The Day We Gave Up Our Birthright

I strongly believe every woman was born to be celebrated. Every single bit of her being was made to be applauded: her mind, her passions and interests, and yes, her looks. I am sure I opened a can of worms suggesting all women, not just Beyonce or Kate Upton, revel in their own unique brand of beauty. Looking back I can pinpoint the moment different women in my life gave up their privilege to be authentically and unapologetically captivating. They didn't give me permission to share their stories, so I will share mine.

It was 1998, Tyra Banks had just released her book, Tyra's Beauty Inside & Out. My mother drove me to the store to buy a copy. Not only was I a die hard Tyra Banks fan (I still am an uber fan. Don't judge me) but my cousin who was modeling at the time was in the book. My beautiful cousin right there alongside one of the most beautiful women in the world; reading that book somehow I felt more beautiful. The next day I brought it to school to show my friends. The book made it's way around the class eventually ending up in the hands of a group of boys. After appraising the appearance of the women on the pages one of the boys raised the question, "Why does Kendra have this book?" My heart began pounding and I answered, "Only because my cousin is in it." I tried to sound nonchalant but I was devastated.

It wasn't what he said that shook how I saw myself, it was the meaning I attached to his words. Somehow, I had spun six words into, "Who does she think she is fooling? There is nothing beautiful about her inside or out. And this book sure as heck is not going to help that hopeless case. Makeup and fashion tips are for pretty girls..." I know I am not the only one who has twisted an innocent comment or look into a full blown judgement. That day I decided I didn't have a right to be beautiful. Nor did I have the right to do those things which women commonly do to enhance their inherent beauty like swipe on a vampy shade of red lipstick, paint my nails a sparkly pink, or don a flirty dress. That was for the pretty girls and I wasn't one of them.

I know my story is not unique. You have a story too, the story of how you laid down your beauty or maybe your intelligence or your love for skateboarding because someone said something that made you feel you couldn't be you. The meanings we attached to these words and gestures stole our inheritance, no worse, we relinquished it. But all is not lost. We can choose to redefine those moments. We can choose to be free and beautiful.

Kendra TolbertComment