When Your Daughter is Told “Brown Girls Can’t Be Supermodels”

When I tell you that social media is responsible for me meeting and connecting with some simply fabulous people, I mean it. And Shantae Pelt of Coco’Pie Clothing is one of them. I first met Shantae through Periscope and have grown to love and adore who she is and the mission that she is on. From the moment I purchased my girls their own “There’s power in these puffs” tees from Shantae, my 6-year-old has become a self-proclaimed Coco’Pie Clothing brand ambassador (no seriously, she made me get on Periscope just so she could tell everyone about it, and wanted to hand out Coco’Pie Clothing postcards everywhere we went LOL).

So when I came across Shante’s Facebook status one day that talked about her daughter being told that brown girls can’t be supermodels, my heart sunk. “Here we go again”, is what I thought. But what I loved is how Shantae handled the situation. She truly inspired me and gave me encouragement in the process of encouraging her daughters. So I immediately asked if she could write a guest post, and here is the result of what transpired.

Shantae Pelt headshotThe following post was written by Shantae Pelt. Shantae is the CEO and Founder of a vibrant new t-shirt line, Coco’Pie Clothing. Momprenuer of two awesome daughters and also KidPrenuers, Shantae is passionate about celebrating the beauty within ethnicity. She has both a personal and professional commitment to combat colorism. You can connect with Shantae on Coco’Pie Clothing and Instagram & Periscope.

I had a conversation with my baby the other night. An uncomfortable one to say the least. It’s remnants still tug at my heart strings.

Cocopie clothing - shantae pelt 2

Photo Credit: Coco’Pie Clothing

See the other day my baby, my pretty brown girl, looked at me and ever so softly said “Mom, my friend said black girls can’t be supermodels”.

For a moment I feel frozen. Hesitant and confused. How do I respond? I’m upset, yet I don’t want to show that emotion. Will she attribute my anger to what she was told bearing truth?

Yet Mikayla, my Mikayla is 9. A sunflower child. A carefree black girl, remarkably ambitious with an infectious smile. In that moment I almost forget her sister, Kennedy, who is only 5 is to my left, yet she’s leaned in now. Her coily afro puff ponytails and big brown eyes immediately meet mine.

I have to respond and respond quickly. I glance between them both before looking at Mikayla once more. Gently and with conviction, I say “Black girls can absolutely be supermodels baby”.

‘But my friend said black girls can’t be supermodels because she hasn’t seen any and that they only like girls with peach skin”.

Also related: Dear Black Girl

I tell her that’s untrue and that her friend is wrong. Taking the laptop off my desk, I immediately start web surfing. We look at images of Beverly Johnson, Grace Jones, Iman, Noami Campbell, Alek Wek, and Tyra Banks. YouTube does not disappoint. Watching runway shows of Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, Mikayla discovers Chanel Iman, her favorite. Being she is young and quite the beauty, also with Chanel being her middle name, I’m not too surprised.

We do this for maybe an hour and a half. Talking all the while. At this point both of my girls are ecstatic yet I’m still unsure if it’s enough. I ask her how she feels about what her friend said. She replies “I know black girls can be supermodels but it just seems like they can only be actresses”.

I try to digest and interpret what she means. Maybe I’ve underestimated both her understanding and her perception. She has clearly come to her own conclusion as to the trajectory of black women in the media; at least through the eyes of a 9-year-old.

Cocopie clothing - shantae pelt 3

Photo credit: Coco’Pie Clothing

Also related: 6 Things I Want my Little Brown Children to Know 

“Baby girl, you can be whatever you want to be! All of these beautiful black women are proof of what you can be. However, they also are not your limit. No one can tell you who you can be. Ever! Especially not based on the color of your skin. With that,  I asked her to dream big – of the model she wished to be; where she traveled, and what accomplishments she made. I assured her I will be waiting to hear all about it in the morning. With that infectious smile of hers, she eagerly kisses me goodnight. Little sister, Kennedy quickly follows suit.

Closing the bedroom door, I breathe a long sigh, and continue to think about what just happened. I thought about how prejudice and colorism busted my precious 9-year-old’s bubble. I start to think.

I’ve never quite understood why people say “I don’t see color”. It’s an all too common response of many. You’d never tell someone, I don’t see your gender. It’s a large part of what you attribute your identity to. So why would one say ” I don’t see color”. I feel its relied upon as some sort of automatic exemption from being prejudice. Like a “get-out-of-being-prejudice free card”. When someone says that, they are handing me that card.

That card is merely a lie you tell yourself as a refusal to participate in the conversation. How could you not acknowledge another human being? That is truly what you are doing. One’s color is a large part of their identity. Not always a direct reflection, yet overwhelmingly so. My color is a large part of my identity, but never my capability. Seeing color, and owning the fact that you do, means that you see me. It means that you see my daughter. When you decide to see color, and everything it encompasses, please teach your children the same. This way they don’t tell mine what they can and can not be solely based on theirs.

Have you ever had to have a difficult conversation like this with your child? How did you handle it? Comment below and let me know.

Click here to connect with Shantae and find out more about Coco’Pie Clothing. Please consider supporting her mission to empower little brown girls everywhere to know they can indeed be anyone they want to be and do anything they want to do.

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  • Keisha
    January 27, 2016 at 8:26 AM

    And for this generation, somebody introduce the girl in question to Joan Smalls, Chanel Iman, Jourdan Dunn, Selita Ebanks, Tocarra, Cassie*, Jess White and Yaya DaCosta to name a FEW. And that’s just on the mainstream. Sorry they had to endure that, but luckily they have plenty of clapback to work with!
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    • Christine St.Vil
      January 27, 2016 at 4:56 PM

      Yessssss Keisha! Thanks so much for sharing, we have to keep sharing these powerful messages with our little brown girls (and boys) about the greatness that they can be.

    • Shantae Pelt
      January 27, 2016 at 6:59 PM

      Indeed Keisha , there are so many more that we plan to learn about . Thank you for sharing ! As Christine mentions it is our duty to uplift our children, so that they know they’re worthy .

  • Allison Jones
    January 27, 2016 at 8:52 AM

    I don’t have kids, but it’s so upsetting that young girls are getting these messages! We need to do all we can to empower them and let them know they’re beautiful and can be anything they want.

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  • Jay | Relaxed Thairapy
    January 27, 2016 at 6:08 PM

    I don’t have kids but tried my hand at modeling and scouts definitely see color!
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  • Jamila
    January 27, 2016 at 11:45 PM

    It upsets me when little black girls feel as if they can’t do certain things because of the color of their skin. Naomi Campbell is my favorite model, I mean she’s in a class of her own when it comes to walking down that runway. But I have noticed a few dark skin models on a the runways rocking natural hair during NYFW. Maria Borges rocked her natural hair during last years Victoria Secrets fashion show.

    • Christine St.Vil
      January 29, 2016 at 12:17 AM

      Thanks for sharing Jamila. I’ll have to look for the footage of Maria because I heard about it but never saw it.

    • Shantae Pelt
      January 30, 2016 at 7:13 AM

      It upsets me as well. It especially stings when its your own child. Naomi is my youngest favorite. She loves her “chocolately skin”. I didn’t catch the VS show live, however I seen Maria Borges afterwards. She is absolutely gorgeous.
      Shantae Pelt would like you to check out…Spiked Power Puffs, Hot Pink. Natural hair tee – $22.00My Profile

  • Tia
    January 28, 2016 at 10:29 AM

    I am so glad your girls were able to have you there to positively shape their mind. You are right, they can do and be anything they desire. We as a community need to remind the youth of this fact daily. I am always trying to fill my niece’s head with affirmations of her worth and ability.
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  • R.J. - SteeleLens.com
    January 28, 2016 at 12:45 PM

    Listen…I’m sharing this right now!

  • Mimi Green
    January 28, 2016 at 3:42 PM

    This has both touched and hurt my heart. I am the mother of a black boy and a black girl. I’m constantly have conversations with my son {11} explaining to him how other people might see him vs. who he is. My daughter is only 4 so we do more positive reinforcement vs. having the tough conversations.

    Either way my children are beautifully made and they were baked to the greatest shade of brown. It is my job as their mom to remind them of that every day. #NoLimits
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  • Vashti (veepeejay.com)
    January 28, 2016 at 3:58 PM

    Oh wow! I love how well she handled this tough, but necessary conversation. Color is part of who were are, but it should be a limiting factor. Thank God we have great examples of women of color doing amazing things and being amazing, because our little girls need it.
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    • Shantae Pelt
      January 30, 2016 at 7:18 AM

      Thank you very much Vashti. It was most certainly a difficult conversation. Yet we got through it. Yes, thank God we have such great examples of women of color .

  • reiko @invisiblecrownsblog
    January 28, 2016 at 4:16 PM

    Lord, do we have work to do on the behalf of our little girls. I have a daughter and quite honestly I can’t say if I would have handled the situation with such grace as you did. That just goes to show that exposure and stretching our girls’ imaginations is just the beginning toward them seeing themselves in all things great and magical!

    So glad I came across this post! Stirred up some emotions to make sure I remind my little brown girl even at age 2 stretch her imagination a little further.

    • Shantae Pelt
      January 30, 2016 at 7:25 AM

      Reiko, work to do indeed. Not just on our own unfortunately, yet on others as well. Trust me when I say I was furious. Yet given the setting, and the way her eyes met mine, I knew I had to be mindful of how I responded. Moreover the implications my response may have had. Kids don’t understand what you mean, they understand what you say. I definitely did my best. Yes, we must stretch their imaginations. What a beautiful way to put it.
      Shantae Pelt would like you to check out…Power Puff Toddler (Kennedy) – $18.00My Profile

  • Simone S. Gray
    January 28, 2016 at 6:51 PM

    This has invoked some serious emotions for me, for so many reasons 1. I use to be a little brown girl and now I am raising a little brown girl (well she’s 18 now). We must continue to BE the example to our kids and if mainstream media doesn’t want to share the spot light with Beautiful Brown Girls then Oh well…… There is so many things I can say but …….
    Keep being a FLY mom and showing your babies the true meaning of Beauty!!!!

  • Chasing Joy
    January 28, 2016 at 9:21 PM

    No kids for me yet (working on it though). When I do have them I’m not going to place any restraints or limits on what they can do or accomplish.
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  • Anitra Durand Allen
    January 28, 2016 at 10:32 PM

    I hate that we even have to have these conversations, but you know there will always be people who hold certain beliefs. While we can’t outlive ideology we can help our Brown Girls recognize and manage the emotions because of it.

    • Christine St.Vil
      January 30, 2016 at 12:55 AM

      I agree Anitra. We can definitely put the focus on what we can do and what we don’t have any control over.

    • Shantae Pelt
      January 30, 2016 at 7:30 AM

      I hate it too Anitra. We are truly a resilient people and have always found amazing ways to not just manage, yet to excel.

  • Kiwi
    January 29, 2016 at 2:54 AM

    No children yet hun but this is a big lesson I will keep with me when I have little girl (s). You would think in 2016 Black girls will be more prevalent in media…but we are still only few and far in between. There are not enough black supermodels and sadly the handful you named span for the last 50 decades…which is sad. We should have more than that by now but it just goes to show you what the media still thinks of us in terms of beauty. Post photos on the wall for her as inspiration anyways she doesnt know because she does see. 🙁
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    • Shantae Pelt
      January 30, 2016 at 7:33 AM

      I thought about that afterwards. Hopefully thought when she’s my age, there will be many more. She cherishes our Ebony issue “Black Model Moment” featuring : Winnie Harlow, Fatima Siad, Diandra Forrest, Marquita Pring, Samantha Archibald, and Milan Dixon. Great suggestion Kiwi. Thanks for reading.

  • Jonna
    January 29, 2016 at 3:44 PM

    I recall having to have some of these talks with my step-daughter. Being the darker skinned or chubby one that was last to catch the boys eye, or at least that’s how she was made to feel. But she’s 19 now and has grown into her own and sees her own beauty for most part.
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    • Shantae Pelt
      January 30, 2016 at 7:35 AM

      I’m happy she was able to realize not only that she is beautiful yet worthy of all she desires. Thank you for sharing Jonna.

  • Rani
    January 30, 2016 at 10:12 AM

    Thank you Shantae for sharing this. Thank you.
    My daughter is 4 and even though she’s in a diverse school, she’s only 1 black girl in her class among 4 other black boys, so it’s not the same.
    Every chance we get, we have her watch movies that show black girls as the Sheroe. Since she was 2 we’ve made sure to incorporate books about black girls (fiction and non-fiction) – Graceful Gabby, Ballerina Dreams (true story of an African ballerina, Michaela DePrince) and Brave Girls Bible Stories.
    It doesn’t every seem to be enough but we keep pressing. I will be getting the Power Puff Baby shirt. Thanks again, Shantae.

  • Bree
    January 30, 2016 at 11:08 AM

    What a tough conversation but such an important one. I really appreciate your comment about the role of colorblindness and how it can be just as problematic. Wishing your girls the moon! They truly can be whatever they want to be.
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  • Camesha | Mama Motivator
    January 30, 2016 at 4:42 PM

    The reference to “peach skin” got me. That’s my kids descriptor as well. It’s interesting navigating these conversations with our kids. I ask them of their dreams and aspirations often and nothing is ever out of reach. So far, no friends or anyone else has tried to tell them what they are capable of. Maybe your daughters friend wasn’t aware of any black supermodels. While it was a hard lesson, look what your daughter gained!
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  • Marcia Shannon 52
    February 4, 2016 at 6:37 AM

    I am so impressed with the fact that her daughter came to her about this issue. This really speaks volumes about their mother/daughter relationship. Many times things can be avoided when our children feel free to open up to their parents. Awesome job on this article and more importantly the positive impact you are having on your daughter’s life.

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  • Emerald
    June 4, 2016 at 12:33 PM

    I love this post! So much so that I bought my daughter a Chloe a Coco Pie tee shirt! Love the message and all our beautiful brown babies! 🙂
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    • Christine St.Vil
      June 5, 2016 at 9:38 PM

      Awww love it! Thank you so much Emerald for supporting CocoPie Clothing and the message Shantae is sharing. So great to “see” you 🙂

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