I am thinking about beauty, about acceptability, about the notion of real women, acceptable women, the impossibility of the ideal woman and the great distraction that happens when we focus so much on what we look like – and how nearly impossible it is in this culture to just look like what you look like, be happy with that because no one is going to judge you for it (but see, already it’s not just a simple matter of being judged for it and then saying I don’t care what other people think about me because what other people think about me can impact where I can live, the work I do, and that impacts my ability to make a living, etc. etc. etc.)
The distractions – when we are so focused on our own stuff, we can’t pay attention to anyone or anything else. We can’t be involved in the real work of caring for each other and the rest of the created order. There are women and girls whose lives are impacted by the choices I make.
(Greenpeace notes: Thanks to the staggering public support for our international Dove campaign in April 2008, Unilever has now agreed to play their part in saving the Paradise Forests of South East Asia. As the biggest single buyer of palm oil in the world, Unilever has a special responsibility to help clean up the industry that’s behind so much forest destruction.)
So it is good to be on guard regarding messages about female perfection. But I was always a little squicked out by the fact that the first message came from a corporation that sells beauty projects. Shouldn’t a response to such an ad be “Yes! I’m going to say no to the messages about what I should look like/smell like/be like and the products and corporations that make try to sell me this stuff! I’m opting out completely!” My guess is that people who have made that decision aren’t buying this stuff anyway.
I don’t want to be the beauty/femininity/humanity police anymore than I want anyone to police me.
The other morning my 17-year-old daughter asked me to French braid her hair. As we sat on the steps I realized I hadn’t done this for a long time. There was a time when I did it every day. When she was small she had a considerable mass of long, thick hair. We struggled over it regularly because of the mass and thickness and yes, the nappiness of it. I tried to never give the idea that there was something “wrong” with her hair. Eventually she decided she wanted to get her hair chemically relaxed, and she continues to. I’ve been down that road… the hot comb (straightening comb, for you old school folks) and the chemical relaxers.
My preference would be for her to wear it natural… but I don’t want to police what she does with her hair and her body. What is the line between preference and self hatred? Is self-hatred birthed in being told you look like a freak?
From the advice column Annie’s Mailbox, September 18:
During my daughter’s last year of high school, she talked about getting dreadlocks. I didn’t want her to graduate looking like a freak and spoil her chances of finding a decent job, not to mention that getting rid of dreads can be nearly impossible.
(Note – I don’t know what racial category this writer and her daughter fit into. The letter is actually about her mother-in-law undermining her authority, and letting the daughter get dreadlocks. I have worn my hair in locks for over ten years now, and I’m happy to say that I don’t look like a freak.)
Some women prefer straight hair. Some women prefer light skin.
It’s a long video – I’ll note some highlights. There are many heartbreaking things going on here – the damage these women are doing to their bodies, the generational hatred of dark skin. Also heartbreaking, though, is the condemnation of these women by the audience members and the show host herself. They never deal with the reality that our society constantly gives the message “white is right.”
At 21:56 Tyra finally talks briefly about living in a racist society. But only for a couple of minutes – then it is quickly back to trashing the guests – even tricking them by having a “doctor” offer phony medical procedures that promise to lighten the skin, although with terrifying side effects. That is horrid. The fake procedures that they describe to the women include burning off the top layer of skin, undergoing a skin transplant – sending skin to Switzerland?
The focus remains on fixing these women, and not on fixing society. Again at 39:05 Tyra mentions society, but again quickly blames the women for having a sickness, an illness. They are crumbling under pressure that other black women don’t cave in to. I’m not a therapist, she says, but there is something else there. She encourages them to do some “self reflection.” I suppose that makes for better TV, but really, in the end, what does it solve?