Magazines, movies, television, music videos, model agencies, casting directors, relatives, friends, Internet bullies.
All of the above will tell us what they think is normal or beautiful in regard to Black beauty, but I didn’t expect it to come from my dentist office.
Or, did it?
When I was growing up, I was teased tremendously for having a big nose. I never saw it as big, though. My mother never called it big. My friends never called it big. But a lot of mean little boys did. I became a name calling punching bag and I hated my face for it. I was too young at the time to understand the beauty of having full features and embracing my African ancestry. I was too young to just write it off as kids being kids. But, somehow, I was old enough to know I wanted a nose job when I grew up.
True life: you don’t know something about yourself is “bad” or “ugly” until you’re told it is. You don’t know you’re ugly until you’re told you’re ugly and you don’t know you’re beautiful until you’re told you’re beautiful.
By the time I reached high school, I began to build confidence in my looks and truly believe there was nothing wrong with the way I was made. I could have inherited my father’s huskiness. Instead, I walk around with his nose. But, by now I’d felt okay with myself; with my nose.
Then, an interesting thing happened at the dentist office not too long ago.
I went for a routine cleaning, dreading the $89 expense it would be pulling out of my bank account.
As I heard the dental hygienist scraping away at my teeth, she mumbled. “Mmm”, she said, before letting me know that the reason I had a lot of buildup at the bottom of my teeth was because my “lips were big.” She then suggested that when I brush my teeth I pull my lips out to get all up in the crevices.
Huh? I was confused.
Ironically, not a single part of my being was offended or prepared to use my blackness to pontificate a lesson of mannerism. I actually felt it would have been unjust for me to do so because I truly believe that she didn’t make the statement based on race, or in a way to make me feel insecure. It more so highlighted to me her unfamiliarity in diversity, which seemed unfortunate with her career path.
While I didn’t make a fuss, I did leave the dentist office thinking that if she found my lips big, I can only imagine what she may think of those who have fuller lips than I do. And, if she had patients with bigger lips than mine, did she mention this same concern to them? And if so, did she understand that by chance, those of her patients with full, “big” lips whom she may have mentioned this concern to could have left feeling somewhat insecure? She probably couldn’t have known. But, these questions still ran my mind.
When I got home, I Google’d how to perfect lip pulling when brushing ones teeth. The first five results were about coconut oil pulling and how to brush a dog’s teeth.
Thanks for nothing, Google.
Then, I took it a step further to ask one of my girlfriends who is currently pursuing a dental hygiene degree if she had ever heard of people with big lips having to pull their lips to properly brush their teeth.
I eventually gave up the research, but I couldn’t shake the final concern plaguing my mind: What kind of lips are considered “normal”?
Like, are Angelina Jolie’s full, pouty lips considered normal? What about Beyonce’s? Are Serena’s lips big? What about Teyana’s? Drake’s?
At the end of the day, the hygienist, who was white, considered my lips to be big. Big enough that I didn’t even know my own lips were plotting against my quest to have a perfect set of pearly whites. Well damn.
If I wasn’t confident, that big lip comment probably would of hurt me. But it didn’t. Would I have preferred her to say “full”? Of course, but I also would have preferred her to keep all judgement to herself as well.
So, what’s the lesson in all of this? Well, for starters: we never really think something is wrong or different with us until someone tells us that they think something is wrong (or different). Usually, those standards are biased. Those standards are created within a community, race, or sub-culture that we’re not apart of. Most of the time, they’re created within the White community by White men and sometimes women. That’s the world we live in and that’s understandable. But you don’t have to accept it.
The trick is to acknowledge that the standard exists, but not let it throw you into turmoil because you don’t fit into it. The trick is to have confidence knowing that your physical features aren’t wrong or un-pretty or unusual.
I think I’ve mastered this trick. I’ve mastered the confidence. I wear it on my sleeve. It’s the reason I am proud to say my lips, with their fullness, and my nose with its African ancestral reminiscence are perfectly fine. I’m perfectly fine, in all of my Melaninated wonder.
Welcome to my column.
Kayla P, is blogger of lifestyle and opinion blog, www.moderndaykay.com, where she uses her webspace to voice her opinonated, educated and melaninated mind. She also coupons, heavy. Keep up with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and MDK.