The Pretty One

Written by: Tariqah Shakir

We’re all familiar with the pretty one — the constant glorification of a slim, able-bodied person across all types of media.

The next hair product, insurance, makeup line and even fast-food commercial will more than likely use them and in the most flattering light possible.

This creates problems for the often-sidelined communities such as minority groups and the disabled, even though they have every right to be flattered and glorified. Keah Brown’s debut book The Pretty One offers an intimate look into the lifestyle and tolerance a Black, female, and disabled person has in the face of a stagnant beauty industry.

And she knows she’s cute, too.

Brown is the creator of #DisabledandCute, which went viral in its reach to disabled communities wanting a platform to express and exalt their beauty standards. Her favorite dessert is cheesecake, sad songs are like dance music, and rockin’ a good lipstick means high-living in her world. Her laugh and smile are her favorite assets, and she adores her own sense of humor.

Beneath those charming layers, however, is also the Brown who endured a long journey in accepting and loving herself. As early as middle school, she realized society was uncomfortable with and pitied her cerebral palsy and that she stood out a lot more than she was at first ready for.

Some people had the gall to walk up to her and offer their prayers and condolences. Talk about closeminded.

“When you don’t have people in the room who have lived through experiences that mirror what you are trying to sell or people who can bring more diverse ideas and experiences to the table to help you see people you may have not seen otherwise, this is the result. Having to ask to be included is exhausting most days,” she writes.

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She admits that, during the hard days and moments, she wished her body were different, but very quickly she falls back in love with the way she was born. To those thinking she needs pity and “condolences,” she says in her Chapter 5 title: “You can’t cure me, I promise it’s fine.”

Her life is fabulous, and she wants only to share it.

She prides herself in writing and being featured in Teen Vogue, ESPNW, Harper’s Bazaar, and Marie Claire UK. She’s been surrounded by the most influential, encouraging, and beautiful people in her life: her twin sister, best friends who share the same love for favorite TV shows and movies; celebrities, songwriters and even former crushes who missed out but taught her about herself.

Also, a part of her fabulous life is life’s downfalls. The reader gets to walk with her in recovering from moments of depression, self-deprivation, and grief. “When we want to hurt ourselves most, we tend to do so with what could’ve been and what should’ve been, who we could be versus who we actually are,” she wrote.

“When we are vulnerable, I believe that we are our truest selves. Emotion is all about vulnerability, and that is why, in the cheesiest sense, it is so beautiful. What an honor it is to have people you can be your truest and most open self with, as well as to have the ability to be that person for yourself, to recognize that no matter what hurts or who hurts you, you deserve healing, you deserve a life that you can enjoy and be comfortable in.”

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What does Brown’s example say to the rest of us? “Kindly mind your business and have fun!” is what she told me, and I applaud that message. As for the beauty industry and its molasses-like pace at inclusivity, Brown is ahead of the game.

She knows how fabulous her outfit is, how awesome her hair looks, and how cute her smile is because she put her all into making it work. If others did the same, the beauty and fashion industry couldn’t set the standard.

Before the media thought Black hair was hot, we rocked curls, twists, braids, Afros, and thousands of other hairstyles with our beautiful hair. Before Black skin was considered beautiful, we had been beautiful for centuries. It’s the fashion and beauty industry that needs to follow along.

Brown is an example of what a trailblazer is despite the odds society dishes out. She doesn’t try to hide her disability or prove anyone how “able” she can be; rather, she embraces and does all she loves with it while looking cute. It wasn’t easy getting there, she says, but it was damned sure worth it.

And people realizing her value and following along is none of her concern. “Either way, it is time for the fashion and beauty industries to catch up — or get left in the dust.”

Keah’s book is available on Amazon or wherever books are sold.