Refocusing the Image

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December 11, 2012 by Kyle

The other week my family was sitting eating dinner and like many households this is a time when parents and kids catch up on their day. My son began sharing about conversations he has been having with some of his classmates about looks. The discussions centered around facial features and the difference between black and white facial features. As I listened I had a visceral response as my mind rushed back to being 9, 12 and 16 years old and knowing the exact topics my son found himself discussing. My boy asked questions about his facial features and why he looked different from the white kids in his class. He also made mention of certain comments about his lips. My wife and I have been blessed with full lips–we appreciate our looks now, but growing up the jokes were painful. We now know that our facial features are the work of an Almighty God–He takes credit for our beauty. (Psalm 139:14) We were designed for the purpose of bringing Him glory–we were created in His image and likeness; the imago Dei. I am proud of my blackness–no longer do I feel shame because of  my full lips and dark complexion. I celebrate being a dark brother with unmistakably African features. We have been blessed to pass down to our children certain characteristics that link us to one another. The construct of Western beauty can not negate God’s creative intent and design–we bear our Creator’s signature.

Matt Small Painting

Matt Small Painting

Much of  the ridicule that I experienced  growing up was at the hands of black classmates. The prospect of having full lips and a dark complexion made me a target. Most of the black kids in this predominantly white school looked the same, but this didn’t make a difference as many of us held to a Euro-centric idea of beauty. In our eyes ‘white’ was right. As a result of the ridicule I became a self conscious adolescent and an adult who preferred to disappear into the background of any gathering. My son is handsome and optimistically I believe that everyone sees this, but its probably not the case. I pray that he will not wish to disappear for fear of his physical appearance. Black parents must put in the work to dispel the notion that beauty is something that originates from Europe. Kinky hair, full lips, dark complexion, high cheek bones, a wide nose, a thick build are not open for judgment by those of a different hue. What I believed growing up was that lighter skin, small lips, flat features were more desirable–this was reinforced looking through magazines targeting African Americans.  Many of these publications advertised skin bleaching and hair care products designed to assist in presenting the illusion of whiteness. If you didn’t know–this remains an ongoing battle within the black community.  Parents and children struggle with what beauty should be–we say one thing, but we believe something totally different. We chase after White Euro-beauty but our children hear us say, ‘black is beautiful’. They see black blonds and hear that light-skinned boys and girls are the ‘pretty ones’.

I’m glad my son feels comfortable discussing some of the things he’s going through because it gives my wife and I an opportunity to destroy the myth that White Euro-beauty is the standard. He should be pleased with how he looks–his complexion, lips and facial features.  The kids that decided that he didn’t measure up to their rubric of false beauty are most likely struggling with issues related to a poor self image. A skewed self image can be like an albatross that’s carried from childhood to the grave. I can remember as an adolescent trying to tuck my lips in order to avoid ridicule. So many try to cover their tarnished self image with things like tattoos, piercings, gloss, fake eye glasses and other distractions, but it important that they know that Christ wants to restore them back to their original purpose–to bring the Almighty glory by reflecting His glory instead of chasing our own glory. (2 Corinthians 5;17) My wife and I are praying for our son and daughter as they go through life–specifically that they will not allow others to make judgments about their beauty when it comes in conflict with the word of God. Our prayer is that they will find fulfillment in Christ alone and that they’ll be satisfied with God’s design recognizing that the internal construction of their character and holiness is of infinite importance.

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