One of the last times I spoke with Alicia Williams was on April 7.
She had emailed me about a story idea involving the Talladega school system. Even though she was no longer a teacher in Talladega, she still cared about what happened in the school system.
I assured her that we’d look into the issue, and she replied with surprise that I had responded to her on a Sunday afternoon.
I told her I hoped she was well.
“I am ... thanks!” she said.
And that was it.
Williams, 45, died exactly two months later on June 7 in the Dominican Republic. Her services were set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church in Birmingham.
Williams was a teacher at Talladega High School until 2015 and had most recently taught English at Huffman High in Birmingham.
We weren’t close friends — more like professional associates — certainly not as close as Monte Abner, the newly appointed principal of McAdory Middle School in Jefferson County. He described her in a Facebook post as “more than a co-worker and friend, but a sister.”
But I do consider her death to be a tragedy on several levels, not the least of which are the circumstances around it. Williams had traveled to the Dominican Republic for a cosmetic surgery called a Brazilian butt lift, her sister, Stacy Thomas, revealed in a television interview about the death. Three days after the procedure, Williams was dehydrated and anemic. On the fourth day, she died.
In our American culture, and in today’s society in general, we are bombarded with songs and movies and magazines and commercials and video games and even cartoons that present an image of women reduced to little more than their body parts.
Beauty by today’s standards has been so narrowly defined that many women believe that — short of drastic measures — it’s something they’ll never have.
For some reason, despite her flawless cocoa complexion, deep dimples, silky hair and striking eyes, Williams believed she fell short of society’s standard of beauty, at least in one category.
My wife works hard to exercise and stay in shape, worried that she doesn’t fit that narrow cookie-cutter definition of a woman’s ideal body. I make it a point to tell her often how beautiful she is, inside and out. I never want her to think there’s anything less than beautiful about any part of her. There’s nothing missing that will be found under a surgeon’s knife.
For any woman who reads this, a man who doesn’t appreciate your natural beauty is not worthy of your time.
This isn’t to say that a woman should never wear make up or get hair extensions or acrylic nails or work to get in shape and keep her body toned. But having major surgery in pursuit of what culture says is the ideal shape or look, is to deny that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
If a woman as attractive as Alicia Williams can feel pressured by cultural images to go under the knife, then imagine the pressure some women or young girls might feel for being slightly overweight or having some other perceived flaw.
And it’s not just women. Although to a lesser degree, men also feel pressured to fit into culture’s mold of what it means to be an attractive man. Plastic surgery to enhance pectoral muscles, calf muscles and other body parts is a billion-dollar industry.
But it’s an industry that’s not without its own flaws.
A report in Friday’s Daily Home revealed that several other plastic surgery-related deaths have occurred in the Dominican Republic since 2015. A gynecologist who’s not licensed to perform plastic surgery performed the procedure on a New York City woman who died earlier this month. It was not clear whether Williams had been treated at the same clinic or by the same doctors as those other patients.
Despite the curvaceous images of cleavage and butts on the TV screens and the magazine pages, understand that God did not make a mistake when he made you.
Beauty is not something solely external to be chased; it is something uniquely internal to be released.
Anthony Cook is the executive editor of Consolidated Publishing. 256-235-3540. firstname.lastname@example.org.