Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Sexist Black Women Alive

Hello readers, TV1 has decided to put together a list of what it deems to be the sexiest black women alive.  Check it out:  Halle Berry, Gabrielle Union, Beyonce, Naomi Campbell, Rihanna, Paula Patton, Lauren London, Angela Bassett, Iman, Vanessa Williams, Janet Jackson, Jada Pinkett Smith, Alicia Keys, Tyra Banks, Beverly Johnson,  and Alek Wek.

Why would I find the assemblage of such a list offensive? It is meant to celebrate black women right, nothing but positive to see here...that would be a resounding no.  The list suffers from two major faults.  It falls prey to hueism, and fatphobia. Take a look through the pictures of these women, and you will see clearly what I mean.

The majority of the women on this list are light skinned women.  What this tells those of us that are of a darker hue, is that somehow we do not count as women.  We are less than, once again the anti-woman.  I am not saying that light skinned sisters are not beautiful, I have a problem with the fact that they are commonly used as a representative of ALL black women.  We come in many different shades, and to point to one as particularly more beautiful than another, is to reinforce a hierarchy based in skin tone.  This is not a sign of loving ourselves, rather it is the internalization of black hate.  The cruelty of slavery has left us with this terrible legacy. 

The light skinned woman as prize comes from our desire to achieve the appearance of whiteness.  That this skin tone was achieved from a legacy of the rape of black women is over looked, in our desire to achieve whiteness.  In our efforts to achieve whiteness, blacks have attempted to bleach our skin, relax our hair, and in some extreme cases submitted to surgery to achieve Caucasian features.   It is time to look beyond the whiteness is good metaphor to begin loving ourselves as we are.  Whiteness cannot be achieved through artifice, and therefore to continually promote it as a symbol of beauty is a futile struggle. 

Beyond the whiteness as good metaphor, our inability to embrace blackness leads to social underachievement.  This skin caste system encourages a cultural low self esteem whereby blacks continue to under perform.  Yes daily we must confront racism and the limitations that it places upon us, but internalization manifests a sedentary approach that is counter to our success as a people.  If we do not believe that we are worthy of more, we will not attempt to be more.

The other model that is clearly representative in the list is, skinny is good.  Nowhere on the list will you find a woman that is fat.  This is not an accidental omission.  Our society daily 'others' people that are considered 'over weight'.  To have a list of women that are meant to represent what is sexy, and not include a single woman that is fat tells us that our bodies are unlovable.  Omission is meant to erase our existence, to shame us through invisibility.  It is also an attempt to discipline the bodies of women.  Anytime we set an appearance standard, what we are doing is telling women that to count, to be considered of any value, you must fall within a certain range. A failure to have the body conform, is thus a failure to be feminine.  The desire to be considered 'woman' as is socially constructed by the media has harmful effects on women.  Is it any wonder that the plague of bulimia, and anorexia continue to daily be an issue, when everyday we reinforce an unrealistic body ideal as desirable?

I am sure that the list maker at TV1 meant this list to be a positive, however due to omission or unbalanced representation, what it has done is act as an agent of discipline.  This list is something that we as black women should not celebrate, as it once again tells us who matters in this society.  To truly elevate us, and validate our worth, it needs be recognized that black women come in all different sizes, and hues.  No one caste is more attractive than another.  This kind of hierarchal assignment of value needs to cease, as it is harmful to our self esteem as a people. All black women are beautiful.


12 comments:

Sandalstraps said...

I'm not sure that any list of the sexiest back women would be very good, because no matter what else, it would still be hailing black women principally as sex symbols. That's something that even (and especially) the most virulent racists have been more than willing to do.

As a friend of mine, a light skinned black woman, said to me recently, the tone of her skin is complicated, the lightness, the whiteness in it - a source of acceptance, a mark of socially appreciated beauty - got there principally through rape. White men have been more than willing to exploit black women sexually, even while denying their basic humanity.

So that's one complicated factor. Black women being accepted and approved of for their sex-appeal. The appeal of lightness connected with this, as you rightly note, is another problem.

To that end, if we must have such a nonsensical list, why not put Michele Obama on it? She's clearly a beautiful woman. And she's clearly a brilliant person, proud of her dark skin.

I also agree with your point on weight. In other cultures a little bit of fat - far from being an unappealing trait - enhanced one's sexual standing. I still remember seeing in a high school art class an early sculpture - one of the first overt works of art found in human history - of a woman nearly as round as she is tall. While such dimensions would, of course, be no less physically unhealthy than today's Barbie model - anorexic waist with surgically augmented, anti-gravity breasts, it does help us understand sex appeal in a different way. Just as today's airbrushed models are an idealized image of female sexuality, depicted by men for male sexual gratification, that sculpture of a cartoonishly fat woman was also most likely a male sexual fantasy, depicting the hypothetical "ideal" beauty.

"Sexy" is subjective. To impose on women an image of starved as sexy is no less abuse than bound feet as a sexual ideal in ancient China.

In other words, this whole cashing out of "sexy" is harmful, but you're right, if it must be done, a diversity of images of women should be represented, including dark-skinned women, and more (to put it delicately) "curvy" women.

I would add to this that smart and outspoken should also be represented as sexy. And that nothing is more sexy than "affirmed" and "happy."

Duane said...

I am afraid I am going to have to disagree with you here again. This list is fairly diverse in terms of skin tone. In fact with the Exception of Alica Keys and Rihanna I wouldn't really classify anyone on that list as "light skinned". As for the person asking for Michele Obama I would say that Alek Wek, Gabrielle Union, and Naomi Campbell are all on the list and are all probably darker than Michele Obama.

As for request for differnt sizes of women. Exactly how big do you want the women on this list to be? Alek Wek and Naomi Campbell are the only ones on the list who I would really call skinny. Everyone else is probably between a size 6 and a 14. Which is a fairly wide range in my opinion. Take a good look at the hips on Beyonce, Alica Keys, or even Tyra Banks. These are not super skinny women by any means.

If you hate the concept of this list in general than that's fine. But overall i think this is about as reasonable as you can expect. It does represent different shades and sizes.

Danny said...

I'm not sure that any list of the sexiest back women would be very good, because no matter what else, it would still be hailing black women principally as sex symbols.

True. No one should be objectified like that.

And on the issue of size I'm really suprised Queen Latifah is not on there.

Renee said...

@Danny to put the Queen on the list would be to admit that women who are not skinny or considered thin are beautiful and that simply cannot happen.

Renee said...

@Duane Akec Wec is a dark skinned sister the rest are clearly much lighter than she is, so much for your considerations as to light skinned women.

As to your size issue claiming that the women are portrayed up to size 14 means that women over that size are not beautiful.

Duane said...

"@Duane Akec Wec is a dark skinned sister the rest are clearly much lighter than she is, so much for your considerations as to light skinned women."

So is that the criteria now? Anyone lighter than Alec Wec is considered light skin? Are you kidding me? Are you looking at Gabrielle Union and Naomi Campbell and classifying them as light skinned, the same as say Rhianna.

As for the plus size part... I give up. I don't think you would be happy unless half the less was well over 300 pounds. Exactly who on this list should be bumped off in favor of a plus sized model.

As for Latifah, this is not a list of the most talented women it is a list of the most beautiful. Her not being on this list doesn't mean she is not attractive but i don't see anyone who can be bumped off this list and replaced by her.

Renee said...

@ DUane no Alec is an example of a dark skinned woman. I am saying that there are not many women on the list that are even close to her skin tone.
Of course you don't see anyone that could be bumped off in favor of the queen as you have already established that your concept of beauty stops at size 14.

Danny said...

@Danny to put the Queen on the list would be to admit that women who are not skinny or considered thin are beautiful and that simply cannot happen.

And that is why I wonder who is really the brains behind all these lists. Most of poeple (of various races) I've come across in my day think that Latifah is an attractive woman.

As for Latifah, this is not a list of the most talented women it is a list of the most beautiful. Her not being on this list doesn't mean she is not attractive but i don't see anyone who can be bumped off this list and replaced by her.

I respect your opinion but I do see a few on that list I would replace with her.

E-Visible Woman said...

I am really grateful to have come across the term 'hueism'!

The far greater acceptance that lighter skinned black people get from white society has been clear to me for a long time - I've never seen anyone name it before. Thank you.

I await the day when a woman with skin as dark (or darker) than Alek Wek can get a leading role in a mainstream movie, let alone an Oscar...

What better way to an ensure an oppressed group never rise up, than to ensure they are constantly at war with themselves?

No wonder no one has time to fight for change in society - we're too busy fighting ourselves.

DiosaNegra1967 said...

sexiest black women? 'scuse me, but at the rate we're being killed, maimed, gone missing, raped and the like....would i be remiss in thinking that TVOne would focus on that instead?

silly me....to actually entertain the idea that a station for the black community would actually focus its' attention on these matters....after all, black women are only good if they're "sexy"....

Renee said...

@Diosa the assembling of this list is problematic to begin with, I agree with you on that.

professorwhatif said...

Renee,
Great post.

I also noticed the pervasiveness of straight hair in the images. Like I noted in my post about the top model paradigm on which you commented, this competitive approach to beauty is problematic even as it tries to be 'inclusive' or 'empowering.'

And too true about the skinny imperative--where are Missy E, Queen L, MoNique, Jennifer Hudson, etc...

This 'sexiest black woman list' is no better than the beauty contests trying to be 'inclusive' of disabled women and women over 35 if you ask me -- like these shows, the list perpetuates certain beauty norms that render those who 'don't fit' invisible.

For any of you all interested in the post on these two new 'top model' type shows, you can see it here.

And I am in complete agreement with the last two comments that the construction of the list is problematic in the first place when there is so much murder, rape, genocide of black women happening globally why focus on a damn beauty list?