Home Beauty Why “Inner Beauty” Isn’t Enough

Why “Inner Beauty” Isn’t Enough

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Since I’d written about Brandy’s admission of having had an eating disorder early on in her career, I wanted to also make sure I shared this here, as well.

When asked if she, like her friend Kelly Rowland, struggled with learning to love her brown skin and her beauty:

brandy-norwood“Absolutely.  Just…my mom used to always say, you know Brandy you have a unique beauty.  You know it wasn’t the typical what you see on magazines.  You know just having far apart eyes and having different features, you know, high cheek bones and different things you kinda have to grow into. I definitely struggled with that.  I didn’t think I was you know cute for a very long time.  But, I know it’s kinda cliche’ to say that inner beauty it comes from within.  But, it really does.  When you work on yourself and when you take care of yourself and take care of your body, you grow into your beauty.  You realize that no one looks like you, no one can be you, no one is you but you. And you really connect with that and embrace that.  You know it took a long time to get to that point, but I definitely feel where Kelly is coming from.  You would never think, cause’ I’ve known Kelly for a very, very long time and she always seem to be so…..not only confident but she was always beautiful within. So it just always…showed through her eyes and through her smile and everything.  You never would’ve known that.  And I’m just glad that she’s able to not only recognize her inner beauty but recognize her outer beauty.  Because you are a BAD You know what!  I don’t wanna say it on camera!”

“It’s great to be in a position where you can be honest and realize that you know, your light or your celebrity can be a testimony to other people to not feel like their alone.  You know you want to be relatable and I love that about Kelly that she’s relatable and you just…feel like she’s your sister and I know my fans, they feel like I’m auntie or big sis or cousin because they feel like they can relate and that’s so important.  So many of us don’t wanna feel by ourselves, like we’re the only ones going through something. Because it’s not true.”

After today’s earlier post, I really needed to see this. I needed my mind on something else.

I really appreciate hearing Brandy – someone I loved while I was growing up – talk about the things that made her different, like her eyes and cheekbones. It did, however, crush me to see her – instead of reifying her own outer beauty – going to that old trope about “inner beauty.”

I’ve written about this before, that “inner beauty” is foolishness – can you be a great person? Absolutely, but to rest comfortably on the idea that “inner beauty” is as valuable as “outer beauty” only further perpetuates the idea that there isn’t multiple definitions of beauty. I don’t have to be conventionally beautiful, with fair skin and thin, blonde hair, in order to see myself as beautiful. I’m not “only allowed to call myself beautiful” only I’m actually someone’s definition of “pretty,” like Kelly Rowland. I’m allowed to have my own belief of what “beauty” is, and I’m allowed to call myself as much.

I have to tell y’all, it’s hard out here for a big-haired, afro-wearing girl. You’ve seen my videos – you know full well just how much hair I’m dealing with, and I wear it shamelessly. When I went back to Indiana to be at my Mother’s bedside, I wore my hair out every day, and I’m entirely certain that half of Indianapolis was confused. Entire families of white people, sitting in the waiting room of the ICU, joined together to giggle at “whatever the hell that is on her head,” because “it needs to be tamed.” If I didn’t have my own definition of “beauty” that allowed space for me to exist peacefully with my big hair, pointy nose, big forehead and brown skin? I’d still be rocking a relaxer, wearing foundation that’s too light and asking the Gods why I couldn’t be born to look more like my passe blanc mother.

I’d also still be trying to shit on other women and make them feel less than, because a cornerstone of “beauty” being so “valuable” is that you can’t let everyone have it. Beauty is one of those mangy carrots that we keep dangling in front of women. Beauty begets “favors” – like favors from men, which is what we all want, amirite? – and if everyone has beauty, then everyone has to split the favor… and we can’t have that, can we?

I’m overjoyed to see Brandy, Kelly and women like them talk about the challenges they’ve faced to accept themselves, but I want more for all of us than this. I want them to be able to say “Of course I am beautiful.” I want them to be able to look at each other and say, “Of course you’re beautiful. You look just like me!” I want them to be able to look at women who don’t look like them and reinforce their beauty, too. I want us all to be able to look at each other and think we’re all beautiful when we’re at our best, without feeling like finding beauty in someone who looks “different” means that you think you are, somehow, not.

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marie March 26, 2013 - 5:32 PM

You are beautiful Erika! and I LOVE your hair (and your blog) <3

I agree with your statement, so many times have I heard
"she is pretty…. for a dark girl" smh
It's depressing for those who have this kind of way of thinking but as far as I'm concerned, I'm way beyond that and I don't take anyone telling me that BS. We are always too hard on ourselves, especially among black people.

I'm not beautiful, I'm GORGEOUS! Period.

I Just Want To Say... March 26, 2013 - 6:38 PM

…It’s such a confusing world we live in. Thank you for your post. I’m an overweight 24 year old and I’ve struggled with this idea of “inner beauty” so much. One one hand, I think being overweight has made me a better person, yet on the other hand it has its obvious downfalls.

Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. I think I’ve struggled with this weight loss thing so much not because I don’t want to be healthy, but because I love my body as fat as I am. (At the same time, I know I have to be good to it – so focusing on health instead of beauty has helped a lot.) I don’t want to conform to society’s idea of beauty and reject my own view of beauty. I think you talked about this in one of your posts.

Anyway, I too am a dark, fat, girl with natural hair (which I’ve straightened) for the above-mentioned reasons…not wanting to stand out – or be seen as a freak or draw unwanted (or fetishized) attention to myself.

Maybe the confidence will come with age.

But anyways, thank you so much for what you’ve given me since I found your blog at least four years ago…

Grace March 26, 2013 - 7:25 PM

I adore your posts, Erika. I have been following your blog for months now and I just love to read everything you write about. Thanks for being amazing!

Christina March 27, 2013 - 10:24 AM

First, I just discovered you’re blog a few days ago and I am head over heels! Thank you for being so fabulous. You help to motivate those of us who need a little kick in the rear 😉

Today’s post made me think. I loved Brandy’s quote and don’t really take any issue with the term “inner beauty.” I think what she and so many others (the Kellys of the world) are trying to convey with that phrase is the concept of loving yourself from the inside out.

To be truthful, there are multiple definitions of beauty because, let’s be real, it’s subjective. There’s not a concrete measuring stick. Society has a point of view about what’s beautiful that it portrays through media and marketing; others have a point of view about what beauty is that is shaped largely by societal norms obviously; and then there’s what you think of yourself.

Too often we judge people because what they look like doesn’t measure up to society’s standard of beauty. Some of us will never be recognized as “beautiful” by society’s standards (self included.) It’s important that we redefine what beauty is, but you can only do that if you begin with self acceptance – seeing you for who you really are, embracing your own beauty and then wearing it from the inside out.

Just my two cents 😉

Erika Nicole Kendall March 27, 2013 - 10:56 AM

Of course you can “love yourself from the inside out,” and you should. But that’s not what she said. She implied that she was resigned to loving herself on the inside because she wasn’t [arguably, someone else’s definition of] beautiful on the outside. I take issue with that.

Beauty is subjective, but that’s not how we treat it… even those of us who know better. We can still be caught wondering why our lashes aren’t long like the girl in the commercial [who’s wearing falsies], why our hair isn’t as straight, or thick, or bouncy as [the manufactured and mythical] hers or why our bodies can’t look like that. Quite frankly, I’m saying we give too much time and attention to people who don’t have our best interests at heart, and find ways to love ourselves and be the best that we can be for us and to us.

tasha March 28, 2013 - 11:05 AM

What you wrote spoke to me. I used to try to shrink myself so that people wouldn’t notice me. It was a miserable life. Don’t hide yourself for anyone. If someone is intimidated by your light then that is their problem. I know it sounds cliche but fake it till you make it. The confidence you’re faking will start feeling real until it really becomes real. Know that you are beautiful and don’t be scared to let the world know that you know it!

selena March 29, 2013 - 6:36 AM

Everything she said was right on. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. I have been shocked at the multitude of other races outside of black that find black women beautiful and attractive with no regard to the complexion. Like my non black guy friend inadvertently revealed to me that opened my eyesyes. Yes I’m natural.

Nicole April 23, 2013 - 4:57 PM

I don’t really see how she implied that she resigned herself to it. I saw it more as since at that stage she had not fully accepted her physical self, which for some of us is a process.. she had to learn to appreciate herself for the intangible stuff first, whether that meant her appreciating the fact that she is a patient person, a good listener, whatever those things are that she could find to feel good about. Then little by little she came to a place of love and appreciation for that physical self. She recognized her own individual beauty. Wish it were the way you say it should be, that we all just recognized ourselves as the beauties that we are but comparison is unfortunately the yardstick by which so many measure every aspect of themselves and their lives.

Kitty August 2, 2013 - 5:57 AM

I’ve started a new job recently, part of which is bra fitting- almost every single woman that comes in to the fitting room apologises for her body, her age, her childbearing status etc… I am shocked that Kelly and Brandy don’t think they are stunning women. They don’t just have looks, they have talent and charisma too. I adore beyonce, but i do feel she is one of those women who looks great because she is symmetrical and has a great makeup team. Marilyn Monroe was similar- walk past her on the street with no makeup and you wouldn’t look twice, but add va va voom personality and really good clothes/makeup and suddenly you have a star. We all have that in us, but finding it and believing it is the hard part. Having seen many women now, I think, blimey, we’re all so lucky to have bodies that carry us through amazing journeys like childbirth and cancer and sport and work. We all have beauty, totally. it’s finding the bits about yourself you can accentuate, and not for the benefit of men, but for your own benefit, because they make you feel great!

Christina August 2, 2013 - 12:56 PM

I have always thought that ALL women are beautiful (if they allow themselves to be). Frankly, I was appalled by the things Brandi said tjat her own mother said to her! She is a gorgeous woman and her mother should have told her that every single day of her life. As a mother of a little girl, I feel that it is my DUTY to affirm her beauty (inside and out) every day and I’m sad that other moms fail to do that for their girls.

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