Today there was an article in the Times about Michelle Obama’s hair and the controversy surrounding whether or not she will ever “go natural” and wear her hair in it’s natural curly state. http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20090902/us_time/09171191914700
Truly, this is still an issue close to the heart of all Black women; whether you are a all natural or choose to straighten your hair through the many inventive processes we all know to well. The article made me think of the first time I ever knew what the standard of beauty was. The following is an excerpt from a short story I wrote a while ago, it is fictional but I think we can all apreciate the sentiment:
When I was nine years old; I sold my soul to Satan.
I mean to make no grand, sweeping statements filled with metaphorical sentiment, like when some corporate peon "sells his soul to the devil’- in which said 'Devil' really just some big, heartless corporation. No, that is not at all what I am telling you. I mean in the very literal, quite physical sense; I had a very real pact- with THE DEVIL, himself.
Don't act so shocked. I happened to be God’s biggest fan, but this was business. I mean, really, it’s not as if God buys souls, for crying out loud. Alas, my plan was neither it evil nor sinister, I hardly even knew the guy. I had something he wanted, and hoped in return he could give me what I understood was too shallow and sinful to ask the Lord.
I should probably give you the obligatory back story.
My Momma was the most beautiful creature ever to have ever walked the earth. Now, I know every little girl thinks their mother is pretty- but see, it wasn’t just me that thought so. The clerks at the local mall, the butcher in the meat isle of the Winn Dixie- everywhere we went, my mother turned the collective heads of everyone; from high school boys, to wheel-chaired old ladies. I suppose God allowed her to grace the world with her angelic looks since He was only going to let the universe borrow her for a little while; but while she was here, I lived vicariously through my mother’s perfect image. People seldom ignore that kind of superior beauty. Walking next to her made you feel like everyone was looking at you, too; as if suddenly my plain features took on significance, similar to the way unappealing night is lit by the mysterious light of the moon.
As resounding as her beauty was, to my constant dismay; she seemed sorely underwhelmed with the favoritism the Creator had bestowed upon her.
I guess terminal illness will do that to a person. She had been dying from the time she was born; and no matter how many times people would praise her looks; she would digress to “heavier things”- like how people should be happy with what God gave them, that outward beauty is futile.
I should note: that only pretty people believe this.
Undoubtedly, she would have traded her impossibly silken ringlets, her ample bosom, her impeccable almond skin, and her slightly overwhelming doe eyes; for a single day without pain. For myself, everyday lacking those attributes was my own brand of constant pain, subjective, but nevertheless, real in a way that made nothing else matter to me.
Sometimes, late at night; I would come down stairs and find her in front of the TV watching paid programming. Her face would be wet, watching some televangelist heal the afflicted, Right there in Technicolor for the world to see!
“See how they doubt you Lord! But I know you can heal me! Hallelujah!” she'd exclaim.
Every once in a while, TV Pastor would send my momma a little patch of felt that smelled like the oil my grandma used to cook with, with a letter that looked almost hadwritten. Momma was always very excited to see that her contributions were being acknowledged, that this man was her gateway to communication with the Big Guy himself.
Alas, no matter how many of those oil soaked napkins came in the mail, she hurt; all the way to the bone, everyday of her life. Eventually, the pain was too much, even for the bone; and corrosion left a hollow place where her hip bone used to be. After that she became increasingly less excited when the red velvet cloths showed up, but still believed that if she bested this test, she would overcome.
People always say that we shouldn’t focus on beauty, obsess about it. We admire the gifts that poets bring forth with their magic ability to string obscure words together and make them sound gorgeous. God gave poets their words. We marvel at thousand year old paintings that cannot feed us; yet somehow still, they nurture us. Yet we do not deny the artist, nor the poet, the right to share with the world what He gave them. He also gave favor to beautiful people; yet we deny them their glory, and say beauty is only skin deep.
Momma kept her faith, her beauty, her Bible, and her oily felt rags; and in return, was duly rewarded with thirty six years of life.
At Momma's funeral, people still admired her beauty, spoke of her shell as if it were a Rembrant. The chatter filled the space between occasional sobbing. "What a good job Baker’s did with the body!" "They didn’t make her too dark. And they nailed that red lipstick she loved so!" "MY that was the most beautiful woman I ever did see! Even in Death! Such a likeness to herself! Amen!"
Sometimes the whispers were not as low as intended.
"Where is the husband? He didn’t even come to see her off! Is the grandma gone raise them kids? At her age? God Bless her soul." Every once in a while, someone would come over and speak to us, the words thoughtfully well chosen.- “well look at you? You are getting so big! How old are you now, what’s your name again? Oh yes! Wow, eight you say? Well, you hold your head up, you got your mama’s spirit, that’s for certain. You just stay in the way of God....then to the other sibling: "Is this your little brother? Jacob!Well, ain’t he gorgeous! He is as pretty as his mama! It ain’t fair to give all them lashes to a little boy! Now that is a beautiful child!"
I asked Grandma why God never healed Momma.
“Watch your mouth, blasphemous child! We cannot assume we know w’tis God’s will. All we can do is be fai'ful to His word, baby. Our unworthy min's cannot comprehend His Devine Plan. He blessed her immensely. Them doctors don’t know it all, if they know a damned thang at all! Lord forgive me! I get fired up ‘bout them so called dock-ters… (and she always said 'doctors' like it was a really bad word. I used to think “doctor” was synonymous with child molester)…
"…you know dey gave m’ baby till her seventh birthday. Seven years old! Then they tu'n 'round an' say she wasn’t neva sus’pose to have nan’ one you chil'ren. Well, her and the Lord sho’ fooled them crazy PhD’s!!!" She belched up a victorious laugh that stretched across the single level home.
Maybe asking God to cure incurable diseases was too big a request. Maybe better to ask for compromises. He gave her years past what was promised to her by medical professionals. My grandma said all I needed was the faith of a mustard seed to move mountains! All I had to do was believe.Just like Santa Clause or Tinkerbelle? I asked, for clarification of course.“No, baby. They are not real,” she said.“How do you know?” I knew this bordered whomping status, but she seemed to be in a generous mood this evening.“Because man made them up just to amuse idle children“, she said.“Well, how do you know that God is real, Grandma?” I pushed. “How do you know some man didn’t just make Him up, too? To amuse idle adults.” I had recently learned the word adults, and I liked it a lot. It made me feel smarter than my friends that called them grown ups. Grandma was not as impressed as my classmates. She sighed and looked up from her Bible. “ I know my Lord is real, because I have faith, baby. You must always have faith,” she said.
Was that it? I am sure Momma had faith, but she was going about it all wrong with that bushy browed TV preacher and his oily felt rags.
I heard my momma say once; that she would trade all the beauty in the world for her health. Funny, I would easily have given a hip bone to possess even an ounce of her beauty. Rather to have lived a short, beautiful life; than to face the alternative: an long, ugly existence.
I figured He would appreciate the direct approach:
God, it’s me. You know. And I think you’ve made a mistake with me. See, I’m Denise’s daughter, and I know you have her there with you, now. I am happy she lives with you, she was in a lot of pain here. I miss her, but Grandma says not to question you, so I trust she is very happy now. Anyway, I am talking to you tonight because…well, everyone tells me how much I have my momma’s spirit, but they don’t ever mention my momma’s prettiness. That’s cause I think you may have forgot to give me any. I’m not mad, I know your busy and all, its an honest mistake. I was wondering, if you find time to, if I could have some of her pretty, too. Just a little. Maybe some softer, longer hair, that would be a great start. If I am not supposed to have pretty because I am going to have some other talent, I would gladly trade that talent in for this one favor. I wouldn’t want to be greedy. I love you very much. Tell my momma I said hi. Thank you for your time,
**i will post part two saturday.**
- ▼ Sep (8)