Taking Back My Femininity and Defining My Own Beauty

by Kamiiya Williams

I was in college when Lil Wayne’s song “Every Girl” first came out. I admit, it was one of my favorite songs to play on my iPhone while I worked out in the gym and it got me going at the house parties. However, the first line of his verse always stood out to me: “I like a long-haired, thick redbone,” as it described what many men thought to be the "ideal" woman.

That wasn't me.

Embracing my body has always been a struggle for me. During puberty, all I wanted was to be "thick". My petite frame made me feel less desirable and all around me girls were wearing tighter pants or even layering their pants to make themselves look thicker. That was my first realization that I wanted my body to be pleasing to the boys around me. I wanted them to like what they saw. Over time, I started to associate full, thick girls as more mature and feminine; nd my naturally petite yet shapely frame and A Cup bra size as less desirable. Even as of a week ago, my boyfriend jokingly told me that I needed to bump up my bra size. A comment that offended me because I thought he arrogantly assumed that I cared about what bra size he desired for me, versus whether I was comfortable with what I have.

It's probably worse for young women today with so much pressure to have insanely huge buttocks, and very small waists. As popular celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Nicki Minaj sell their bodacious rear ends and skinny waists, girls today go to desperate measures to meet male desires—from Photoshopping their images to getting butt injections or implants.

But today, I ask myself, what do I desire? What makes me feel beautiful and feminine?

The same insecure feelings emerged when I Big Chopped my hair and went natural. I had to deal with the attitude of short hair being more masculine. I also had to come to accept my kinky 4c hair, which does not have a defined curl pattern in its natural state. I had to rewire my own thinking about femininity in terms of hair texture. Femininity was impressed upon me as woman with loose hair—preferably wavy or curly, if not straight. My hair, being none of those textures, really challenged my perception of my own feminine identity. Even when I went natural, I could tell my boyfriend was not comfortable with that choice, but I stopped living for the comfort of the men in my life (or the men I wanted in my life) and decided to make the choice for me. Having dark brown skin, I also had to overcome the age old attitude that lighter skin is more feminine than darker skin.

While going through this process of redefining my own femininity, these were some of the barriers I needed to break through. Now that I am older, I see how these attitudes were transferred to me by elders and peers in my community, as well as television. I can see the brainwashing from people who made me feel like my hair was "bad" or that I didn't have enough meat on my bones. I had to reject the pain inflicted on me by others, like when a childhood friend told me that dark skin girls "just look dirty."

Those moments are hurtful, but my personal challenge is to undo every idea about black femininity that was given to me, and redefine it for myself. Every step I take, starting with appreciating my hair, skin, and my body makes me feel freer. It's hard to fight off all the negative and hypercritical influences, but I hope that my younger sisters look at me and see a woman who defines herself and appreciates her body.

Today I am 22, and I feel a lot more comfortable in my skin. I recently got to a point where I was tired of letting other people define my femininity. As long I am healthy, eating well, and exercising, I feel good about myself.

I wear my natural hair, even though I was programmed to cover it up. I experiment with color in my makeup and wardrobe! This is a great accomplishment for me because I believed dark skin women were restricted to certain colors for a long time.

I am not afraid to be bold. I don't envy the beauty of other women. I know that no one has it easy, and that most women struggle to appreciate their own beauty. Lastly, I live for me, and not the attention of men.

Whether there's pressure to be thin or thick, I think it's important for girls to define their own sense of femininity and beauty. Slavery begins within. But so does freedom.

Photo: Shutterstock

Kamiiya Williams is a 22-year-old Chicago native living in Beaverton, Oregon.

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