“Just because they are doing it – doesn’t mean we should do it too”
05 October 2013. I have been avoiding this picture. I have seen it a thousand times with just as many likes while surfing my Facebook homepage. YaY! Black is beautiful. On the surface there is nothing wrong with the picture – it’s everything we’ve all been fighting for right? Finally the world acknowledges that Black is beautiful. Finally it seems we are all collectively able to celebrate diversity in ourselves and others in all our different shades and hues.
But I couldn’t quite click “like” on it and that was an indication that something was not right for me, with this picture. So I have been walking – restlessly around the house this morning trying to figure out just what it is.
I have a personal history with pageantry. When I was 18 I participated in a Miss Pinetown Contest, during my first year of college. I had a grueling schedule, between being in a church choir, a Sunday school teacher, my studies and responsibilities at home, but I love to multitask. That was an interesting experience; I was in the final five and came fourth overall. I lost out to Heather Hamilton who eventually took the crown of Miss South Africa in 2000. We used to watch pageants repeatedly at home and I always wished to participate with a view to winning of course. I gave up that “dream’ after my loss and never tried again. So I must be jealous, maybe. I finally gathered enough courage to revisit Heather Hamilton online – and found that she was probably more ready mentally for the role of Miss South Africa and the opportunities that the platform offered than I was. So I thought to myself, I lost out to a really clever girl so I didn’t mind – she deserved it. I thought I had closed that chapter.
But here it comes again, this picture and it’s really bothering me right at this moment in time when I am strongly considering Modeling as a potential career option, since it seems that the one door I am trying so hard to open, the one I’ve given my all too, my life to, my soul to, my possessions to, my lifetime dream of becoming a Foreign Correspondent is tightly closed. I have knocked on doors, called people, applied for jobs, still applying, people have given me their numbers: “call me” they said, but repeatedly continue to leave my calls unanswered when I do. People say a lot of things, others have been more honest, but nothing seems to work out. I have tried everything that is humanly possible and I am tired. So what to do? Try something you haven’t done before that you enjoy (clothes, pictures, performance). I was told by a few men after performing my play LINDIWE! A true story based on Love, that it’s my body that is the most interesting thing to watch, “it’s the way I move” they said. “ Ja, I think just take out all the words and just dance” one of the elders told me. “ But it’s the message – the story that’s important for me, without it I won’t dance” I responded but by then I had already lost them, only realizing later that it was a subtle – gentle way of saying “shut up” about your issues. It’s your body we’re interested in. So I found myself thinking that well, I have worked pretty damn hard to maintain a weight that I enjoy and which seems to please others, why not use it right? Become a model and earn some income (the plan is not without its hurdles, I’m beyond my 20’s now and young people make the best models because they will just wear whatever and it’ll be cool, there won’t be any ‘cheeky” words coming out of their mouths) So I thought if it means I can keep a roof over my head, why not. I can shut up. This brings to memory a formidable Dance art piece by South African dancer and choreographer Nelisiwe Xaba’s “They look at me and that’s all they think”. In which she dealt with the very same issue. She is silent in her pieces of course – but the message is a powerful one, she can tell her story without having to talk. This woman is amazing. But I on the other hand am not good at being silent. I can keep it down for a while but when it comes out – It’s pretty messy. I have to talk, I’m always talking, I’m talking to you now see and taking way too long to get to the point.
So what’s wrong with this picture and my choosing a career in modeling?
There are so many layers to this.
But in summary, I have a problem with pageantry personally. I discovered that despite my previous failed attempts at winning a ‘crown” it really does offend my soul. The objectification of women, who are judged largely on their physical appearance and confidence levels; pageantry is another way of creating a uniform army of women who are all thin, all tall, all with sparkling eyes and teeth, who say the right things, in order to get money and a few luxuries at the end of the day. They are judged on how well they are able to look after themselves on a superficial level, smooth skin, well-toned body etc. It is hard work to maintain a perfect image all the time, and I do agree that those who do this, because it is a full-time job, need to be compensated for all their efforts.
The Judging is Subjective; it depends on the judges personal tastes; their preference for boobs, ass, legs, face, and hair all judged largely on western ideas of what constitutes beauty. So whether it’s a black, chinese, white, woman it doesn’t matter what hue they are, the competition still reinforces a false sense of security and confidence which I am principally against. Modeling falls within the same category, and I would now have to go against my personal principles to do it with some level of success.
I guess I just figured out that though it may be okay for others to do this, it is not for me. It’s not okay for me that I have to wear false hair, wear copious amounts of make-up, and starve myself to fit into tiny clothes so that the world will applaud. They are not applauding me – Jedi Ramalapa. They are applauding themselves, their image and perceptions of who I am and what I should be about. It’s not okay for me anymore to go against my values. My body size does not make me more beautiful than the next girl, nor do the clothes I wear, they don’t make me more worthy, or special. The way I move or speak does not make me queen of the world, I am not any better than the next woman. I have been hurt and abused in the past because I tried so hard to be what I thought was beautiful.
Confidence comes with knowing who you are. I am not this woman, that woman. I am me and the me I am is not what you see – it is precisely what you hear, what I say, what I do and what you feel when I am in your presence. All of what you see will disappear one day it doesn’t really matter on the grand scheme of things. Looking after myself is good – but doing it for money is dangerous. I have to be able to live with me, be honest and true to myself whether you applaud my efforts or not.
As black (brown in my case) people we cannot look up to white- western constructs and their definitions of beauty and still expect them to respect who we are when we deny and lie to ourselves every day and in different ways. Buying everything they sell us to get their approval. They will never approve. As individuals we cannot expect to gain any level of respect from others when we are consumed with activities to change ourselves so that we can be accepted. We can never hope to be treated like equals when we ourselves do not think that we’re enough or worthy. Self-hate and doubt will always show up – we have even stopped questioning these things, figuring out what works for us, grappling with ourselves, our aim is to please other at all costs even if it kills us in the process.
We just accept that just because a white person is doing it, everyone is doing it, everyone is applauding saying well done! That it’s fine. We have to be brave enough to confront our own lies to ourselves; we have to own up to our own part in our oppression before we can attempt to free anyone or anything – let alone world. It’s not being racist, it is knowing who you and allowing your true nature to come out – that is what t gives you the power – the confidence to stand up against the system. Unfortunately we can’t have freedom any other way. It’s either we believe in ourselves and our abilities, or we shall forever remain slaves to the system, to those in power, to money, to possessions, to fame, to applauds, to likes on facebook, to hash tags and re-tweets. We will never be free – freedom and confidence comes from knowing who you are.
The sexiest thing about a person is not their body or their clothes, or their positions in society. The sexiest people in the world are those who know their worth and where it comes from, and nobody (including your parents) can give you that, only the source, the one who created you can give you that.
I fell madly and deeply in love last year, and that love was beyond everything I ever knew, beyond my looks, beyond my clothes, my possessions, my words, my dance, my moves, my mind,my friends and family. Beyond even my abilities as journalist or writer or any of the things I thought made her special. It was a spiritual love, a re-connection with the source that brought her back to me.
This is the woman I fell in love with. And she is the sexiest woman I know. I’m glad I took a picture of her, because I don’t think she could recognise herself at the time. It doesn’t matter what she ends up doing with her life. In my eyes she will always be worthy of all the love, care and attention I can give her. She’s amazing:
Meet Jedidiah (a name which means God’s loved one) Ramalapa.