Picture: Rashida Temitayo
How tragic life would be had I grown up as a dark skinned girl with African features,complete with a wide nose and extra-large lips,to not have those around me who would affirm my sense of self as well as enlighten me about the accomplishments of my ancestors.
I was fortunate. And this type of fortune is more valuable than any fortune no matter what ethnic group one has derived from. It is the type of fortune when instilled properly,will allow one to be encouraged and have pride in themselves,there by understanding why others are also proud with out being arrogant and living the lie of superiority.
I was coming-of-age in the late 60s and early 70s and had been in the company of those who would unwittingly serve to guide me and channel my energies into building a strong foundation in terms of my cultural,ethnic and individual identity.
Part of this experience had come when I was a summer youth worker and had delved into the black history courses that had been provided by the summer youth program. This allowed me to immerse my self into the conversations and debates held by the college students who were so very much involved in the black power movement. They had come to work in the summer youth program to off set their tuition expenses from various colleges around the country, many of whom attended historically black colleges.
They wore natural hairstyles.Some with huge fluffy dos. Others with short woolly crops,intricate braids and corn rows.
They wore various styles of colorfully patterned African print dresses,head wraps also known as geles and dashikis for the men apposed to ordinary button down shirts -commanding observers to take notice.
European names were being flung aside and replaced by African or Arabic names and even new names were created in an effort to be self determining.
We were reminded by instructors that it was not enough to simply focus on the physical appearance.We must read,study,question and investigate so called historical facts that either implied a lack of or blatantly denied our great contributions to human civilization.
But my 14 year old self was just as impressed with an artist who convinced me to sit for a painting based on my extra large lips! This painting was to express the epitome of what he saw as the beauty of the African women.No lip stick,gloss or liner was required;just the contour of my lips in all of their tremendous glory. No collagen,no botox,no fillers. just one hundred percent prime unadulterated African lips.
Who could imagine that during this time,even with the resurgence of the Black Renaissance, that an artist with a passion for the beauty of African features would become a major impetus for my freedom to be me.
And although this may seem like pure vanity and frivolity for some,for a black girl such as myself,who has often been painfully rejected from what our society deems as beautiful and even normal,this decision to take pride in myself by way of extra-large lips-is truly no small feat.