4 Moms Of Color On The Beauty Traditions They’ll Never Pass Down
“The biggest thing I heard at home was that if I am fair skinned, life will be easy, and if I am dark, life will be hard.”
I know it’s banal to say a lot changed for me when I became a mom, because obviously, change is the very first and most obvious marker of parenthood. Like most parents, I experienced expected shifts and unforeseen ones. But the one that really caught me off guard was how my relationship to beauty evolved after having a daughter.
As someone with Indian and Persian genes, I grew up with an abundance of facial and body hair. In South Asia, rigid beauty standards prize and revere head hair, but consider body hair on women distasteful, as I was told so often at school. It caused me a fair amount of anguish until I lasered it all off as soon as I could afford to, as a young adult.
My daughter, now 2.5, seems to have similarly active body hair genes. Instead of seeing her downy, fuzzy back as repugnant, I take any chance to stroke it and marvel at its softness. I find the dusting of faint arm hair ridiculously adorable, and wonder if she will ever ask me why I have none to match hers. Beauty entrepreneur Shari Siadat had similar sentiments when her youngest daughter turned out to be a physical replica of her younger self, unibrow and all. She says that being her mother was the mirror she didn't know she needed. “I reevaluated my grooming habits and the binary way of thinking that I needed to look one way,” Siadat says.
Similarly, motherhood changed my views about the beauty standards we blindly follow. It made me value my own body more, not because it might serve as an adult mirror to her own, but with the hope that if I wear my natural self with ease, comfort and satisfaction, that she might one day do the same. And that if I’m honest about why I’m modifying certain aspects of my appearance, she might learn to take control of her own image and perhaps discard beauty ideals that I am unable to because of decades of conditioning. I’m fully aware she might adopt damaging new beauty standards of her own. Yet, I’m idealistically — and unrealistically — hoping those choices will be hers to make and not be subliminally forced upon her as they have been on the generations of women before her. I can only attempt to be the bulwark against the flood.
So often, women of color find that the call is coming from inside the house.
And as much as I want to celebrate the rich beauty traditions I grew up with, I also feel a more immediate duty to dismantle the colonial, Eurocentric ideals of beauty that I have inherited, no matter how entrenched in and natural to my culture they might seem. So often, women of color find that the call is coming from inside the house. Our own families and communities have been responsible for our physical insecurities, and it’s hard to reconcile with the fact that the innermost circle meant to love and nurture us has seeded such self-hate. Like creative entrepreneur and content creator Stella Simona says, “The biggest thing I heard at home was that if I am fair skinned, life will be easy, and if I am dark, life will be hard, and I will have to take what I can get.”
Moms like Siadat, Simona, and the other women of color in this story are doing the tough work of ensuring that the generational trauma of self-disgust for our physical selves stops at them. Romper asked four mothers to share the beauty traditions they’re not going to pass down to the next generation, and these were their responses.
“I grew up in Los Angeles and was a teenager in the early 2000s. I went to a private school which was predominantly Caucasian, with just a handful of other races. Beauty was such a white and black concept. If you were thin and white, you were attractive.
As a young person I always felt there were so many beautiful things about me, physically and emotionally, but I wished I was white just so everyone could just accept me and refer to me as beautiful
Our world is designed to not advocate for us on so many levels, and it trickles down to even beauty ideals. As a young person I always felt there were so many beautiful things about me, physically and emotionally, but I wished I was white just so everyone could just accept me and refer to me as beautiful. It sucks that I felt I needed to be someone else to ever feel appreciated. Honestly, it was my immediate family, social circles and the media that made me feel this way. I didn’t grow up at a time where pop culture or our communities advocated for self-love in the way they do today. The biggest thing I heard at home was that if I am fair skinned, life will be easy, and if I am dark, life will be hard, and I will have to take what I can get. As a kid, the majority of our time is spent at school, so it did feel equally discouraging so feel this mantra echoed at school.
I am now educated and possess the proper language and emotional understanding to speak up when I need to and also move past it when it’s not my inner struggle but rather the struggle of someone who feels intimidated by me.
I want my children, Noah, 6 and Liam, 2, to grow up with representation all around them. They need to be reminded of how unique and wonderful they are not just by me, but have it reinforced in all their safe spaces, such as in school and by adult caretakers and their peers. My husband and I have made sure to cultivate a strong community that supports and lives by our values.
We just began reading some cute books with affirmations. My kids are growing up to embrace individuality as a concept. They love how they look but also hold space for others and their beauty and sense of individuality. The idea of having to follow the crowd is not something they are being conditioned to do. For Hanukkah, my son Noah mentioned his close friend brought latkes and dreidels to share. He mentioned how awesome their culture was, and then went on to point out that we don’t have that but we have something else we celebrate and eat, and if we all had a party together we could each bring our combined cultures and cuisines. This was so sweet to witness.
My advice is to surround your child with a community of people they see themselves in, not just physically, but those that share the same interests as them, who will be there when you need support because this is not an easy part of parenting to navigate.”
- Stella Simona, content creator and founder of jewelry line Haati Chai
“I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts with traditional Persian immigrant parents. My understanding of beauty, femininity, and womanhood was largely formed by the female figures I saw on television, the blonde haired, blue-eyed classmates who surrounded me, and the way the women in my family groomed and beautified themselves in line with Eurocentric standards of beauty. I grew up to believe this image excluded me, and the cycle of self-hatred and lack of acceptance started at a very young age for me. ‘Thin and hairless’ was the daily goal. That’s what I felt was necessary to be a woman. I wanted to change every single physical aspect of myself, like my dark hair and ethnic features like my unibrow, mustache, hairy limbs, and tan skin. I was unable to fully identify with the white American teen or the dutiful Middle Eastern child. I was both and, also, neither.
Today, I don’t struggle with feeling less than for not being thin, white, or hairless. I see myself as whole. Regrowing my unibrow and launching TooD helped me on that journey. (TooD, Siadat’s biodegradable glitter brand was launched to reclaim her beauty narrative and to “throw colors and crystals on parts of her body she once tried to hide”.)
My youngest daughter, Selene Soleil, was a replica of my younger self. Her birth and my experience as her mother allowed me to witness her beauty, as well as the beauty of my Persian ancestry in a new light. It was the mirror I didn't know I needed. I reevaluated my grooming habits and the binary way of thinking that I needed to look one way.
A crucial lesson for me to pass down to my children is that they have the agency to be whatever they want to be… and then change.
What has surprised me the most is knowing how much my children are still impacted by the systems and forces at play to make them feel there is one ideal way of being. I thought if they witnessed me liberating myself, perhaps that would give them an insider scoop. But it was foolish of me to have thought that. My children definitely struggle with the same rigid beauty ideals that I had, and I think all I can offer them is the gift of consciousness, a safe open space for dialogue, holding space for them to share the pressures and insecurities they feel, areas where they harbor resentment towards themselves and then to really unpack why.
It’s important that I show my children that they have the agency to rewild, reclaim, and rewrite their beauty narrative whenever they want. A crucial lesson for me to pass down to my children is that they have the agency to be whatever they want to be… and then change.”
- Shari Sidat, founder of TooD Beauty
“I grew up in Australia in the 1980s and ‘90s around a huge Indian family, as well as a huge Indian community. I attended a private girls school where nearly all the students were white. Even though most of the girls at school didn’t look like me, since I had this vast Indian family and community around me, it sort of insulated me from feeling othered. In my opinion, Indian women are so glamorous in everything from the clothes, to the jewelry and the hair, that it's hard to see all that and not feel that it's beautiful. But interestingly, it was my own community where I would sometimes hear judgmental comments about skin tone. There was, and still is, an issue with colorism in the Indian community.
My family would always tell me to stay out of the sun because it would darken my skin and that was considered undesirable.
My family would always tell me to stay out of the sun because it would darken my skin and that was considered undesirable. I go in the sun all the time now (in a healthy way of course; SPF is a must). I love being at the beach and outside — I think it’s so uplifting for the spirit. I never want my daughters, Belle and Blair, to ever feel there is a correlation between skin tone and beauty. They are always active and outdoors and we encourage that.
I haven’t felt my children have been confronted by the same rigid beauty ideals. Since we live in New York City, they are growing up in one of the most diverse places in the world. I am very grateful that they are seeing all sorts of definitions of beauty around them, and that there isn’t just one ideal.
I’ve been mindful about reading books to them from a young age about acceptance, and cultural differences. There are great children’s books that address these topics and are a great way to start the conversation. One of my daughters’ favorite books is Not Quite Snow White.”
- Priya Shukla, SVP, Global Communications, Vera Wang
“As a mixed girl growing up in predominantly white spaces, I definitely felt that my hair, skin, features always stood out as ‘other.’ My hair was especially challenging when I was really young. When I would travel with my father on holidays, it was very difficult to have a nice hairstyle because my dad didn't know how to do my hair and neither did the people he had around to look after us. Thankfully, my sister ended up doing most of the hair maintenance.
Seeing so much adornment around being skinny really perpetuated the idea that the skinnier you are the more successful you will be. I also grew up in the ballet community and I was constantly around people who would actively say negative things to themselves specifically around the way they looked and the relationship they had with food. This started to really bother me, and ultimately I decided to leave the dance world because it became too toxic.
I want my son, Preston, to grow up knowing that they are lucky to have such a rich cultural mix of Black, Jewish, Hungarian and Irish roots. I want to create a home environment where my child can come to me with anything they are feeling and we can work through it together so that they aren’t left feeling confused about their appearance or why they might look different or have different features than other children. I want to have many open conversations with my child — not force them to talk about their feelings, but be there as an open ear for when they want to come to me. I also want them to be able to come to me with anything that they feel is affecting their confidence and self-image. I will be sharing stories about how I grew up and felt as a mixed girl, so my child knows that I may have gone through similar feelings and experiences.
I hope to [my children will know] everyone is beautiful in their own way, regardless of what society might try and tell you via the media. Having that open dialogue with children from a young age is so important.”
- Hannah Bronfman, activist, angel investor, founder of HBFIT
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