Some time during my sophomore year at Prairie View A&M University, I decided to set out on the journey to “go natural.”My entire life up to that point, had been filled with messages about what was considered acceptable standards of beauty. I was “cute for a dark-skinned girl,” or “straight hair is more manageable.” Any resemblance of my African features, were devalued by my own people.
Higher education turned my life around. The first book I read, “From Niggas to Gods” by Akil, opened my eyes to the inherent self-hatred I had no idea I was fighting against. The people in the small town from with I came, were perpetuating messages they received from white supremacy about the value of anything black. It’s ugly, it’s dirty, it’s worthless. The closer you are to white, the more accepted you will be by society. I had no idea these messages of self+hate were born from slavery, and reinforced everyday through media.
The only way for me to shed these self hating beliefs was to fully embrace my blackness in its natural form. I cut off my perm and started growing locs. I also changed my diet, drank more water, and ate organic. I had never felt more beautiful and in tune with myself. As I grew in this knowledge of self, I attracted more knowledge of the history of my people. Slavery was only part of our story. We created thriving kingdoms and empires that lasted for thousands of years Empires that made inventions in technlogy, agriculture, medicine, and science just to name a few. Learning this gave me a different type of pride. Wearing my hair natural became more of a political statement of rebellion against a status quo that says any display of African features must be hidden or repressed. I squashed the lie that “nappy hair” was ugly, because I was wearing my crown with pride.
Fast forward 15 years.
In 2016, I was driving down the highway and all of a sudden the streets went blurry. Looking through the dashboard of my car window was like looking through a camera that was out of focus. I managed to veer off the road to call a friend to come get me. The diagnosis: Diabetic Retnopathy. I was legally blind. After two cataract removal surgeries, and two unsuccessful surgery attempts to repair the detached retna in my right eye, I had to have that eye removed.
I feel confident about how I dealt with the emotional and mental ramifications of loosing my vision. The fact that I am running this website is testament to my resilience and independence. However, I did not consider what this disfigurement would do to my physical confidence. I was riding really high on the newly discovered cultural pride I gained in college. But this was a whole test to how I defined beauty. For three years, I avoided mirrors, and pictures. Because of my vision I could not wear sunglasses, but I wore reading glasses to hide my eyes. The pictures I posted on social media were at least 7 years old.
So part of my journey back to normalcy was finding a job in my field, which after three years of vocational rehab, I did. They requestted a recent headshot for their website. I couldn’t run anymore. I had to face the insecurity head on.
Loosing my eye was part of my journey, just like all the other scars I have. But it speaks to my resilience and determination. It highlights the fighter in me. No matter what is thrown in my path, as long as I am still living, I will keep going and grow from it. This particular lesson required me to, yet again redefine what is beautiful. I still rock natural hair, but it’s my spirit that I hope resonates through as attractive. My capacity to love and learn, my propensity to help others heal themselves, as I heal myself, my desire to support my people, my creativity, my passion, my intellect, and my humility and empathy. That’s what makes me beautiful. -N.E.