“No offense, but you’re so pretty!”

K.E. Broadnax,
Cleveland, OH.

This was said to me while attending college. I am black, and went to a predominantly white, upper-class university (as many are, to be fair). His statement was prefaced by the question, “What nationality are you?” If I was me now, back then, I would’ve replied “American.” But I knew what he meant, and I replied, “I’m black.” He looked stunned (also was in a drunken stupor), and tried to further clarify by asking if BOTH my parents were black. “Uh, yep.” And then he said those six words to me. And I remember having a conversation with my (white) friend about it, and then going home and mentally processing the true implications of his words. In his eyes, and in the eyes of so many, black women aren’t pretty. We can’t possibly be attractive, unless we’re obviously mixed with something, or racially ambiguous. With my hair chemically straightened for most of my life, people often inquired about my ethnic background. As of 3 years ago, I now wear my hair natural (read: kinky!), and have only gotten that question once so far. Its annoying to be personally affronted in this way, but its also sickening to think that so many people walk around with these distorted views on beauty that have real-life ramifications for our black girls. I get so discouraged and upset thinking about it. Beauty standards are toxic for us all, but let’s be real, its our women and girls of color who have to battle the hardest against the societal machine.

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