The story “No Mirrors In My Nana’s House “ by Ysaye M. Barnwell tells the whimsical tale of a young girl who recognizes her beauty not by looking in the mirror but gazing into in her nana’s eyes. She understands her worth as it is reflected back to her by her nana, thus she is able to maintain a strong and healthy self-image. This is one of my favorite stories! It demonstrates the power of love. It reminds me of nights I spent cuddled up next to my grandmother looking at Little House on the Prairie or sitting in the kitchen admiring her beauty, envious as I watched her use the straightening comb on her huge cottony puff of hair, in a haze of smoke and sizzle it descended into straightness and acceptability.
My grandmother was an amazing woman, she made me laugh with her corny jokes, she taught me valuable life lessons, and she let me hide in her strength when I didn’t have my own. My grandmother made me feel special, smart, and cute and of course LOVED. However, I would still argue that there were mirrors in my grandmother’s house, just as there where mirrors in her mother’s house, and there are mirrors in my mother’s house and in my house too.
The distorted mirror that my grandmother looked into during her childhood changed her perception of self in ways I will never know. I can imagine that her mirror held many of the things that generations of Blacks girls have and are still struggling with, issues of hair texture, skin color or the ability feel valued as a Black girl. There were mirrors in her Nana’s house!
The young Black girls of today are victimized by the same broken and distorted mirror that I looked into and my mother before me. It is virtually impossible for a Black girl to experience the tender period of girlhood without looking in a mirror, a mirror that reflects crooked and broken images of who they are mentally, emotionally and physically. While it could be argued that media depictions of girls of any race can be harsh and unrealistically. It is especially harsh for Black and Brown girls as they are subject to deeply rooted beliefs and expectations that have a history steeped in racism and patriarchy. Black girls are so very often under protected yet over policed. Time and time again we hear the stories on the news of young black girls being treated without care or concern pinned to the ground in a swimsuit, thrown across a room by a security officer, shamed and on the receiving end of a negative consequence for wearing their hair in its natural state, suspended six times more often than their white peers and missing and abducted at alarming rates without making any headlines. There are mirrors in their Nana’s house!
So while it is tempting to envision a world where self-worth is built and maintained solely by the love and support of a nana (or other positive adult) and the ability to block out negative images and stereotypes is as easy as not installing mirrors. The reality is there our mirrors in the houses of all young black girls and we must work hard to combat and destroy the images that these mirrors are portraying. We must show Black girls that they don’t have to follow the single narrative so often laid out before them.
If you would like to take action and help build the self-esteem of black girl in your life, here are a few things you can do:
- Surround them with things that show and reflect their beauty. Provide them with Black dolls, Decorate their room with Black art
- Provide books with positive images of Black girls and women
- Model body and self-acceptance
- Direct your praise away from their physical appearance (ex. You are intelligent)
- Provide a safe space for them to express feelings and concerns
If you would like more information on Black girls and self-esteem, please contact me at Conversationswithsistas@gmail.com. Tanya Fleeting M.Ed., Certified life and Creativity coach. Tanya is a wife and mother of three, a Dean of students by profession, a published author and Founder of Conversations with My Sistas.