This blog post this week is about the exciting, thrilling, and intimate show “Black Women OWN The Conversation” on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
The premise of the show is 100 hundred black women in a room talk and discuss about how different topics that uniquely impact the sisterhood of black women.
Episode 1 on Season 1 discusses the topic of “Beauty”
This episode guest featured House representative Stacey Abrams, Grammy-award-winning singer Monica, and Emmy-nominated actress and comedian Kym Whitley.
Has It Always Been A Struggle To Feel Beautiful Being A Black Woman?
This is such a tough one in conversations, mostly with non-black friends. Unilaterally, we as women, all struggle with body image, feeling beautiful, and growing into our own skin as women, hands down, period.
It can be a rough, rough, *cough* rough road.
And discussing the uniqueness of our challenges as black women, I’ve found, is often received as not seeing the “ALL-of-us” struggle. Whereas seeing that the way to heal the black women struggle is to accurately identify how we struggle and….it’s different.
Versus smearing over it with the “We are all the same” brush.
But I’m loosing focus here.
There has been a longstanding violent history towards black women that it’s a no brainer to us that we struggle with feeling beautiful.
And simply the statement alone, we have a long violent history, becomes so routinized and blasé in language, the transcending depth of the phrase is so painfully glossed over.
So how do we in the present, knowing our history, come to place where we as black women feel beautiful?
It Starts At Home And With Ourselves
Monica talks candidly about the power of words her mother affirmed in her about beauty when she was young.
So I was really fortunate enough to grow up with the kind of family that was constantly praising us. ….But that was really because of my mom…
Monica chronicles this legacy of triumph when she talks about how her mother grew up in a segregated South.
From 1945-1964, black women could not obtain jobs in Harlem nightclubs unless they had a certain hair texture.
In order to adapt and assimilate, black men used a product named congalene (or conks) that contained a powerful chemical called lye. Lye, that we know burning and painful as hell, is found in many relaxers today.
Conks were pretty popularized with black men from Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, and Little Richard.
When the migration happened cornrows, braids, were consolidated to uneducated and unruly hair. Urban blacks had to conform to hairstyles of their colleagues to not be viewed as uneducated.
We have to think about the level of self-love and inner work that Monica’s mom, Marilyn, has had to overcome, in a time frame like this, in order to give such a radically positive message to her kids.
This part is so profound because as this show is happening, as these lives developed into the moment on this show to be so critical about the way we walk through lives is a self-healing act. Black women feeling not beautiful is such a generational comaraderie.
What kinds of tell-tale signs do we ignore, encourage, or push that fuels self-hate?
Kym Whitley talks about how she grew up “chubby” and had a “bald-head” because her grandmother didn’t want to comb my hair.
Although this had no impact on Kym’s ideals on herself, how many of us can connect with the layers of feeling like taking care of ourselves is too much? Too long? In a negative way?
What other kinds of messages are we internalizing and then promoting under a time-restrained, productivity-obsessed society?
Words of Affirmation and Understanding Self
There’s a part of this episode that I love the most is when someone on the show says:
“A processed head does not equate a process mind”
The repression and the fight of black hair has given us a new realm of freedom. We can be natural, wear wigs, wear weaves, and wear braids.
The history of restriction and shame around our hair has now birthed itself into a new era of choices.
I personally love switching it up from wearing my hair to wigs to braids. I love the feeling of changing my look when I desire.
The outside backlash, just innocent annoying questions, or the dismissal of black men around black women wearing their natural hair is overwhelming.
It’s hard to feel grounded in being “black enough” and also “enough”.
A woman in the audience details her narrative of when she cut her natural hair, her feelings and sense of freedom where symbolic of how feeling beautiful comes with the boldness of having your own opinion become enough.
This is why affirming self-love is so important. It’s funny because our society, especially our community, doesn’t speak enough of it.
As if saying nice things to yourself and having that reflect on yourself is a silly thing to do. Or a luxurious thing to do reserved for someone other than black women….?
It’s time to change those things.
There are also deep and interesting discussions about colourism, self-internalized racism, and the nuances of our community and how we view beauty.
Please watch Black Women OWN The Conversation on Own for free!