In my small corner of rural South Africa, and many others like it, young African children struggle to come to terms with their appearances and identities. When kids reach out to pet my skin or run their fingers through my hair it’s often a symptom of both subtle and blatant messaging reiterating that particular appearances embody beauty- and rarely that with which they identify. This messaging is deeply entrenched throughout South African society, from the toddlers chanting lekgoa, or white person, as I walk through the village to the taxi driver who passes up families flagging him down in order to take me to town.
Being a PCV presents me with opportunities to not only learn from my community, but to challenge preconceived notions. Today in my Grade 7 English class we tackled the topic of beauty. We completed a CLOZE activity to Beautiful by Christina Aguilera and discussed the components of beauty. At the start of class, these traits included primarily physical characteristics- hair, body, skin etc., but throughout our discussion, the idea of inner beauty surfaced. Learners commented on traits like respect, trustworthiness, honesty, and kindness. We honed in on the imperfections or beautiful mistakes that enable the existence of our unique beauty and discussed the importance of feeling our beauty in our hearts rather than something that is derived from the thoughts, words or actions of any other person.
Though this lesson remains an ongoing discussion, we rounded out class singing loudly for the whole school to hear: “We are beautiful in every single way. We are beautiful no matter what they say.”