Teasing. Joking. Kidding. Cracking. The dozens.
These are just a few of the terms we use to describe the way folks make fun of each other as harmless, lighthearted entertainment.
Pretty much everyone (myself included) has joined in on a “cracking” session at some time or another. And some might even say that a bit of old-fashioned, good-natured teasing is a necessary rite of passage to help some of us develop a tougher skin, or to help others of us shrink an oversized ego down to a more acceptable size.
That kind of joking in a communal space — where the exchange is meant to connect us through laughter, signifyin’ and, oftentimes, family ties — can create some really good times and fun memories.
But that was not this:
An anonymous note on a folded piece of paper left on my office desk for me to discover when I was a young college instructor teaching writing at an HBCU. Said note contained a very crude, ugly drawing of a face with exaggerated eyes, nose, and mouth. And underneath it, the statement, “Poster child for a nose job.”
That was it…six little words that triggered big-time pain and not a little sense of shame for me.
I mean, here I was sitting at my desk in an office I shared with several other Black educators — a space in which countless Black students came through to receive mentoring, feedback on assignments, pep talks to build up confidence… and somebody, presumably from within the group that I had always seen as a part of my HBCU fam, decided they would leave me this petty, body-shaming piece of mess.
And it mattered more that this happened to me here.
Where was the solidarity we proudly touted as one of the core reasons for attending an HBCU?
Luckily for me, I had come to the office early that morning. So when I discovered the note, I was the only one there, which gave me some privacy to process my feelings and figure out what I was going to do next. My first thought was to start my own little private investigation to discover who my anonymous tipster was. But then what?
Even if I were somehow able to track this person down, it wasn’t like I was gonna take off my earrings and my heels, so I could engage in a good old-fashioned beatdown. Nor could I report the person to campus police for stealing my joy. (Why isn’t that a thing, though?)
In hindsight, what I really wanted most of all was to say this to the note writer:
This is not okay.
It is not okay to think you have the right to tell another human being what they need to subtract or add to make themselves acceptable in your sight.
It is not okay to say things like: “She is pretty, to be so black”, “It’s a shame she’s got that ugly face on such a fine body”, “If you lost all that weight, you’d be really cute.”
And it is definitely not okay to use your words to destroy someone’s spirit and not own up to saying it to them.
And what I really would have wanted to hear back was simply this: “Sis, you’re right, and I’m so very sorry.”
In today’s culture, however, the idea of recognizing and celebrating the rich, diverse beauty of Black women is still not being fully actualized — even in predominantly Black spaces. Don’t get me wrong, it was more often the case than not that my Black womanhood was affirmed on a regular basis by the brilliant colleagues I worked with and the phenomenal friends I made there. That sister circle gave me life, ya’ll!
But these are facts, fam: Sometimes we can be our own worst critics by imposing standards of beauty and overall worth onto each other that did not originate within Black culture, and were, in fact, often constructed to exclude Black people.
And there are generations of us even today who still feel ashamed of our Black hair, skin, features, and bodies, and in turn, provoke shame in others for not embodying the dominant culture’s narrowly defined physical aesthetic.
As a woman of faith, I could quote the scripture that says I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) all day long. But it wasn’t until years later, after I had gotten married and had my son, that I fully embraced what that meant and erased the shame imposed on me so many years ago.
I remember being pregnant and wondering — like most expectant mothers do — who my child would look like. After he was born, it didn’t take very long for us all to realize he looked just like me. What I also realized was there’s no way in this world I would have told my beautiful little boy that his face had a problem that needed to be fixed.
I am forever grateful I did not accept that note as my truth or believe anyone else who has ever tried to convince me that my nose, my color, my Black woman-ness is not exactly what God intended it to be.
That’s why I’m sharing this story with my sisters, even if it is twenty-plus years later. No one else gets to define me, but me. I took back the power of that note and replaced it with my own note to self: I am fearfully and wonderfully made by God…and so are you.
How have you come to embrace your whole self, and how do you openly appreciate the unique worth and beauty of your sisters?Leave a Comment
Dorothea Davis says
I was born with an athlete body. I was often called “muscle girl”. I was very strong. I use to love to arm wrestle. My mother put me into dancing at a young, until my late teen age years. I was ashamed of my body, due to the cruelty of people teasing me. As I grew into my womanhood, I can yet recall my mother’s statement “ Daughter people pay big bucks to have your shape. I was blown away by her words. She said stop being ashamed and be thankful. She said “You are blessed.” I can relate to the scripture “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” I thank God for this scripture, My mother’s powerful words changed how I felt about myself.
Dierdra Zollar says
So thankful for moms who affirm us and teach us how to love ourselves. You were blessed by her words and her example of self-empowerment, and I’m thankful my mom was like that as well. Love that you embrace the unique way God made you. Thanks for sharing.
Dorothea Davis says
I was born with an athlete body. I was often called “muscle girl”. I was very strong. I use to love to arm wrestle. My mother put me into dancing at a young, until my late teen age years. I was ashamed of my body, due to the cruelty of people teasing me. As I grew into my womanhood, I can yet recall my mother’s statement “Daughter people pay big bucks to have your shape. I was blown away by her words. She said stop being ashamed and be thankful. She said “You are blessed.” I can relate to the scripture “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” I thank God for this scripture, My mother’s powerful words changed how I felt about myself.
Eva Collins says
Thank you for sharing. It is only when you know yourself spiritually and culturally that you can appreciate self!♥️♥️
Dierdra Zollar says
I agree, Eva. It took me a moment to understand that, and I’m so thankful I know who I am in the Lord now.
Princella Beatty says
So eloquently and beautifully stated. iTunes was teased about my full mouth. Frog lips, soup coolers, liver lips, and toe with my lips would make a lollipop too happy. I wished for years that my lips were smaller. Sometimes I would even try to hide them, as if I could. Now I am at that perfect peace with my lips. Putting red lipstick on them just show them off even more prominently. It appears that a number of other races wish they had lips like mine. And they’re going through all expensive treatments and injections and coming out looking some kind of crazy. 02 did not let what they were saying define me. God made me the way he wanted me to be. I am better & stronger for it. I am complete !
Dierdra Zollar says
First, I love the name Princella–so regal! So happy you’re embracing everything that makes you the beautiful queen you are! And thank you for sharing your story of self-acceptance and self-affirmation as well.
Thank you for sharing this beautiful story! Although self-hatred and comparison is an unfortunate by-product of our experience, your story demonstrates that the only true solution is knowing who you are within yourself. You ARE fearfully and wonderfully made! Me too!
Dierdra Zollar says
Thank you, Yvette. That knowing who we are is key, right? Then, no one else gets to define us! You are fearfully and wonderfully made, sis!
Chandra Powell says
Thank you for sharing. I loved the honesty of your feelings and it is sad that one negative remark can stay with us our entire lives. It is tough to be held to other beauty standards, which leaves us to think that we weren’t supposed to be the way we were created. Thanks for reminding us all that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made by God”.
Dierdra Zollar says
Bless you, Chandra. I did carry that wound for a minute…but I’ve learned to truly let go and let God heal and grow me. I appreciate you sharing as well.
Well said 👏 I liked your story and I can relate. But not because of the darkness of my skin to the contrary it’s the lightness of my skin that I don’t measure up for or to my sisters. After years of soul-searching I learned too and started to believe that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God bless you for sharing your story. I appreciate you ❤
Dierdra Zollar says
God bless you, too, Marcy. I am sorry that many of us have had these experiences, but I’m thankful for this community of sisters who can testify to the healing power of journeying through to get to a place of wholeness and acceptance. I appreciate you sharing as well.
Allie Willis says
Thank You so much for this powerful testimony, it spoke to my heart for I have struggled for years with my own appearance and Psalm 139:14 has always ministered to my spirit and one for which I have spoken over my own beautiful daughter and now my precious granddaughters. God Bless You Sister and your beautiful perfect baby boy!
Mira'nda Howery Jeter says
I so love your affirmation ❤. Growing up mixed (my father was Black and my mother is Filipino), surrounded by my Black culture often left me questioning my worth, my beauty and wondering if one culture was better than the other. I often heard from classmates, “Oh, you think that you’re cute because you have ‘good’ hair !”. My father always instilled in me, that I’m not any better or worse than anyone else…..I’m just different. He always said to NEVER let anyone else set limits or standards for YOU…….
Brenda Brown Hobbs says
That was awesome and oh so true! Thank you Joi for candidly sharing your experience and your powerful truth of how you did not allow it to define you. We should be proud of the skin we are in, because we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God! Bless you!!
Beautiful 😍. It is sad to say we have all in some way shape or form been hurt by others words about our looks. I am who I am because of that kind of hurt. No I do not let it define me but impower me. I thank God Almighty for my mare existence and who I am.
KaDai Craig says
I have had to embrace my beauty in its many different forms over the years. Yes I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Darlene Richardson says
Being me is just that; individualistic. Everyone comes out of the womb by themselves. God planned it that way so that each would be themselves. The answer always lies in the prescription and The Hand, Heart and Mind of The Prescriber!
The world is hyped never believe the hype. Always consult the prescription. The Prescriber prescribes the exact dosage of remedy to combat every lie.
Black, white or “colored” every human must find her identity in The Great Physician. The Promise is that if you look to Him . . . you will be there.
For it is He Who has made us and not we ourselves. (Psalm 100:3)
Bertie Brown says
Being a good mother is sometimes difficult. There are no instructions that tells you how to train up a child except in the Bible that states to train up a child in the way he/she should go, and when he/she is old, they will not depart from it. As a mother, I never felt the need to prepare my children to deal with bullying, someone being hurtful to them or simply being disrespectful. I simply assumed that my telling them just how beautiful, handsome, smart, great and marvelous they were, would be enough.
Your message was powerful and insightful. Realizing finally that you were fearfully and wonderfully made by God was reassuring, providing you with the ability to know that you are definitely who you are. You defined you.
Your message has inspired others to realize how to accept that God is the author and finisher of each of us, He made us who we are, and God does not make junk. Keep doing good works and keep trusting in yourself. God will be well pleased. Congratulations.