Monday, August 18, 2008

Black Women Can Be Beautiful To

I have written and deleted this post several times. Confronting beauty as a black woman is a difficult thing to do.  As much as I hate to admit it, beauty is a source of power for women and to be deemed unattractive makes one feel unfeminine and less than. It is definitely a truth that true beauty comes from within, but our first reaction to someone is their appearance and it is only in time that we get to know who they are as a person.  When we judge based in physical appearance alone we close ourselves off to many wonderful people.

Very little in society affirms black as beautiful.  As young girls growing up this lack of representation can be damaging.  Where ever we look we are told that beautiful womanhood is white, with long flowing hair, and thus learning to love and accept yourself can be a Herculean task.  At times it feels easier to give in and internalize the negativity, but this is ultimately self destructive.  So we swallow the pain and hold our head up against the wind trying to define and create a standard of beauty that is not Eurocentric, a beauty that makes room for our darker complexions, curly hair (I won't use the word nappy), and fuller lips and hips. 

Some women never reach the point where they can tune out the negativity image associated with blackness.  Some women wear permanent scars from attempting to become something they can never be - white.  In Uganda skin bleaching is all the rage.  Women slather themselves with creams  that they believe will lighten their skin, but it ultimately leaves them horribly disfigured.  According the WIP, "Consumers of bleaching cosmetics claim that they want to enhance their beauty. One woman who declined to be named, explains, “One has to look good, by having fair, lighter skin.”

What does looking good mean in a world where white equals beautiful and purity?  It means that black women become the eternal other.  Authenticating blackness as beautiful becomes something that whites do to prove how enlightened and advanced they are.  Whether it is the attention that is paid to Blacks during black history month, or the recent issue of an all black Italian Vogue, such temporary and fleeting representation only goes to remind us of exactly how disposable our bodies are.  Yes, here is one magazine out of the thousands that are printed world wide, dedicated to the idea that black women can be beautiful too, why aren't we satisfied? 

That is exactly the problem with this issue, black women can be beautiful too instead of black women are beautiful. The black women can be beautiful too comes with hueism which eliminates darker skinned women.  How many times are light skinned stars held up as an example of inclusiveness, and beauty, completely ignoring the fact that blackness comes in various shades.  This diversity of colour exists today from the legacy of the rape of our foremothers, and yet this is what we are to understand as beautiful?  It is time for a revolution, it is time for the field slave to mount the steps of glory and find herself not only only welcome but desired.  No longer should we pose the question ain't I a woman, instead we need to demand that we are recognized as women.


8 comments:

harrietsdaughter said...

Renee - I have had a post in drafts for nearly 2 weeks now on this subject - black women and beauty. I understand why you started and deleted several times. But thank you for posting this. Maybe I'll get mine done sometime this week... maybe it will just need to wait a little bit longer. But I'm feeling you on this.

One thing, though - I do use the word nappy. I have claimed it for myself and I kinda like it.

akili-ni-mali said...

beautiful post. absolutely beautiful. It's funny because I was discussing this exact subject with a couple of people today and the fact that the "lighter is better" notion stems from the slavery and colonial legacies. I think you summed it up very well though. Black IS beautiful!

Lisa Harney said...

Yes, here is one magazine out of the thousands that are printed world wide, dedicated to the idea that black women can be beautiful too, why aren't we satisfied?

At the risk of looking like I'm trying to sound like I'm an enlightened white person, it really amazes me how much people with privilege don't get that the whole world caters to their privilege, and that giving more attention to people without that privilege is not any kind of special treatment. Often, it just turns out to be patronizing and continues to highlight the privileged standard.

Yeah, I've been thinking about this a lot ever since Isis's participation on America's Next Top Model was announced.

zyzz said...

"Beautiful too" reminds me of those magazines that put out an occasional issue to celebrate healthy sized women or bbws. If they really thought we were just as good looking as tan twigs, they wouldn't need to make such a big deal out of it. They'd just mix us all up in the same issues without using fatness and blackness as a publicity stunt. (Us being women, I mean -- I could be considered "fat" by some but I'm as black as marshmallow fluff.)

Octogalore said...

I'm glad you didn't delete the post. Yes, I'm sick of the "white girls dipped in tea" phenomenon of most of the black women chosen as models, although there are the occasional welcome exceptions like Wek. You're right, though, the fact that women like her are "exceptions" is part of the problem right there.

My sister has had a similar comment when she gets upset that when people want to compliment her, they tell her she looks like Lucy Liu. When in fact she looks nothing like her, but the idea of comparing her to the one Asian actress they can think of strikes people as irresistible.

Daisy said...

You're right, of course, but what about those paradoxes, the major one being TANNING, something I can't achieve but have been harangued about all my life: GO OUT IN THE SUN AND GET SOME COLOR!!!!! I mean, the tanning industry is huge. I don't know a single white woman who AT SOME POINT has not punished her skin by trying to attain an unnatural tan, either by laying out for hours in the sun or going to a tanning salon.

I don't get that, never have. Whiteness is prized, but tanning is also. Extreme pallor in which one's blue veins are showing through and every pink/orange scar is in stark relief, is NOT attractive, and isn't really considered attractive. Hosiery is always a darker shade than the white woman wearing them.

I think this effects even men... Earlier this month, I wrote about how Johnny Winter was cut out of the WOODSTOCK movie, for being TOO WHITE (albino) and therefore considered unattractive.

What do yall think? Why this weird contradiction in beauty standards?

nia said...

@Daisy,
I don't think the act of white women tanning should in any way be perceived as an attempt to mimic or admire black skin. Tanning is done simply because having a "glow" to the skin is considered by many to be a sign of health, desirability and even wealth in some cases.
The same with putting collagen in the lips - it is done simply because in Western culture fuller lips are considered more sexual and desirable. White women don't get collagen to try and look "more black."

Jacqueline said...
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