By AWA DIOP
shades of brown
My makeup bag is full of shades of brown. Before me lay my brushes sprawled out and richly coated with this palette: my foundations of ebony, expresso, deep mahogany. My concealers of mocha, chestnut, dark cocoa. I sit in front of my little mirror patting the colors on my face with my beauty blender. Meanwhile, my best friend stands in front of the big mirror brushing another one, two, three coats till her lashes are as long and voluminous as the mascara promises. Another friend is asking us to choose between two shirts for the party we should attend in about an hour and a half. There are rules for picking the right shirt: it has to be danceable and appropriately cute (not too nice, but it has to look like we put effort). We pick the brown one on the right to go with her flared leggings. We always opt to put on our battered sneakers to complete our cute little outfits, whether it matches or not. We will probably only take mirror pictures with our feet cropped out anyways. And it is never a good idea to dirty a good pair of sneakers.
In middle school, my celebrities were youtube makeup influencers. Jackie Aina. MelaChild. Patricia Bright. If you can name them, I know them. I did not wear makeup then, nor had I intended to. But I watched these videos religiously- before school, after school, after homework, on weekends. These women became my sisters. We share no blood, stories or histories. But they gave me more than makeup advice. They gave me storytimes, life advice and affirmations. It felt oddly intimate, but incredibly beautiful seeing Black women loud and joyous and taking up space on my little iphone 5S.
My sisters are my built-in best friends. I am lucky to have lived side by side with the most supportive cheerleaders. From playing with dolls, cooking with leaves, competing on monkey bars, painting each other’s hand, fighting over clothes, ignoring each other for a day, offering food to make peace, braiding each other’s hair and checking that eyebrows match, my sisters have seen me through all my stages of life. We share an admirable amount of pure love and deep respect for one another. We aren’t perfect, and we don’t expect perfection from each other. We understand each other’s in-and-outs, ticks and small joys, mood changes and attitudes. They understand me so intimately and precisely in a way no one else can. I regard them as if they exist as a part of my body. I truly believe that no matter what transpires between us, our love will never cease to exist.
i love ur hair
I tell Black girls that I love their hair. Cornrows, locs, short cut, box braids, buss down jet black wig. Whatever it may be, I tell Black girls I love their hair because I know how such a compliment can transform someone’s day or life. My very first day with my natural hair out, around the age of 12, it was raining and I didn’t have an umbrella on my walk to the train. As I sat on the train, I had my phone open to keep plucking up my hair, praying it hadn’t shrunk too much. A man, on his way off the train, told me that he loved my hair. The simple compliment encouraged me to wear my hair for years after that, up to this point. Some days, my hair is still anxiety producing (wash days on campus, rain shrinkage, party shrinkage, failed twist outs, undried styles). It took a lot of time and patience for me to love my hair and I understand how that journey goes for a lot black girls. So, I make it a priority to compliment
a Black girl’s hair.
a black girls golden secret power
Making eye contact with another Black girl is a golden secret power. One glance will say more than words ever can. It’s something about catching the side-eyes. The hands over mouths to stifle laughter and hide expressions. The eyebrow quirks that are always in sync. It reminds me that I’m not alone in a room. That someone else caught on to the absurdity that seemed to have been widely accepted. That someone else acknowledges my anxiety and shares my discomfort. There’s a kind of art to processing our discomfort with musical melodies of laughter, when we don’t have space to express ourselves otherwise.
beautifully crafted womb
At some point in my life, I concluded that I was beautiful. Admittedly, it really helped being told I looked like my mom, who is the world’s most beautiful person to me. Aside from her vivacious spirit and humbling soul, my mom is so beautifully crafted. Her skin is the most beautiful deep, dark brown. Her eyes are perfectly placed and just slightly slanted down. Her slightly chipped front tooth makes her tender smile light up the world. One day it clicked that to have come from her, and to look like her, meant that my beauty was lush. Unfathomable.
Being that my mom is my beauty standard, then I have no choice but know I’m beautiful.
To grow up a Black girl is my biggest blessing. It’s a luxury to lay edges together, have someone rub lotion on your back, have your mom tie your waxy wrap skirt, have your sisters send you money when you’re broke in college, have girlfriend dates, laugh uncontrollably until stomachs ache, extend a joke for hours, have girl chats, do each others hair, have dance parties, wipe each others tears, clean each others faces, put on each other’s heel buckle. To be a Black girl is to be loved and cared for and nurtured by a magical community. It’s to be complimented from across the street, have big and little sisters at school, have someone to sing Flo Milli with.
To be a Black girl means other Black girls made sure I’d never have to be Black girl alone.