I would not classify myself as a wallflower, nor would I say that I’m an attention-getter. If I was asked to describe myself physically, I would say that I am an attractive Black woman of medium height. I would say that I am well shaped and my usual exercise regimen keeps my body in pretty good condition (before I came to Indonesia, where I don’t exercise, I had Michelle Obama arms…so sad they’re gone but I’ll get them back). I would say that I have a yuppie-hippie kind of style (my sister coined that term for me) and I put myself together well, dressing to complement my body and highlight my feminine assets without being revealing or letting anything hang out.
Since I hit my late teen years, I have not been short of male attention or appreciation. And I don’t mean just from the skeezy ones on the street who inspire you to speed walk past them. Even though I have never depended on male feedback to feel good about myself, I’ve certainly enjoyed it. As I have grown older I have become more confident in my femininity and I enjoy expressing it through my dress and how I carry myself. I know that I am a beautiful Black woman and I don’t need anyone to tell me that.
In Indonesia, I do not blend into any situation in any way, shape or form. Though I am not tall by Western standards (5’6″ is average height for a woman in the West) I am taller than most people here so I am a head above them in most situations. Just by standing up, I stand out. Then of course, there’s the elephant in the room…my skin colour.
My skin colour makes me an oddity in Indonesia. I stand out here just because I am Black, and because I am Black, I am unattractive. I have been shouted at on the street – during the latest instance I was called chocolate; in fact, there have been numerous things shouted at me that I have been blessed enough to not understand.
All of this brought me to the point of pondering my own sense of my attractiveness. If I was still in the phase of my life where I depended on the opinion and approval of others, Indonesia would have severely crippled my self-esteem and self-worth. I would have been left feeling…well, in the words of TLC over a decade ago…unpretty.
Unpretty. A woman’s struggle with her own self-image and self-worth because of other people’s conceptions of beauty. A woman feeling like she is not pretty enough to be worth anything because someone else said so. A woman’s susceptibility to unrealistic or unfair standards of beauty set by others. We as Western women usually fall prey to this unpretty trap because of media – magazines, TV, movies. I’m resisting a whole country of people subtly trying to nudge me towards it.
Luckily, the confidence that I have cultivated in my most recent years has served me well in Indonesia. There will never be a man here who expresses interest in me because I’m too Black for that. But I stopped needing any man…any person…to validate me the day I woke up and realised that as long as God tells me that I am beautiful, it doesn’t matter if even my own mother says it (love you, mom!) because nothing any human being says can be truer than God’s own word.
I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I am beautiful on the inside and the outside. I also know that as long as I keep working with God, I’ll just keep getting prettier. What more validation could I possibly need?