What makes you beautiful?

What makes you beautiful?

Is it something special about your features – the shape of your face, the slant of your eyes, the size of your lips and ears, the texture of your hair, the colour of your skin, your race? Is it your build – being petite rather than being plus sized or vice versa; being tall rather than being short or vice versa; having long legs rather than short ones? Is it the way you dress? Is it your personality? Is it affirmation from others? Is it your resemblance to somebody who is famous? Is it “looking good”?
We may answer affirmatively or negatively to any or a number of the above questions. We learn our concept of what is beautiful from our experiences throughout our lives.
Today, in Jamaica, possibly elsewhere, some men and women are bleaching their bodies because they want to be “beautiful, to have a “brighter” complexion; to become “prettier” and so on and so on. See, The skin Bleaching Phenomenon which was aired on Television Jamaica on the 19th of June 2013.
Errol Miller, former Professor of Education at the University of the West Indies (Mona), conducted research among adolescents to ascertain their perception of the “beautiful girl” and the “handsome boy.” This research, published in 1969, entitled “Body image, physical beauty and colour among Jamaican adolescents” revealed findings which may be described as having reflected the expectation of the time.
This research revealed that a significant number of the participants, representing many, if not all the ethnic groups in the country, stated that the “handsome boy” and “beautiful girl” possessed the features of the white person held up as the European standard of beauty.
In 2005, one of my former students, in her research for the Internal Assessment (IA) in Sociology for the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE), revisited Professor Miller’s research questions. Her research attempted to ascertain from twenty students, ten girls and ten boys, from a number of sixth forms in an urban centre their views of the “handsome" boy and the “beautiful" girl.
This student found that just over half of the girls believed that the “handsome boy” had “curly hair” and a few participants added “money” to the mix. Most of the boys, on the other hand, believed that the “beautiful girl” was “fair-skinned”, had a “nice shape” and had “long hair”.
This research is telling us a whole lot if we choose to delve deeply into the responses. What I take from it is that we have not progressed much psychologically where the issue of identity is concerned. The television programme on “the bleaching phenomenon” cited above confirms this.
Over three hundred years of being governed by others seem to have left us in limbo. The psychological scars seem to run very deep. The history books tell us that in order to make the slaves amenable to life on the plantation, they were de-racinated. That is, their race was systematically taken from them through a process of “seasoning” where they were taught the norms of the “white culture.”
Our forefathers internalised these norms and passed them down to successive generations.
In spite of efforts to develop racial pride – Garveyism, for example – some of us seem to still be trapped by the experiences of the past while being shaped by the experiences of today. This situation seems to be creating some confused individuals.
As a result, many of us seem to have a warped perception of ourselves. Many of us seem not to have developed any real sense of identity as a "non-white" person because we seem to be reluctant to let go of the lessons of the past. We still practice them today. But, we couch them in euphemisms. Black is beautiful but when we bleach it is just a “style,” for example. This “style” has been in existence during plantation slavery and it is still with us today in independence. What does this say of our psychological growth as a people?
If we do not know who we are, how do we know what we ought to do to develop ourselves?
Michael Manley in his book, The Politics of Change: A Jamaican Testament (1974) contended that Colonialism fostered psychological dependence thus the country needed to replace this psychological dependence “with the spirit of individual and collective self reliance” (p. 23). This message has gone over our heads because we have not yet learned how to “free ourselves from mental slavery” (Bob Marley by way of Garvey).
Manley believed that the educator has a role to play in resolving this situation.
He stated that “the first responsibility of the educator is to address his mind – his mind, not somebody else’s mind – to the question of our needs” (p. 22, my emphasis). The Jamaican educator can only do this when s/he has developed or come to a realisation of his/her identity as a person and as an educator. 
The gatekeepers of the education system have realised that the education system has a role to play in this process of identity creation. But they have not yet been able to develop a methodology to guide this process.
What makes you beautiful? Being considered beautiful seems to be one of the human being’s deepest psychological needs. While everyone has a different conception of beauty, among many black persons “blackness” is not equated with beauty. Therefore, some take steps to “fix” their "blackness" by bleaching. Others live vicariously through those with lighter skins than they, not believing that they can accomplish much. Yet, there are others who revel in their “blackness”, not seeing it as a constraining force.
To help black people develop their identity as black persons who can “accomplish what [they] will” (Garvey), those who are leading the identity building process must believe in and practice what they "preach".

*This article was previously published on LinkedIn.

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About the Author

Janette B. Fuller is a teacher and author of three books. Her business is to write stories set in the place she knows best – Jamaica – while also helping writers to write their own stories. When you are ready to write your story, make contact with her @ writingwisdomtree@gmail.com. Check out her books here


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