A Lesson in Black Self-Love

It’s really funny to me, in a not-so-funny way, that the decision to write on the topic of self-love has made me go through such intense waves of regret and discomfort, that I’ve put off even thinking about the task at hand. But alas, to secure the bag and stop the nagging anxiety of procrastination, I sat with this ambiguous stomach-turning feeling and tried to unpack the baggage behind it. All to be able to give y’all a pretty packaged “how-to-guide on realistically falling in love with yourself.” After some time I came to the realization that continuing the false idea that self-love is as attainable as following one of the many 7-step guides floating on the internet, is wrong. Especially if you don’t look like the women being promoted in body-posi ads. So what do we do? What do I do?

Well like Sway, I don’t have all the answers. Just like so many other Black Womxn I know, I’m also in a place of trying to deconstruct the Eurocentirc beauty standards we’ve been raised to define as beauty. I’m still trying to learn to walk this planet with my loc’d head held high in all spaces. And while there is a wave of self-love washing over social media and other media outlets, it’s leaving Black Womxn high and dry.

With a quick scroll through #bodypositivity on Instagram, you’ll see picture after picture of smiling women and femmes embracing the parts of them that they’ve been told to hate. Which initially is amazing. But when you look a little closer, you start to see that there are little to no Black Womxn being included in the conversation. I recently wrote a piece on the importance of representation for Black folks in cannabis - but this thought is easily applied to the body-posi movement as well. When we have no representation, we have no sense of connection to the world around us. A Columbia Social Work review from 2013 backs this up with, “--European standards of beauty can have damaging effects on the life trajectories of black women, especially those with dark skin, primarily in the form of internalized self-hatred.

Photo: Gone with the Wind

Photo: Gone with the Wind

Black Womxn are in a very delicate intersection of body-positivity. Because like our white counterparts we’ve been ridiculed, bullied and broken down over our natural body types. But a key factor that is often overlooked by the white-led body-posi movement is how racism has been and is a key component to why Black Womnxn bodies are so political.

Since slavery, Black Womxn’s right to their autonomy and feminity was stripped away and used as a way to humiliate and kill us. From Mammy, the heavy-set, dark-skin house servant to a “classically beautiful” white woman. To the “father of gynecology” who performed bizarre and cruel surgeries on enslaved Black Womxn. These racist acts of dehumanizing Black Womxn have lasting effects on how we’re perceived today. And until they’re addressed within the body positivity movement, I don’t see stigmas we face being dismantled from it.

Now I probably sound like a debbie-downer with nothing more to offer than a negative review on how the body-posi movement has failed Black Womxn. Which isn’t a lie. But in many ways, speaking out on this is a form of self-love, for me. It brings me peace and relief to get off my chest what I’ve been raised to hold in. Taking space and making white folks uncomfortable with open conversations, is how I remind myself that my voice and my body matters, even with a shaky voice.