, behaviour, laws, music etc. It would seem so.
Teaching our girls to love themselves despite what society dictates is not only empowering but crucial for their identities as any mismanagement about self-perception will foster either self-sabotage or lack of self-love.
I wonder how many of us spend so much time being critical of ourselves that we forget that there are things that we should love about ourselves and others too. Share the love.
Did you ever write or receive a love letter growing up? How did it make you feel, especially if it was from someone you really liked?
When our children tell us “they’re not good enough, pretty enough, talented enough, write them a ‘love letter’, tell them you love them, send them a love text, encourage them to read about inspirational women throughout the generations; encourage them to set goals to boost their self-esteem, like learning a new skill or language; help them create a personal space – to love themselves!
Yes, celebrate being that ‘brown girl in the ring’ who looked like the sugar in the plum and who enjoyed the fried fish and johnnycakes.
There are times in my business and sometimes personal life that I have to put on my ‘hard face’ of resilience, especially when I feel low, insecure, overwhelmed but is that ‘my bad’?
There are a couple of ‘bad’ women I admire for their ‘overcoming’ attitude either through music or life experience.
Take Beyoncé for example. I enjoy blasting out a few of her most powerful empowerment lyrics that define a generation of women. Her tracks: Me, Myself and I, Pretty Hurts, I’m Feeling Myself are all about finding strength from within; telling us girls we can be just fine as we are; to dig deeper and focus on what really matters — who we are, not what we look like. There’s no reason to apologise or feel bad about your skin tone, hairstyle, or the shape of your nose – that is what makes us who we are. It’s our legacy for goodness sake.
Then there’s Oprah. I watched one of her videos last year where she gave a talk at the National Museum of African American History honouring her legacy and encouraging others to forge their own legacy.
She said: “I cannot come in the door… or I cannot leave without passing that painting. I am reminded of where I come from every day of my life.”
Oprah described the 6-foot-tall painting, depicting a slave family, in the centre of her house that she says sets the foundation for her life. I love it.
Who or what inspires you? My mother was my true inspiration – bless her. I remember growing up, our house was full of books, family pictures, laughter, positive vibes.
She often would tell us girls: “Remember, you come from Kings and Queens. Hold your head up and walk tall”.
Those words have influenced me to be the person I am today, and the reason I set up the Baton Awards, and The Tribe, platforms to harness and celebrate the talents of women and girls like us through the power of sisterhood, self-belief and inner-strength.
So let us not forget – We’re great. We’re beautiful. We’re black.