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Author C.G. Rawles Talks Beauty and Identity

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We are a beautiful people. Our skin hues and hair textures run the gamut, as do the colors of our eyes and the curves and widths of our hips. As many of us can attest, however, learning to appreciate one's own beauty can be a long road. Artist and first-time author, C. G. Rawles, plans to open that conversation, early, with her new children's book, "Same Difference." Geared toward the 4-to-8-year-old set, the book tells the tender tale of two cousins--Lida and Lisa--whom are like two-peas-in-a-pod until they begin to realize that they share few, physical similarities...hence, the lesson ensues. After getting her two little girls and teenage stepson off to school, Rawles sat with ESSENCE.com to discuss her impetus for crafting the book, what she's learned about identity during her journey and why it's so important to remind our children, often, how lovely they truly are. ESSENCE.com: So, why this book? Why now? C. G. RAWLES: Actually, I wrote the book about five years ago and just recently completed the illustrations. It's a semi-autobiographical story about my relationship with my two cousins, but I've rolled them into one character. "Lisa" embodies the spirit of one cousin and has the features of the other. We were really close when we were growing up. One cousin lived nearby and the other came to town for holidays. At Easter, we all wanted to dress the same and wear the same hairstyle, but we could never get the hair part right. [laughs] When we became pre-teens, one cousin got her first relaxer and that's when our conversations became about hair and complexion. As kids, we really thought we looked the same, but once I got older, and looked at pictures, I saw how different we were.    Now that I'm a mother, I realize that I'm going to have to start having those conversations with my two daughters soon. When my oldest plays with her friends, I hear them say, "We want to wear the same dress so we can be twins," which takes me back to childhood, with my cousins. Little girls always want to look and be like each other, but at some point, they realize that there are differences. Already, my daughter is asking questions about her hair and why it doesn't lay a certain way. I want both of my girls to be proud of their hair and skin and to recognize their identity within the culture. I don't find that there are many books that focus on that, in our community, so I knew that I needed to finish this book.   ESSENCE.com: Why do you think these issues continue to plague our community? RAWLES: Well, I don't think that we really get to the root of the problem. Television, magazines and media, everywhere, continue to showcase the standard images of beauty in this country, but those images don't represent most girls. When I was a kid, I remember thinking, "OK, I'm kind of close, but if my hair was just a little bit straighter..." I used to wear a towel on my head, too, and pretend that I had longer, flowing hair. I think we always want something that we can't have or can't be - that's just the nature of humans. It takes a lot of maturity on the part of parents to teach their children to really love themselves. We have to work hard to find multicultural images for them which reflect their beauty. That's why I was just so excited about "The Princess and the Frog!" ESSENCE.com: What do you hope that young readers, and their parents, will gain from the book?
RAWLES: I hope that they'll read it, enjoy it and begin a dialogue about beauty and identity. There are so many little girls at my daughter's day care center who all look so different and have all kinds of hairstyles, even extensions. I just want to hug each one of them and say, "You're all so beautiful." To learn more about "Same Difference," visit www.samedifferencebook.com. Read more:
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