About-Face: Taylor Dunlap
Last year, we started hosting candid conversations with black women in our community, through which we explored their relationships with their bodies and the experiences that have shaped their perceptions of beauty and self. In this excerpt from our conversation, Taylor Dunlap shares lessons on beauty through the lens of becoming a mother:
You have a younger sister. Did you two grow up with different experiences surrounding beauty?
Oh yeah, definitely. So a lot of people, when they meet my sister, they’re like “Oh my God you guys are like twins, except she’s your dark-skinned twin.” For my sister, that was really hard. People would say [to her] “Oh you’re so pretty, but your sister … she’s gorgeous.” When I look back, there was a lot of animosity. Guys that she was interested in would have this really big crush on me. That did a lot to her self-esteem growing up. At that time, I didn’t have language for colorism.
How has that affected the way that you’re raising [your daughter] Harmony?
People always ask me, “How did you get blessed with Harmony?” I prayed for a brown-skinned baby. I’ve always wanted my children to reflect God, not just my genes. I just want them all to look different. With Harmony, I want to be very hands-on with how she views herself. Even as young as—this is going to make me so emotional—but, from as young as she was willing to look in the mirror, I would always look at her and smile and say “Oh my gosh, look at that beautiful girl.” She would just smile back, and I’d say “Yeah—that’s you.” Now, when I get her out of the bathtub she immediately looks into the mirror, and she smiles. And that makes me so happy. Because it’s already in her mind. Her fearlessness to look into the mirror is so moving. I want to make sure that is a continued practice for her. I also want her to be able to have people that look different from her, and to learn to value them, to see their beauty, and not struggle with comparing herself to them.
And what I realized is that, she has to see me be able to value others and still accept my beauty. In the past, I’ve had a lot of issues with envy and comparison and jealousy, and I have vowed to God that—listen, whatever journey we have to go on in this healing process has to happen because [Harmony’s] not going to do what I say, she’s going to do what I do. I want to fearlessly be able to value others while still valuing myself. Without becoming small.
What are some pivotal moments or defining truths that have changed or are changing the way you see yourself?
After having Harmony, I got stretch marks. And before pregnancy, I was in a 34C cup. Now I’m a 34D. That was a big adjustment. But my stretch-marks have just really done a work for me. Unfortunately, I haven’t been to the gym to fix them (laughs). But at first, it was just so much skin. I was just like “Oh my gosh. Is this how my body is going to look for the rest of my life?” It just feels like lines everywhere—on my arms, on my legs, on my stomach, on my breast. They’re just everywhere. And I did everything to not have stretch-marks—because that was what I was afraid of the most while I was pregnant. Every day, I would put coconut oil on my belly, on my behind, on my legs, and … really what happened was, I had pre-eclampsia. I gained sixty pounds. Like [snaps] that. So the hypertension caused fluid build up and it was all water.
When I delivered Harmony, I was 189 pounds. I didn’t come out of the house at that time. That weight really depressed me. I didn’t want to be anywhere. I had no calves, I had straight legs into feet. It looked like I had UGG’s on! (laughs) ... It was so bad. And then, being married, it’s like I don’t even feel beautiful. What is this kid doing to my body? I did not have the perfect pregnancy. I thought I was just going to have the cute, little belly ... Nuh-uh. That didn’t happen. And I felt so bad.
And postpartum was rough. Postpartum, the stretch marks, my hair falling out—Jesus. I remember looking in the mirror and just crying. And [my husband] looked at me as I was looking at myself in the mirror and he said, “You just carried my baby. That’s what happened. And it’s ok. And you’re still beautiful, you’re still who you are, and I still love you.”
“These stretch marks are like a memorial stone of when Harmony came into the world. The day that woman became mother.”
Although I have a love-hate relationship with my stretch marks, I don’t look at them in disgust anymore. It’s like, man Harmony, you really did a number on my body. But it’s almost like the Jacob-to-Israel story: Israel became new, but he had a limp. And he’s always going to remember that moment with God where he wrestled into the day. These stretch marks are like a memorial stone of when Harmony came into the world. The day that woman became mother. And that transition is a beautiful, indescribable one. There’s no language for it, until you really experience it you can’t really communicate it. But your stretch marks show what your words can’t.
How has your image evolved throughout the years, perhaps as a reflection of where you were in regards to self-esteem, your relationships, or your health at the time?
God showed me how unhappy I was with myself through pregnancy … how unhappy I was with my own beauty. I was really self-centered during that time and a lot of impurities were just coming up to the surface. I realized, I only think I’m beautiful when ‘fill in the blank.’ That was a part of the reason why I cut my hair off. Everybody asks me if I cut it because my hair was damaged, or something. I tell them, no, my hair was fine. Actually, it was flourishing. I just was tired of pretending. And it was time for me to really go on that journey and re-invent myself. To really enjoy me, and all of my features. I was like, I have to do this journey for me. Let’s do something different. And in the doing different, I actually have even decided that certain beauty regiments that I usually did … like do I really need the blocky eyebrows? No, I don’t. Lashes, I love them—but I need to make sure that I can do without them.
So now, I’m more conscious of whether I’m doing something because I feel that I need it, or because this is the way I want to express myself in my beauty. Is this to enhance my beauty for a moment, or is this a lifetime thing? And anything that is lifetime or permanent, should be considered with God.
To learn more about this project or read our other interviews, click here. Then, join the conversation! Use the hashtags #aboutfaceproject and #blackgirlmiracle to share your own stories of beauty and becoming with us.