I have to be honest, until I saw the eulogy for her on CNN, I had never heard of her. Fashion has never been something that has been of great interest for me and that is because more often than not when I glance at the cover of the big magazines rarely did I see anyone who is representative of Black beauty. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for her to garner attention in the late 60’s and 70’s even though this was the time when Black is beautiful, was a phrase we lovingly embraced.
When I look into her dark eyes I see determination in the face of struggle. Apparently, in her autobiography she spoke about being offered jobs to fulfill a quota rather than being sought after for being beautiful the way that White women are. Even in her success she was still considered the exotic beauty.
If she is lucky, a little Black girl will be embraced by her family and told she is beautiful and special, however once she enters the world she quickly learns all the negative attributes associated with Black womanhood which leads to a struggle to maintain self esteem. White feminists routinely point out that young girls must be lauded for their intelligence but for Black women whose femininity has historically been degraded, simply being understood as beautiful is a struggle we have yet to win.
To many, it may not seem important that a fashion model has passed but to Black women who are understood as distinctly unfeminine and unattractive, it strikes a nerve. I wish I had known about her before now. I wish that I had collected her covers, but I am glad that I know her name today. I will be able to speak about her now and tell little girls to love themselves, in the face of the daily assaults that they must negotiate. We must remember our sheroes and heroes because more often than not they are quickly written out of history.