We all know that the “black don’t crack” idiom is one our community tends to wear with great pride. It’s true, a lot of Black men and women don’t show signs of aging until they’re much older when compared to our white counterparts. Angela Bassett’s bikini-clad post on Instagram to celebrate her 60th birthday reminded us all that with proper diet and exercise, age has a hard time keeping up with melanated people. Because of this infamous notion, Black women’s appearances tend to be chronically over-analyzed and dissected.
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This year, I turned 34 years old — officially and firmly planted in my mid-thirties. It was a tough pill to swallow, knowing that I am inching further and further away from the age of innocence. I am blessed with a youthful face, full cheeks, big round eyes and a wide smile. I don’t have any wrinkles or gray hairs to speak of so there is no physical indicator of the years under my belt. In fact, the only tangible market of my age is the fact that about every week or so someone under 30 says something to me that has quickly become just as offensive as that uninvited hand running itself through your hair.
“Wow! You don’t look 34! You look so good for your age!”It always comes in the most innocent of tones, and I have to do a quick self-check to scan myself for defensiveness or jealousy. Am I intimidated by my age? Am I intimidated by twenty-something women who look at me as a slight elder? No. I don’t miss being in my twenties and I feel like I lived them to their fullest. My twenties blessed me with a decade of experiences that aligned me with my goals in love, career and family. It blessed me with a son after spending eight years moving around, trying anything that came to mind and fully exploring myself. I have no regrets spilling over from that era and I have nothing to feel bitter about. So, why am I so annoyed by the idea that a younger woman would console me with the notion that I still look young and therefore should feel honored?First, the end all, be all of life is not to look young. We don’t want to admit the truth, but as a society, we are completely youth-obsessed and Instagram has only put that obsession into overdrive. It trickles into my lap when I least expect it, when I’m feeling just fine with who I am, but suddenly someone makes the assumption that being my age comes with some hidden level of shame that they should task themselves with eliminating. Don’t worry, you still look good. I’m actually OK with however I look, whether or not its determined as acceptable by society.
The thing about Black women in their thirties is that most of us are pretty thrilled to be here. We understand our vaginas better, we understand our bank accounts better — some of us are still figuring out men — but we understand that we don’t have to have them in order to be fulfilled. Our awkward body phases have finally gone by the wayside, we’ve figured out what skin products work for our combination T-zones and 4c/3b hair type. If only society would release the idea that none of that matters unless we are also 22 and fresh out of college. The thing about Black women in their thirties is that we do not look good “for our age.” Our age just looks good on us and it feels good too.I want to do away with the idea that the second you turn 30 your body begins to decay. I want to remind women of all ages that when it comes to beauty and health you get what you put in. Drink water and don’t date him — those are the keys to a youthful appearance. I also want to do away with the idea that Black women are only valid if they look good, according to the world. Our value is far too great to be weighed against something so fleeting. To all the twenty-somethings out there counting down the remaining months or days until they turn 30, please believe you are more than your age. Youth doesn’t define happiness and it certainly doesn’t define you.
Beauty is not qualified by one archetype — petite, thin, fair-skin, long hair and young. Success is also not defined by beauty. I implore us all to recognize the many other ways Black women contribute to a room besides lighting it up with their prettiness. I implore us all to honor Black women when they begin to show signs of age. The less we harp on something as unimportant as a woman’s age-to-beauty ratio, the more we allow women to take up spaces that don’t require submissiveness and likability as general admission. The more we validate our right to have wrinkles and gray hairs and cellulite and muffin tops and veiny hands and whatever else is on the horizon — the more we free ourselves from the chains of the Strong Black Woman syndrome. We don’t have be strong, we don’t have to be perfect. We don’t even have to be pretty.Viva la thirties!