On February 25th, this Sunday, I will be 32 years old. Which means that I’ve spent quite a bit of time with myself. I’m a black woman with full lips that can, at times, intensify my facial expressions. Two things I have come to accept and unequivocally LOVE about myself.
As a child I can remember my mama saying things like “suck your lips in so they don’t get stuck that way,” “fix yo face,” and “who you think you lookin’ at like that?” Granted, 99.99% of the time my mama made a comment about my facial expression, she had every right. I was either pouting because I didn’t get my way or thinking about something I wanted to say to her out loud, but wouldn’t because I would’ve ended up missing a few teeth. As funny as that sounds, it’s the truth. My mama did not play, okay?
I developed a hyperawareness of my facial expressions and my lips at a very young age.
In the sixth grade my hyperawareness was traded in for shame. I remember the exact moment someone of the opposite sex made me uncomfortable with part of my womanhood for the first time. A boy in the eighth grade told me that I had DSL’s. In case you’re unfamiliar, DSL is a moniker for the term dick sucking lips. Yes, he was an absolute asshole for what he said. Did he intend to be the cause of an experience that would change the way I saw myself? Nah. But, the damage had already been done. For at least the next four years, I did as much as I thought I could to draw as little attention as possible to my lips.
While I fell in love with the fullness of my lips years ago, staying in control of my facial expressions presented more of a challenge for me because I didn’t want to be viewed as the unapproachable black woman. In Corporate America when I was either one of very few or the only black woman, in social settings where a man could potentially show romantic interest, etc. Until recently.
The staggering, yet completely unsurprising (to me, anyway), number of women coming forward with allegations of sexual assault was the tip of the iceberg. I’ve had several discussions with men that can’t seem to grasp the concept of consent or recognize the difference between a genuine compliment and an inappropriate comment that is sexual in nature.
Side note: I’m not man bashing, nor am I assuming that all men have the same stance on all of this. Within these same conversations, there have also been men that wholeheartedly understood and even tried to address disparities in our discussions from a male perspective.
However, it is frustrating to have to defend, define, explain and provide concrete examples to support concepts that should be common knowledge to men. Especially men with sisters and daughters. Men in their mid-30’s and early 40’s. Hell, all of yall!
Being told to smile and being on the receiving end of an unsolicited inappropriate comment from the same man in one fell swoop was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me a few days ago. I equated this particular situation with my frustration in explaining consent to men. It was a great teaching moment to explain to this douche bag that telling me, or any other woman for that matter, to smile was crossing a boundary that he should be aware of.
This guy was a douche because of the comment he made about my lips that he truly believed I should've received as a genuine compliment. I schooled him on that as well, but the reason I wanted to share this is because I think most men don't realize or understand that they don't have the inherent right to tell a woman to smile.
Fellas, what went through your mind the last time you asked a woman to smile? She’s attractive but looks upset or unapproachable? I’m sure, just like the little asshole from middle school, you really didn’t mean any harm by it, right? Did you consider that she might actually be going through something? When was the last time you heard of a woman telling a man that he needed to smile? What qualifies you to be in a position to tell a woman to smile in the first place?
I’m aware that a lot of the time my facial expression leans more toward stoic and serious. Truth be told, I don't have time to consider whether my facial expression is making the people around me comfortable or not. Thankfully, I no longer care either. I'm a single parent with a serious, and dangerous at times, full-time job all while trying to pursue my passion outside of work at the same time. That's a lot to handle and to have to think about. The wheels in my head are constantly turning.
I'm not saying I walk around with a permanent scowl on my face and everyone needs to accept it. If you know me at all, you know that I love to laugh, I'm caring and considerate, sometimes to a fault. What I am saying is men, you don't get to project your perception of what a woman's demeanor should be onto us while we're in your presence, i.e. by telling us to smile.
Instead, let your limiting perceptions stir inside you quietly. As far as I'm concerned, if me not smiling enough is the only thing that would keep a man from interacting with me, he's doing me a favor. Right off the bat, I know that I'm too much woman for a man that thinks like that to handle.
I shouldn't have to soften or make my appearance more appealing in an effort to get a man's attention. The strength in the appearance of a woman shouldn't threaten your manhood.
Men, you could be missing out on the love of your life simply because a woman wearing her strength in her face tugs at your ego. Not all of us are giving off bitch vibes. I promise. Feel the woman out a little bit before you write her off. More than likely, you'll benefit from having a strong woman like that in your corner in the long run. Don't play yourself because you let your ego take over.
Oh, and as far as consent goes I’m not cutting anyone any slack. No means no. I saw a genius analogy to a black man’s lack of understanding consent on Twitter yesterday. I can’t wait to try it out for myself. Ladies, if a man, more specifically black men, incessantly hounds you no matter what you tell him to let him know you’re not interested, ask him how he feels about having his asshole played with. When he freaks out, use that as an opportunity to explain consent and boundaries to him. If he’s into anal play and you’re not into him at all, well…You might just have to block him sis, lol!
Last thing fellas, here's a general rule of thumb to follow if you're ever uncertain as to whether a statement you want to make to a woman is appropriate or not. If you wouldn't say it to your mom, sister or daughter then you have no business saying it to another woman. Unless, you and that particular woman are already comfortable with each other and have that type of relationship.
I had a man tell me the "logic behind my statement didn't make sense" because he wasn't trying to date his mom, sister or daughter. He said that he would tell a woman he's interested in that "she's really cute" but he wouldn't say that to his mom. However, this doesn't just apply to romantic interests. It could be a co-worker, a complete stranger, whoever. My "logic" didn't make sense to him because common sense ain't too common.
Ask yourself this one question before you engage with a woman. "What's my intention?" Then, use your best judgment, but most importantly, just do better.
Men, especially black men, I love yall so much. Yall are some of the most beautiful creatures that ever inhabited this earth. I'm rooting for yall.
Love you, mean it.