Black Girl, Don’t Quit
By Dre Brown
“[Confession] I feel like I’m doing [cardio] for nothing (…) I really feel like ‘what’s it all for’ if the people you want to notice don’t.”
OK, so no this is not a quote from a lovelorn pre-teen feverishly purging her junior high school romantic angst amidst an emoji-laden group chat. It’s actually the truest words I’ve read in a long time; and they came from a very grown, and very recognizable Hollywood face — one who’s felt the brunt of unfair beauty bias and social media scrutiny since the very rise of her celebrity star — comedienne Leslie Jones.
Nearly two weeks ago, Leslie Jones pulled back a curtain for “the Internets” and humbly confessed the above in a selfie tweet during her cardio workout. I was instantly sucked into the resulting conversation that ensued as fans responded with well wishes, “bye hater” recommendations, girl power hashtags, and everything in between in support of Leslie. While the warmth of many of the tweets was touching and the immediacy of the caucus around her self-worth and brilliance was refreshing, I couldn’t help but think of one thing that stood out for me in her vulnerable admission — she questioned the very value of her health-supporting workout simply because of her belief that it wouldn’t serve her in improving her attractiveness. Whoa.
Quitting is real, y’all. It’s real, and it’s attacking powerful, awesome, magical women everywhere. And to be quite honest, it scares me.
For the past 13 years, I’ve worn many hats and been given the opportunity to plant my feet behind the proverbial “scenes” of many exclusive intimate spaces, from TV sets to fashion runways and the hotel suites of celebrity clients I’ve served as a professional makeup artist. These places are always filled with “doers” — talented, creative, and often confident people who make dope stuff happen over and over again. The very energy that permeates these spaces is what has fueled my passion throughout my career and made me seek to inspire the “doer’s” spirit in everyone I meet.
When the opportunity to step from behind the scenes into a position to encourage women and girls to feel positive about themselves as “doers” came four years ago, I jumped at the chance. I became a speaker and educator for the Dove Self-Esteem Project — the largest provider of self-esteem education in the world and free, accredited resources that address today’s biggest barriers to a girl’s self-esteem. Who would’ve guessed my first student would be myself? And the first lesson I learned was that women and girls are quitting — they are stopping things that bring them joy all because of concerns about their appearance. In 2016, a study revealed 8 out of 10 girls with low body confidence were opting out of fundamental life activities because they don’t feel good about the way they look. What we need is more girls doing; and, as we see with Leslie, this issue can affect adult women as well.
Leslie’s tweet made me think of every girl I’ve met over the years as a self-esteem educator who was too shy to share her beauty story at workshops I’ve hosted – and every girl who put down her microphone before ever trying out for the school talent show, packed up her toe shoes and skipped ballet, or sat aside while everyone else jumped in the pool.
This past year has shown us that women in general are unstoppable — from thousands marching to trophy wins, we have the proof. So why is it that I’m still scared? Still nagged by the knot in my stomach that comes when I think of another magical woman potentially closing down shop on a powerful contribution to her own life or that of others because she feels doesn’t feel beautiful?
Perhaps it’s because in the presence of all these amazing strides, I still witness flaws in the matrix that create spaces where “doers” — especially those who are beautiful, bold, and brown-skinned — have their moments of doubt.
I’m talking about the beauty biases rampant throughout communities of color and beyond that could make Leslie Jones feel like no matter how fit and healthy she gets, she’s still not attractive — perhaps because she still remains subject to comparison with cultural standards that skew and limit what is “desirable.” Or maybe its those insane notions that Amara La Negra of Love & Hip Hop Miami has recently had to duck and dodge as she boldly asserts her pride as an “Afro-Latina.” What if she quit her music pursuits because others say her dark skin doesn’t represent Latina beauty? It all has me vigorously rubbing my temples and running (with a fire of urgency in my gut) to the next self-esteem workshop I’m entrusted to lead that’s filled with young impressionable girls of color. I’m determined to delete another “quit” tweet before it can ever be written.
Cultural beauty standards and the biases they create are quite the “onion” to tackle. There are layers of nuances that go far deeper than a momentary social media debate. Freeing women of the pressures is no easy feat either. But, we can all do more, and we each can surely start within our own “tribes,” by affirming and encouraging the “doers” we love. These small efforts could help them to embrace their uniqueness despite bias and keep our mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends in “do” mode.
About Dre Brown:
Dre Brown has cultivated her skills as a makeup artist over the past decade freelancing for television, film, fashion, beauty, and entertainment clientele including VH1, HBO, E!, Oxygen, Harlem Fashion Row, Byron Lars Beauty Mark, and celebrity talent including Tyson Beckford, Zoe Bell, K. Michelle, Sufe Bradshaw, Jason Derulo, Tinashe, Tatyana Ali, Kevin Durant, MC Lyte, Marcus Scribner, and Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas. In addition to artistry, Dre also serves as an educator for the Dove Self-Esteem Project, the largest provider of self-esteem education in the world.