I’m a receptionist at a refugee center. On a daily basis I interact with literal hundreds of people. With those numbers in mind I get hit on or called ‘pretty/ beautiful/ gorgeous’ a lot. With the exception of the more exceptionally creepy, it doesn’t bother me as much as it once did.
What does bother me is when little girls tell me I’m pretty. They’re usually little black girls and they usually say things like ‘oh you’re so pretty’ ‘I love your hair’ ‘your hair is so pretty’ ‘you look like a princess’. And that saddens me because I want so badly to tell them ‘no. I am not a princess. A princess can speak multiple languages. A princess has travelled and has seen other countries. A princess sees and lives through war and political strife and is still brave. You are more of a princess than I’ll ever be and you’re not even 10-years-old.’
But they don’t think they’re princesses because, on the surface, the princesses they know look more like me: The princesses they are familiar with have long hair and are skinny and are undeniably white. The princesses they know don’t wear hijabs. They don’t have dark skin and dark eyes and even if they do, they do have comparatively darker skin they still have enough Eurocentric tendencies to counter balance it (j’accuse Jasmine and Aladdin).
It’s easy for women with Euro-centric characteristics to stand on a soap box and scream ‘looks shouldn’t matter’. For the most part they are right. Looks don’t matter, if you have the acceptable ones—the slender noses, the soft hair, the white skin that gives you an unfair advantage in a world brimming with racial disadvantages.
But to those black girls and brown girls and tan girls (and boys, lest not forget the foreign boys) their looks are not revered. More likely they won’t know that they’re beautiful until they’re older.
If we can agree that telling little white girls that they don’t need to be skinny and blonde to be considered ‘beautiful’, then we can’t leave out the non-European-white girls and boys from feeling assuaged.
It goes without saying that the life of a refugee is exceedingly hard and unforgiving. It was that harsh reality that fairy tales were conceived from, in order to give our ancestors some distraction from peasant life, early death and constant war. Isn’t it only fair, humane even, if we let refugee boys and girls believe that they too can be princes and princesses?