By Salaam Green

Dear Black Girl,

While tutoring an eight year old girl, she looked down at me and stated, “We have the same bodies.” This young girl attends a predominately suburban white school, and as we were doing homework she observed the notable fact that we were shaped alike. The look on her face and the joy of her voice made me that much more appreciative of my thick Black girl thighs.

Mark Knight, an Australian cartoonist, recently depicted a bloviated image of the legendary Serena Williams, misrepresenting her in a vile characterization that also depicted Naomi Osaka, the Haitian-Japanese 2018 U.S. Open opponent who defeated Williams, lighter than she is in real life, both grossly negative representations of Black women.

Just prior to the U.S. Open, Williams was banned from wearing a Black Panther inspired catsuit that she said supported her post-pregnancy health issues. The policing of Black bodies is a continual process where others determine the offensiveness of Black women wear or how Black women behave or look based on the shape or size of their bodies.

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No Black girls are protected from this policing. Even President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama’s daughters were subjected to this injustice. In 2014, when Sasha Obama, then thirteen, failed to smile enough during the annual White House Turkey Pardon, the Washington Post’s Elizabeth Lauten posited she didn’t have any “class,” and chastised her to act “like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar.”

I remained critical of my looks for much of my young adult life, until I came across photos of my deceased grandmother. I had been told by family members that I was shaped just like my grandmother Washington in a tone that sounded more like a rebuke rather than praise. She was what society deemed overweight. But my own thighs in that photo reflected the honor of carrying her legacy with the knowledge of my history.

My grandmother demonstrated to me and my two brothers the importance of respecting women’s bodies and a woman’s right to be outspoken. She modeled for us that the essence of Black womanhood is the awareness that we are enough, and supported that awareness by teaching the family about our ancestry.

But even this wasn’t enough to prepare me for the pressures of the unrealistic beauty standards Black women and girls are faced with. In 2015, Cardi B did an interview where she discussed her “basement” booty shots. She admitted she got the shots to compete with women who she saw were making more money. She admitted she had no idea what substance was used, expressed regret, and ended with, “I got it done in the basement, so I can die any day now.”

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Ashley Ford, a New York City-based writer, speaker, and cultural critic points out similar struggles with her body image as a young Black girl: “I remember being 14 and having an older schoolmate describe me as ‘shaped like a white girl’ because I didn’t have much of a butt. It felt strange and like he was trying to take something from me inherent in my blackness.”

Like my grandmother, Kheris Rogers an 11-year-old girl bullied for her dark-skin, took her healing into her own hands and has begun to pay it forward. Rogers has garnered a large following with her Afrocentric clothing line “Flexin in my Complexion” that represents Black girls of all hues and beauty.

This healing practice is exemplified by 10 Body Affirmations for Black Girls I learned from my Grandmother:

  1. My Body is mine it belongs to me
  2. My Body is not my worth
  3. My Body is full of love and acceptance
  4. My Body is healthy and whole
  5. My Body is in the best shape/size it needs to be at this moment
  6. My Body is valuable and powerful
  7. My Body is strong
  8. My Body is bold and brave
  9. My Body is aware of its needs and desires
  10. My Body is at peace

I am grateful for the lessons my grandmother taught me; that I have everything I need imprinted in my genetic makeup to love every inch of my body, mind, and soul.

Salaam Green, 2018 New Economy Climate Change Fellow, Tedx Speaker, 2016 Poet Laureate for Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Writer, Poet, Social Justice Activist-founder of Literary Healing Arts. Follow her on Instagram @beautifulblackpoetry and FB @ Red Couch Writers, and Twitter @