Beauty has always been taught to me through the lens of whiteness.
As a teenager, I snipped images of thin, white models like Karlie Kloss from Vogue and taped them onto my bedroom walls. My predominantly white high school and college reinforced the notion that access and proximity to whiteness was a source of power. I witnessed this through classmates whose unspoken popularity contests modeled that of hierarchical white supremacist structures. That, coupled with my teenage desperation to be liked, desired, and welcomed by the people around me clouded my ability to recognize my own Blackness as a source of power and beauty.
Outside of these institutions, I grew up with little guidance on what it meant to prioritize my own rest, care, and beauty. No one pressed me to define those ideas on my own terms. Only after rejecting all Western conceptions of beauty, which teach us to value whiteness and wealth above all else, have I come to understand my own Blackness, queerness, wellness, and desirability.
In an act of needed self-preservation, I started changing the images surrounding me. On my small and earnest Tumblr account, I began reblogging and saving the selfies of Black women. In my journal, I copied their affirmations of love and affection — to themselves and to each other — for my own safekeeping. Through Tumblr, I found a community of proud, stylish, and smart Black women. These women were politically engaged and eager to uplift each other. Through this digital platform, an entirely new world opened up to me: one that felt like a supportive and infinite space. Suddenly, the attitudes and opinions of white women — women who constantly questioned my confidence — seemed insignificant and discouraging. At least compared to what these Black women celebrated in themselves, in each other, and helped me to uncover in myself.
There are many (racist) reasons it took me so long to realize the media that I consume, the institutions that I move through, and the state that demands labor from me are not structured to function in my best interest. They are, in fact, intended to destabilize and inhibit my very self-interest. It’s only been recently, through an intentional practice of undermining the power of capitalism — and by extension, patriarchy, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness — in my daily life that I’ve learned to value my body’s own beauty and wellness, unattached from heterosexual desirability or productivity.
So I build my days around rest and care. I make a life of writing soft songs about my bed and my heart and the people whom I love. Each morning, I relish in the comfort of my bed, taking notice of the light and the feel of my skin. I drink lots of water and spend time moving my body, either with yoga or a run outside. I indulge in my skincare routine: a gentle cleanser from Cerave; an exfoliating toner by Paula’s Choice; either a hydrating or brightening serum; then moisturizer followed by oil for plumpness and glow; and a final finish of Purito SPF for protection.
For a few hours each day, I read Black writers. I return to books by Audre Lorde, Assata Shakur, Toni Morrison, and Mariame Kaba. They remind me of the world that is possible when Black women are able to thrive. In this world, gentleness is a cure and a force. In this world, languor, closeness, and freedom are right in front of us.
The state does not want Black women to feel beautiful, to sleep in a large comfortable bed for as many hours as they choose, to have access to things to make them feel whole or healthy. The state fears the power of a Black woman who has time on their hands, who is pampered, who has the space to imagine softness, for this kind of power is dream-making. This kind of power organizes communities, gives free food away to families on the south and west sides of Chicago, frees people from jail, topples colonial statues, erases the need for policing. When we care for ourselves, we care for each other.
As long as we live in a capitalist, carceral state, my wellness will always exist in opposition to the states function and power. That is why my rest, my ardent dependence on my own care, my own value, my own beauty, will always be dangerous, important, and life-sustaining.