Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mistakes I don't want to make with my daughter

As a five year old still in kindergarten (at the time, one did not start school before one was seven -- in my case at least), I didn't really have time to think about the colour of my skin as much. I was more interested in making friends and dominating "my clique". I don't know if it was the fact that kids were scared of me in kindergarten, due to my dominant nature, and being a few inches taller than the rest, but I had a lot of friends -- and even more confidence -- back then. Apart from the occasional, 'why is your skin dark?' comment, my skin colour was never really an issue to me.

Things changed drastically when I was taken out of my comfort zone and tossed into primary (or elementary, as Americans refer to it) school. I was suddenly so aware of my skin colour, I would spend minutes by myself literally just turning my arms over and wondering why it was that my skin was dark. I suddenly had loads of trouble making friends, and just never fit in with the so called 'cool kids'.  I became so insecure that the only way I felt relevant was when I hung out with kids much younger than myself. Because of the majority of Europeans which surrounded me, I eventually gave in to the beauty standards and tried so hard to fit in (still to no avail) with different hairstyles and clothing. My idea of beauty became what I was exposed to, rather than what I was. 

The hardest thing for a child, or, rather, a black girl growing up, is to have no one to look up to as a role model. When older family members were busy praising and emulating Eurocentric beauty, where on earth was there a chance to learn to embrace and accept myself as an individual? As a result of this, I ended up having no identity at all; constantly seeking acceptance in all the wrong places. 


I want my daughter to grow up knowing she is different from the very beginning (kids aren't blind, just because you teach them to ignore their skin colour doesn't make them less aware of it) but, instead of viewing it as something which is negative, I want her to learn to look at herself as unique and beautiful. I want her to know that she stands out for a reason, but not to the point where she will think too much of herself or feel she is better than others. I want her to understand that her black is beautiful and not something she should cover up or be ashamed of, that black comes in different shades -- all of them beautiful.  Viewing her hair in a positive light, no matter the texture, is something I want to implement in her while she is still very young, to introduce her to the idea that her hair is diverse and beautiful just the way it is.

Art by @keturahariel (http://instagram.com/keturahariel)

It is essential for me to not just tell her she's beautiful, but also show her. How? By embracing myself and my qualities first, and not being ashamed of who I am, as I will be her mirror for many years. I want her to seek acceptance from within herself and not from society, the idea of beauty, nor any man. I want to teach her to be strong on her own, but not to the point where she garners pride and will not ask for help when she needs it. 

Things tend to hit home a lot more when actions are seen rather than when words are spoken. We are the greatest influence our children will ever have, and if we speak negatively about ourselves, our race, or even other races, our children will be sure to pick that up. The same goes for the way we choose to look at ourselves. If we stop making excuses for why it is that we cannot accept or love ourselves, our children will grow up in a home where they learn to not let anyone define who they are, and to believe in themselves and their abilities. 

I was so ashamed to read a comment on Youtube the other day which stated something along the lines of (I'm just paraphrasing here), 'If black men preferred natural hair, then more black women would stop wearing weaves and relaxing their hair to suit their preference'. That's the root of most women's problems today, seeking acceptance in what they believe men value/worship, and also a reason why so many people have trouble loving themselves and developing high self-esteem.  Of course it is nice to receive the occasional praise from the male counterpart every now and again, but this should not be the centre of a woman's focus, or the reason she goes the extra mile to take care of herself.  

When I spoke to one of my friends regarding marriage, I like what she came out with when it concerns her idea of what makes most marriages successful (which might be an intro to my next blog post); aspiring to be a better version of one's self each day. To my daughter, and most women alike, a man (society also) has never, and will never, define your worth. Whether you choose to believe it or not, you are a gem. You will only shine once you realise it.