DIARY ENTRY: 01/08/2017
Beauty is a social construct!
It has been constructed to best serve white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist systems, with an agenda to deliberately exclude anyone and anything that does not package perfectly for profit – depending on the market. These markets could be different contexts, a few years back it was about being supermodel thin, now we could say it is about being “stripper thick” We could even consider the different markers of beauty in cultures around the world, some value eyes, hips, many value skin tone…The complexity and cruelty of capitalism, with its siblings patriarchy and white supremacy, is that this construction is fluid – it flexes through time and place, morphing and moulding, changing shape, but always serving an evil agenda. Once you understand that beauty is constructed by those in power, you become aware of your own power to construct beauty in a way that best serves you. What I mean is not the clichéd affirmation of, “Beauty Comes from Within,” – because it doesn’t. There is nothing essential about beauty. I’m advocating for the everyday exercise of constructing a definition and standard of beauty that suits and serves you. Deciding that though your edges are not laid today, today’s definition of beauty becomes non-laid edges – and gotdamnit you’re beautiful! These deliberate decisions and definitions are an everyday, maybe even hourly exercise, because whilst you are constructing beauty for yourself, you must simultaneously deconstruct definitions that come against your standard. Theoretically, social constructions are not real, they are made up. They shouldn’t matter, but realistically, they have adverse effects on our being in this world. You get to work, edges not laid – gotdamnit you’re beautiful! And then, your white boss states that your afro is unkempt and unprofessional. You’ve got to churn, do the mental and spiritual work of deconstructing and reconstructing, deconstructing and reconstructing. Whew! If you ask me, being beautiful is exhausting – it’s a task that relies very little on the physical and external appearance, but weighs heavy on the mind and spirit.
It is a task that I have tried in the past year to fulfil, and found some success in the fact that I do not have a deep hatred for my dark skin. I understand that the exclusion of darker skinned people (whatever their race) are white supremacist ideals used to fuel conquest, colonialism and capitalism. I do not want to be complicit, even in the smallest way, of believing there’s something wrong with my skin, and feed into the rhetoric. That’s not to say self-hate doesn’t creep in now and then, between the churning of deconstructing and reconstructing, I may add a lightening filter to my Instagram selfie and then some days I just post. Beauty is an everyday exercise – an hourly exercise.
For me it has become an exercise of life and death. My body has deteriorated – I have lost so much weight. When I took a look at myself in the mirror after two weeks of hospital admission, I hated it. On top of that I had a bloody cold sore on my lips – I deemed myself ugly. Ugly infected with sickness is death. This fear of frailty goes way back, beyond the two-week hospital admission or the week admission last year. It goes back to a school photo of me in Grade 7 that surfaced whilst I was in Grade 8. In this photo, my dark skin looks pale – not light or ashy –but pale, without its glow. I’m smiling – I have a beautiful smile, but my face has lost its filling and firmness, and is struggling to sustain the smile. It seemed as though the smile would fall upon my protruding collar bone and that would be the end of me – shattered, a pile of tiny bones with barely any skin. My mother came across the photo once, hidden in a drawer under stacks of unnecessary things we put in drawers, and she said, “You shouldn’t show people this picture, otherwise they will know.” They will know what? That I was a sickly child, to put it lightly. From then I associated thinness with sickness and death, and at the time the photo was taken, I had heard with my own ears the doctor telling my grandmother, “if this doesn’t work she might not make it”. Lo and Behold I did. I made it to Grade 8, where a fellow pupil came across one of my grade 7 photos and remarked, “you looked so much better when you were thinner”. Sigh – beauty is a social construct.
Sometimes the constructions you form will be in alignment with white supremacist, patriarchal and capitalist standards – I am quite aware of my skinny privilege, I have a smug “never been a dress size over 8 in my life” pride I have to keep in check every so often. To an extent, I understand the reasoning behind why my fellow pupil leaned more towards thin than health. The world is very unjust to bodies above a certain size, and the assumption is that if you weigh above a certain number on the scale, you’re automatically unhealthy, unfit, undeserving of food or adequate seating and freedom of movement. These are all normalized assumptions - it’s not like we have written our BMIs on our foreheads (and even if we did we would still need to question the power behind that measure). In this context, the dilemma for me then becomes anxiety between the thing I see as death. and the big girl that will be socially excluded (and trust that social exclusion has as much intensity as death – do you exist if people deem you invisible?) Hence, another layer to what beauty is and must become, not only must you churn to construct and deconstruct – you must recognize where your definitions of beauty are in alignment with the socially constructed standards – find where that privilege intersects with someone’s oppression and then extend your constructions of beauty to include them. Think on how broaden definitions on beauty will help you grow, think on how inclusive definitions will help others grow.
What is it that is specifically growing? Some call it spirit / soul / self – the only thing I believe to be essential to a human being. Beauty is not from within, nor intelligence, nor any other attribute we’ve been shamed for falling short of, but the spirit / soul / self is – it’s an untainted and fragile part of our being. It needs the body to hold it, it needs thoughts to frame it and it needs emotions to manifest itself, and that is why we must be deliberate about what we construct around us and the world to build it up. Everything but the spirit / soul / self is constructed, learnt, conditioned, socialized. In my very vulnerable state of feeling ugly, I have come to define self-love as the deliberate exercise of activating and amplifying the spirit – that essential part within me. When possible I believe all thoughts, actions, emotions, must serve the growth of the spirit / the soul / the self to fulfil not just your body and mind but any spiritual or physical space you occupy. If you do not take deliberate action in constructing structures and definitions that prop your spirit up, it will be suffocated by all the emissions of capitalism. In the same way that capitalism is eroding the beauty of our Earth, you will find your spirit sinking deep in the waters of a melting ice cap.
Construct. Deconstruct. Churn!
Today, my beauty is health. It’s the fact that I haven’t had difficulty breathing, and that my cold sore is waning to the furthest corner of my lips. Understanding that today’s beauty is about recovery and patience, and less about my desirability in a world that often deliberately excludes me. Which reminds me of a Haitian saying, “Nou led, Nou la” translated “We’re ugly, but we are here.” I’m alive – I’m here! I’m regaining my health and though my edges aint laid…gotdamnit I’m beautiful!