Ivie elucidates the true meaning of beauty


Credit: Benjy Renton

Ivie delivers her Chapel Talk.

By Ivie Uzamere, Guest Contributor

Editor’s Note: Senior Ivie Uzamere delivered the following Chapel Talk to an audience of students and faculty on December 15, 2016. The Dial reprints her speech below.

Alright everyone, I want you guys to stop and think of the most attractive person that comes to your mind.   And as you do that, I want you guys to think about what you find most beautiful about that person.  Is it that person’s lips?  Is it that person’s eyes? Their hair? Their nose? Their skin tone?  What is it that defines the beauty of that person for you?  

Well, I am going to tell you a story that helped me define what is truly beautiful for me.

Last summer, en route to New York from Montreal, where my mother’s Haitian french speaking family is from, my mother decided to make a pitstop at a Walmart and asked me to get a toy for my 7-year-old-cousin, Haleynha who was with us at the time   Following my mother’s instructions I directed my cousin to the “pink section” and her eyes lit up as she saw the many dolls. I handed her one that was not the standard Barbie (blue eyed, skinny, blonde hair and white-skinned ), but rather a doll that was black with natural hair.  “Haleynha look! What about this one?” Her excited grin instantly turned to a scowl. She handed the doll back to me and said in French, “Ivie, elle n’est pas belle, je veux cela”, French for “Ivie, she is not pretty. I want this one.”  

The one that she wanted was the blonde, white “ideal” Barbie.   At that moment my heart broke because Haleynha’s skin is a beautiful caramel brown and her thick hair has a great kinky texture, yet she was asking for a white doll with blonde hair. She was calling dolls that resembled her ugly, and I ached for her.

Society has made little girls like my cousin feel like they are less than “ideal”. Many little black girls do not see the beauty they possess, or the way their smiles and presence could light up a room, but rather the only things they seem to see are what we black girls are not, instead of everything we are.

Although this situation wounded  me to the core, I could not blame my cousin because I too have struggled with accepting my skin and black features.  Attending a predominately white school since age five, for almost 13 year I have been surrounded by so many girls who perfectly conform to the Eurocentric beauty standards.  

There were times in middle school that I longed for thin lips, a delicate brow with a graceful arc and a perky, narrow nose.  I envied the faces of other girls at school admired for their beauty which exemplified the standards of  the mainstream media.

Once in middle school, one of my white friends who was having what she felt was a bad hair day said that her hair looked “nappy”. When I heard a word that is usually used to describe the coarseness of black hair to denote ugliness, I felt humiliated.

In today’s society black features are seen only as beautiful on the face and body of a white woman. She can wear cornrows and inject collagen to create full lips while disregarding the history and the negative stereotypes and it suddenly becomes fashionable.  

Once after spring break many of my white classmates were excited to show off their tans and one girl even extended her arms towards me and said, “ Look I am almost as black as Ivie”.  She claimed that she wanted to get as black as me, but I knew she did not want to really  be black.   Black beauty in this instance and in too many others is not being recognized for its own merit , but instead is regarded as a costume that can be taken off at will.

Society constantly imposes Eurocentric beauty standards which inevitably shames black women for our differences.  Too often for a black woman, the goal is to at least appear as white as possible. The lighter the skin, and the more white features you have, the closer you come to meeting the “ideal” standards.  However,  consider the irony, that despite all this pressure for black women to adhere to these Eurocentric beauty standards, it is okay for white women to take on a more so-called “exotic guise”. It is more beautiful for her to showcase her “black” features because at the end of the day, she is still white.  

I have grown to love my features, not because the trends tell me that I am supposed to, but because wishing to be anything different is an affront to who I am. It is also because I firmly believe that there is something beautiful in my hues that contribute to the woman I see in the mirror. I am not going to let others choose what I can and cannot love about myself. I refuse to comply with a set of standards that fail to acknowledge diversity.

I look forward to a tomorrow, where we recognize that there can be no single standard of beauty.  Where no one look determines what is beautiful. Where forces like the media and the industries that create and perpetuate  the ideas of beauty will finally celebrate different ways of looking.  I want to live in a tomorrow where you and I are not seeking the approval from an external standard of beauty, but we actually love ourselves and uplift one another.   

  I think that when we choose not to acknowledge the other forms of beauty that exists in the world, there are  not only consequences for those who do not meet those standards but there are consequences for everyone, we diminish ourselves.  Yes, it is natural to want to be beautiful, but we are more than the sum of our genes. We are beings of consciousness, we are critical thinkers, we are self aware,  and we have choice.  Therefore, we will decide what makes us feel beautiful, we do not owe it to anyone to conform to or accept their standards.  Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, but rather we behold our own beauty.