When I declare, “I am a beautiful woman,” what image comes to mind? Am I smoothly brown-skinned with a figure 8 frame? Am I thin with a flat stomach? Am I stunning with some extra curves?
What about if I have arms of Kobe Bryant? Or the legs of Usain Bolt? Can I have the jaw line of Barack Obama?
Would I be “woman” enough for you? Perhaps, you wouldn’t call me a woman at all. You’re not alone and I’m not pointing the finger. Womanhood and femininity remain inextricably intertwined causing female masculinity to be outside the norm. Thus, your visual discomfort is expected.
The truth is that I don’t have the characteristics of Bryant, Bolt, or Obama. I probably look like your stereotypical image of a “beautiful” Black woman (with a crazy afro); however, I know women who look the opposite. The need to redefine beauty standards and womanhood goes beyond “liberal” ideology and discussion. It’s about women’s empowerment, self-confidence, and inclusion. It’s about recognizing that not all women, even if solely a minority, have to look like each other. It’s bigger than the discourse of body image and weight in popular culture. This is the need to confront the taboo of female masculinity and pay homage to all the women who have lived outside the standard of beauty for too long. In fact, we should chuck the standard all together.
Female masculinity remains a touchy issue for many women, mainly because it often intersects with hard conversations about gender and sexuality norms. Yet this conversation is necessary and also represents a reflection of the deepest fears about ourselves.
How many of us have felt our bodies were wrong or not good enough? Our breasts too small? Too large? Donks too fat? Or perhaps too flat? Shoulders too broad? Face too hard?
The list goes on . . . but let’s take it to the next level.
Imagine having your womanhood questioned. Picture having your self-identified gender rejected by society. Could you take being criticized for your lack of femininity? Perhaps you’re masculine by choice, but what if it’s simply by nature. Your muscles bulge in all the wrong “woman” places. Your body simply doesn’t curve like that coke bottle. It may be like a large, long plank of wood. Despite all of this, you still bask in being a woman and wish that other women would accept you into this sacred community.
When we look at Caster Semenya, what do we see? Is she “beautiful” in our eyes? Be honest, did we wince when we saw her picture for the first time? Does her intersexuality make us uncomfortable in defining her as a beautiful woman?
Could Serena Williams possibly tone her muscles down a bit so they wouldn’t measure up to some of her boyfriends’? Will she ever be deemed a “beautiful” woman with some of her more masculine features?
What about in terms of fashion? Do we secretly wish that Janelle Monae would put on a dress sometimes? If she wasn’t “cute” and petite, would we put her into the “beautiful” woman category?
Here’s one that will make your brain stir: are transgender women allowed into the sacred space of womanhood even though the majority retain physically masculine characteristics?
Yup, I’m sure that one went over the head. Before you start throwing e-beer bottles, I promise that I’m going somewhere with this.
“Beautiful” women shouldn’t have to be feminine. From the time we were little, we’ve had Barbie dolls with proportioned breasts and butts thrown at us with matching feminine attire and a few too many pink accessories. Not all of our mothers looked like this, nor our grandmothers or our aunts, so why do we continue to support this messaging? I have aunts that haven’t worn a pair of heels in their lives! I couldn’t pay some of my female friends to wear a dress if Oprah’s inheritance was on the line (okay, maybe that’s a bit drastic). On the natural side, how many women do we know who could rival some men in physical stature? By solely promoting femininity as beautiful, what type of message does that deliver about the inclusiveness of womanhood? What are we teaching some of our current young girls about beauty and sisterhood? How are you shaping the definition of womanhood? Are you forcing a make-up bag and dress into the arms of your friend, sister, or daughter?
Whether we are masculine by choice or natural design, there should be a space for our reflections to be beautiful amongst other women. This is not about male acceptance; this is an intrinsic conversation amongst all of us who share this wonderful, yet challenging, experience of being a woman. While beauty starts from within, self-confidence can be propelled through the strong support of sisterhood. Remember the women who uplifted you when you doubted yourself. It is no different here.
The next time you see a masculine woman, tell her that she is beautiful. She’s not pretending to be something she is not. She simply is expressing herself without barriers, pretenses, or femininity.