Isn’t My Black Beautiful Too?: Embracing Black Womanhood That Defies Ideals of “Femininity”

by Nana Brantuo

“Is that a man or a woman?”
“She looks like a man.”
“Are you a man or woman?”

I’ve heard these questions countless times. I’ve heard them whispered at the lowest of volumes and had them blatantly asked to my face. Comments and questions, stares and snickers escaping from lips of Black faces. This harassment comes from both men and women of all different ages and after years of dealing with this constant badgering, you’d think I’d be used to it. I’m not.

Every time I see people stealing glances and allowing giggles to slip, every time I hear the words man and woman spoken in the form of a question…the same feelings of anger and frustration take hold of me. I fall into a deep depression, wondering why I have to be six feet tall with dark skin and dark eyes; angry at my full figure, big hands and big feet. Most of all, sadden by facial features that become the focus of external debate on my gender.

For years, I’ve ignored the sting that arose when people would question my sex and challenge my gender. To be Black, African, dark-skinned, full figured… adding androgyny to an already complex identity is rough. I’m not asking to be on the cover of Essence, Ebony, or Jet. I’m asking for the attention of my people, whom I love so deeply. It is essential for us to create spaces where gender policing and ideals of femininity can be addressed.

We’ve heard “Black is beautiful” in songs, poems, and speeches but is that how we really feel? Or is the definition of Black beauty and womanhood rigid and in need of revision? Women like me, Black women who shatter perceptions of Black womanhood and femininity are not to be taunted, teased, and harassed. Respect is due to us as respect is due to any other woman.

We are raising young men and young women in spaces that are both mentally and spiritually dangerous. What happens to the Black girl whose build is too athletic and face is too strong for peers and adults alike? We can’t continue to avoid the hurt and pain of young Black women who are constantly reminded that their beauty is undesirable. As Black women, young and old, we are born into a world where we have to work intensively to love ourselves.

Within our race, there are dominating ideals of beauty and those of us who don’t fit either embrace who we are or conform to what others want us to be. How long can we continue on shunning some and putting others on pedestals? I want our girls to love themselves totally and love and appreciate the beauties of others without succumbing to feelings of envy and inadequacy.

Isn’t it time for us to embrace the beauty of all Black women without comparisons and contrasts?

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Nana Brantuo is a first year doctoral student in the Minority and Urban Education program at the University of Maryland, College Park. A Ghanaian and Sierra Leonean American, Nana graduated from Howard University with a bachelor’s degree in African Studies and is the creator The New African (, a blog focused on embracing the diversity of African and African descendants.

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