Sun | Feb 25, 2018

Shelly-Ann Harris: Are you a whole woman?

Published:Wednesday | May 4, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Shelly-Ann Harris

It's no longer completely shocking that a woman in Jamaica has had some form of physical augmentation or plastic surgery. That was customarily expected of those still searching for meaning and fame in Hollywood and elsewhere.

It's also no longer outrageous that she scrubs her complexion to the point where friends no longer recognise her; or that she covers her own crown and dons a knock-off scalped from the heads of those presumably more beautiful in other parts of the world.

However, for some reason, photos of a female rapper whom I always believed to be exquisitely beautiful, who appears to have done all the stuff mentioned above, that surfaced on the Internet recently, have me really downcast for the self-esteem among my black sisters. The rapper is quoted as saying she never really felt beautiful, that men told her she was ugly, and pointed to her 'more beautiful' European sisters.

Yes, white women do surgery and wear hair extensions, too, but they don't share the horrid history of black women. Yes, men also make drastic cosmetic changes to their appearance, but that is the exception rather than the norm. My current truly heartfelt concern is the continued glaring lack of self-love among some of our black sisters.

Yes, women in Jamaica have started to enjoy the-long-fought-for right to do as they please; the right to work or to care for the home; to demand equal pay as men; to take on leadership roles; and to extend themselves in ways not imaginable a few decades ago.

But I fear that while we may have collectively leaned into our professional potential and pursuits, we may not have leaned into our sense of wholeness as women. Indeed, we may not have set the foundation of wholeness as the springboard from which to pursue all other things - leadership, career, marriage, children, and all the other things we desire.

And so we must start at what I call the first beginning. We must create an environment for our young girls in which they feel loved, whether or not they achieve academically, creatively, physically. Regardless of their pursuits, they must feel the love, assurance and admiration of their parents, grandparents, guardians, aunties and uncles, while also feeling the positive nudge to discover and pursue their talent and be all they can be.




They must know the love of their heavenly Father; they must know that they were wonderfully and lovingly designed for a unique purpose and taught that in finding that purpose they can experience fulfilment. We must personally believe that truth and teach it to our girls with all our hearts. That's how we begin cultivating a sense of inner wholeness among our little princesses.

Sadly, however, some of us parents and grown-ups are broken and are ourselves 'unwhole', and are therefore unable to provide that kind of safe emotional environment for our daughters. Some of us don't truly know God's love and therefore have no love to give.

For sure, the message about the role of the community cannot be overlooked. We must be generous in showing appreciation, honest about our shortcomings and insecurities, while actively seeking to befriend and incorporate positive women in our lives to help us in areas that we fall short. We must seek to mentor and be mentored. We must seek wholeness, even at this seemingly late stage of adulthood.

How else do we positively impact our daughters, our nieces, the bright-eyed intern, our staff, our friends, the girl next door, the youth group we mentor, or the promiscuous girl in our Sunday school class? We start with ourselves; that's the second beginning.

There is so much more to unpack as it relates to connecting with ourselves and with other women, but in the end, I believe that if we cultivate that search for wholeness among ourselves as black girls and black women, we would seek less to be seen and to be admired and instead seek to give and do something wonderful out of our own abundance.

We may still decide to make changes, enhancements and tweaks to our physical looks, but certainly from a place of true peace and love.

- Shelly-Ann Harris is a communication specialist, sits on the board of the Women's Resource and Outreach Centre, and is the editorial director and founder of Family and Faith Magazine. Email feedback to and