Can We Live?: On Letting Black Girls Be Black Girls

by Ariel C. Williams

Two weeks ago, Sasha and Malia Obama were criticized like every black girl has been and will be, when a GOP communications director Elizabeth Lauten attempted to publicly shame the First Daughters in a post on her personal Facebook page.

Although many people were outraged by Lauten’s actions (enough for her to resign from her position), what she did is nothing new. If we can have a moment of truth, society has always been uncomfortable with Black girls being themselves. We are constantly told how we should appear, think, feel, and behave. And if we do not fall in line, we are often ostracized, humiliated, and made to feel less than.

Halle Berry recently took ex-partner Gabriel Aubry to court claiming that he was trying to make their 6-year-old daughter, Nahla, look white by straightening and highlighting her hair. A week prior, Willow Smith (and her brother Jaden) did an interview with The New York Times’ T Magazine. People attacked the teen, calling her “weird” and “outrageous” for owning a unique style and thoughts that make her different from others her age. Months before that, Quvenzhane Wallis’ afro and skin color set Twitter ablaze with racist comments after the movie trailer for Annie was released.

Until recently, beauty standards have excluded us. Our features – broad noses, high cheekbones, full lips, wide eyes, and brown skin – are ripped apart for being different or “less than classically beautiful” instead of being welcomed for our uniqueness. We’re asked what we’re planning to do with our natural hair, as if a fierce twist-out is not a hairstyle. Receiving sideways looks come with the territory of dying our hair or painting our lips a bright red or deep purple. The effort we put into making ourselves look and feel beautiful seems to always be questioned by the same society who’ll knock us for wearing natural hair, yet hate us for wearing a weave.

Being constantly criticized when we’re simply being ourselves can perpetuate self-hate, low self-esteem, and hopelessness among Black girls. In 2004, The Dove Self-Esteem Fund completed a national study exploring these issues by analyzing online data taken from 1,029 girls between the ages of 8 and 17. Some of their findings include:
  • 68% of teenage African-American girls feel they do not measure up in some way regarding their looks, performance in school and relationships with family and friends.
  • 41% of teenage African-American girls report engaging in negative activities, such as disordered eating, cutting, bullying, smoking or drinking, when feeling bad about themselves (compared with 50% of teenage Caucasian girls).
  • 28% of teenage African-American girls admit to talking badly about themselves (compared with 40% of teenage Caucasian girls).
  • 95% of teenage African-American girls with low self-esteem want their parents to change their behavior toward them in at least one way, such as understanding them more, listening to them more and spending more time with them.
Upon reading Lauten’s criticism of the First Daughters, I was reminded of my own struggles of being a Black girl. As a child, I remember being told often that I should wear dresses instead of pants; that my hair should be relaxed instead of natural; and that I was too rough and messy for a little girl. I was told that I had an attitude problem each time I breathed deeply when told to do something I didn’t want to. An adult relative would always jokingly call me “fat” or “chunky” as a child, which made it harder for me to stand up for myself against bullies at school when they said it too. When I slimmed down years later, that same relative admonished me for being “too skinny” and for having an opinion about it.

Does the world not realize the way it hurts us? It seems that no matter what us Black girls do, we will always be attacked. No matter what we achieve, we will still face criticism and ridicule. It’s not our behavior or our appearance that the world is attacking. It’s us, for existing, for being ourselves.

When will the world tire of this? When will the world finally allow us the freedom to simply be Black girls?

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Ariel C. Williams is a creative writer, author, and social media manager whose mission is to help women thrive in life, love, and goals. She uses her blog and book, The Girl Talk Chronicles: Advice on How to Manage Love, Lust & Situations, to connect with women and inspire them to achieve self-love. She’s on Twitter as @ArielSaysNow.

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