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Why It's Important My Daughter Knows Black Is Beautiful

There was a "doll test" that took place in the 1940s by two black psychologists who were studying children's reactions to race in response to the effects of segregation. Children aged 3 to 7 were asked to exhibit a preference for a type of doll (there were four dolls given, identical except for color), and unsurprisingly, most picked the white doll and attributed positive characteristics to her. Though it's hard to say that children are "racist" in the same ways that adults are, they are often biased towards lighter skintones. It's part of the reason I disagree when parents suggest we stop telling our little girls that they are beautiful. Little black girls need to hear that they are beautiful and that they're good and that they're enough. The doll test concluded that children have a preference.

We're taught early on that our skin — the shade that differs in so many hues of blacks and browns and tans — isn't beautiful, but have you seen the way our colors come alive? We're told that because our hair doesn't lay silky or straight it isn't considered beautiful, but our braids and locs are breathtaking.

It's not that I do not understand the basis for not wanting to tell little girls that they are beautiful. We live and exist in a patriarchal society. So often when we tell girls they're pretty and little boys that they're smart and strong, we're supporting and encouraging patriarchy. Women and girls exist under standards that differ greatly from men. There's always been such a strong focus on women to be beautiful, to have bodies that are fit, to exist as support and reward for a man. Women have been conditioned to apologize for the space they take up, for the words they have yet to say, and for the jobs they occupy. Praising girls just on their looks can often reinforce the engrained social hierarchy that's already rooted in place. But this conditioning looks very different for a little black girl.

When Lupita Nyong'o was on the cover of Vogue, my 7-year-old daughter screamed in the grocery store. She pointed to the cover, telling me, "Mama! She's dark like you! And she's beautiful! Can we buy this?" And for the first time ever, I bought Vogue.
Courtesy of Margaret Jacobsen

In literature, on TV, and in magazines we see faces of white women smiling back up at us. They're celebrated for their bodies and their beauty. Ever so often we're graced with a black woman on the covers of a magazine. Ever so often it's a character we can relate to, but seeing a black woman looking back at us from the glossy pages of a magazine has become a rarity; a treat. We don't always think about representation, or its importance, but it influences our children. Matter of fact, I didn't really think about its value until my daughter made its relevance plain and clear.

I sat her down, I looked her in the eyes, and I told her, "You are so beautiful. From your curls, to your freckles, to your tan skin, to your heart." I wanted her to know that her beauty was everywhere. I wanted her to know that her body is beautiful. I wanted her to relish in it. Because who else will affirm my black baby's beauty? Who else will value her like a prize?
margejacobsen on Instagram

When Lupita Nyong'o was on the cover of Vogue, my 7-year-old daughter screamed in the grocery store. She pointed to the cover, telling me, "Mama! She's dark like you! And she's beautiful! Can we buy this?" And for the first time ever, I bought Vogue. The way my daughter held it close to her chest — her heart — was amazing to witness. I sat her down, I looked her in the eyes, and I told her, "You are so beautiful. From your curls, to your freckles, to your tan skin, to your heart." I wanted her to know that her beauty was everywhere. I wanted her to know that her body is beautiful. I wanted her to relish in it. Because who else will affirm my black baby's beauty? Who else will value her like a prize? Who else will tell my baby that she is gorgeous? Especially when she is constantly compared to white beauty? Especially when she is held up and compared to another little girl who's been validated and reaffirmed their whole life?

How silly to think that we just now discovering how great black women are.
Courtesy of Margaret Jacobsen

Someone asked me the other day why there was suddenly this "uprise in black women," and the conversation around #BlackGirlMagic. I think I laughed, because how silly to think that we just now discovering how great black women are. As a black woman, we've always known this. Our mamas have always known. Their mamas knew. That's the power of being a black woman: we know the blood we carry, the footsteps we follow in. And we know we walk in greatness. Our history shows this to us! Our history also shows us the trauma, the depression, and the pain that's been passed down. It lives inside us, yet as Maya Angelou says, "Still, I rise." And we do.

We tell little girls that their beauty is more than skin deep, unless they are black girls. Then all of a sudden, their skin is the sole indicator of their beauty.
Courtesy of Lacey Monroe

What is more beautiful than someone taking nothing and creating everything out of it? That's the journey and the story of the black woman. We're taught early on that our skin — the shade that differs in so many hues of blacks and browns and tans — isn't beautiful, but have you seen the way our colors come alive? We're told that because our hair doesn't lay silky or straight it isn't considered beautiful, but our braids and locs are breathtaking. Oppressors have have shamed, policed, and sexualized our bodies, but they will not call our figures beautiful. Yet how can this be?! We have tilled land, created brilliant foods from scraps, carried our babies within us and on us. Our bodies are not just beautiful; they are miraculous.

Courtesy of Margaret Jacobsen

It's not that we didn't know we were beautiful, it's just that we've had to push so hard to be seen this way. It's not that our beauty is news to us. It's not that #BlackGirlMagic is a sudden phenomenon. It's just that we now have platforms to proclaim and celebrate it.

Yet each time we band together as black women to bask in our beauty, someone else has a problem with it. They cast a black Hermione in the new Harry Potter play and people were upset. Beyoncé created an anthem for black women, and she was attacked for being "anti-white," as if being "pro-black" automatically means you are against everyone else. When people take issue because the #OscarsSoWhite, our cries are answered with a tiny list of black actors and actresses who've have won, as if we should be content with that. We tell little girls that their beauty is more than skin deep, unless they are black girls. Then all of a sudden, their skin is the sole indicator of their beauty.

margejacobsen on Instagram

So no, I will not stop telling my black daughter she is beautiful. In fact, I will tell her every day. I will tell her until she believes in, and even then, I will tell her again. I'll continue to tell her she is beautiful, brilliant, intelligent, a magic maker, and that she is more than enough. I will join so many other black mothers who tell their daughters the same thing. We do it because we must, because the landscape still believes that black is Other, and Other isn't good enough. We must be vigilente in reminding our daughters, and our fellow black women, that they are beautiful just as they are. No one can take that away from them.