Archive for August 19th, 2008

This post has been brewing for some time. Renee posted about black beauty yesterday and it made me wonder if I could finish this. Maybe this will end up being a bunch of loosely connected paragraphs, masquerading as a post. At any rate, I have started and deleted, started and deleted. I’ll commit to not deleting and see what happens.

I have a love/hate relationship with magazines, and right now the hate part is stronger than the love. It works out well, because I spend less money on magazines that way. This love/hate relationship extends even to the magazines that are supposed to be about me and the women who look like me. I still subscribe to Essence magazine mostly because I feel an obligation to support a magazine for black women. But oh how it disappoints. Since this is a post about beauty, and blackness, I will stick to that theme.

It is disappointing every month to flip through the pages and see ad after ad, article illustration after illustration, of more black women who come close to approximating the “ideal” woman – light skinned, straight hair, etc. I wanted to page through the latest issue as I was writing this post, but I have already recycled it. I know on the one hand that the magazine is catering to what the market wants, and that the real money that keeps them in business comes from advertising. And much of what they advertise is hair products – and it takes more product to keep black hair bouncing and behaving than to let it be free. So – more straight hair ads – more advertising revenue.

I am conflicted because I don’t want to argue with black women and the choices we make about our hair. I wear my hair happily nappy… but I didn’t always. And never say never… perhaps one day I will go back to pressing my hair but my guess is that I probably won’t. Once I let my hair do what it wanted to do – to roll up into kinks and crimps when faced with moisture, the strands coiling around and around one another until they turned into locks impenetrable by any comb – until then, I didn’t look like myself.

So choices are good. I like that I can wear my hair the way I do and mostly not be regarded as some sort of freak, even though there are frequent reminders that a lot of people really would prefer it if we black women toed the line and beat our hair into submission in order to be … what? Respectable?

Lots of rumination on this theme:


Why do we have this double standard? Why is it what is pretty on those lighter than me, is considered ugly on my dark skin?

Why is ok to have “black” attributes, but not ok to be black?


Women of color and beauty carnival
This Carnival is intended to focus on beauty and what it means to and about women of color. In particular, I would like to see discussion go beyond a focus on the ways in which women of color can internalize self hatred to the ways in which women and communities of color recognize and celebrate beauty.

for real this

The fact that pretty/not pretty play out so often among women is no accident. This is not about adornment ( what makeup you choose, what clothes you wear etc) and it often bothers teh ever living hell out of me every time that lipstick/ non lipstick discussion comes up. It is assumed so often that participating in adornment which can be cultural, religious, ethnic, and powerful., is about pleasing men and means one thing.

In my life , adornment beauty practices are very much about taking care of myself and asserting my right to exist not as a second class citizen.

and certainly this

The more I think about this black women and beauty thing (and this is probably related to my growing older so also having to think about the white norm of beauty but the culture of worship of youth – worshipping their beauty, mind you and not so much youth as persons to be respected and listened to… but that’s another post for another day) the more I think about it the more I realize it’s not really so much about wanting to be thought of as beautiful, or wanting to be desired. It is not wanting the gaze of men which is another part of the whole love/hate relationship with magazines and other media targeting women – they all want me to attract get and keep a man – as if the whole sum of my womanly existence is about … men.

I was riding the bus home the other day. I usually like to sit toward the front, but those seats were taken so I moved to the rear and sat in a row about 3 up from the very back. Across the aisle and one row up were two young white women, high school age, they looked to be. They were coming home from an afternoon at the mall. About one stop after I got on, a white man who looked to be in his late twenties got on the bus, looked around for a place to land and seated himself across the aisle from the two young women. He immediately began to strike up a conversation with them – where were they coming from, what were there names, what school did they go to – all that. All of that with that look in his eye, you know – that gaze. One the one hand, what seemed to be frank appreciation for these young, beautiful women, and on the other, his absolute confidence that they wanted to engage him in conversation. They talked back and forth for a few minutes, him always asking questions and they always answering (and me thinking – you know you don’t have to talk to them, don’t you?) and I was even beginning to think I should intervene because it was starting to feel creepy when the question I knew he’d get around to came: So do you girls have boyfriends? They laughed and one said we don’t go out with boys. That statement was quickly amended to assert they didn’t go out with girls either, … dating wasn’t worth all the drama. Now they talked more and they revealed that one of the girls had gotten pregnant and recently had the baby; the father had walked away. Instantly the man’s body language changed, he turned away from them, his face lost its animation; he just plain wasn’t interested any longer. (An interesting side note, perhaps another topic for another day – the young women insisted several times that they were not “white trash.”)

I’m glad I’m not expected to play those games any longer. I’m glad to go unnoticed in these kinds of situations.

But what I do want recognized is the equal humanity of my body to that of what is thought to be the “norm” – whatever trope we are using for norm – the blond, blue eyed, perky girl next door, the all American boy … whatever it is that is acknowledged as real, as valuable, as worthy of having life… that’s what I want. I want an end to the hyper criminalization and hypersexualization of black bodies. And I know that female bodies of all colors are sexualized – look at those girls on the bus, look at any magazine, tv show, movie, the daggone Olympics and we know that women’s bodies are marked as sexual objects.

But for women of color there is a difference. While white women are certainly imaged as sexual objects, there are other images – among them images of purity, innocence, goodness, the girl next door, etc. As men of color are frequently imaged as animalistic and criminal, women of color are frequently (primarily?) imaged as animalistic and/or hypersexual. The subtext is – if bad things happen to us, it’s our own fault.

If video doesn’t play, click here.

This 1941 cartoon abounds with stereotypes, but I’m particularly interested in the “sexy” washerwoman as she is depicted over and against the other black residents of Lazytown (!). The sexy woman has less pronounced black features… she is lighter skinned, her lips are thinner, she looks more “human.” She is not heavy, like the washer woman she comes in to show how to do her job, and she doesn’t really live there. She is not quite one of them, but she is still black enough to be “other”. But she does not go outside the boundary of the prescribed roles of black women – asexual caretaker or good time floozy.

When I googled the phrase “beautiful black women,” the 8 google ads along the side were the following:

Free Nasty Black Videos

Beautiful Black Women – Meet your Future Black Wife

Watch Black Porn Movies

Big Juicy Ebony Booties

Black Women Seeking Sex

Women Photo Personals

Find Black Women

Beautiful Black Women – White Men Dating Black Women

By the way, white women fared only a little better under the google ad system – under “beautiful white women” there were 3 sidebar ads:

Dirty Cheating Wives

White Women – Meet White Women now

Mature Women

Under the phrase “beautiful women” there was simply one ad:

Are you a hottie?


When the radio talk show host didn’t like Cynthia McKinney’s hair, his comments were “She looks like a ghetto slut”

The markers here regarding her presumed identity are, well, remarkable.

Ghetto. Poor, black, uneducated.
Shiftless, lazy, undeserving of respect.
One who is best left alone.

Slut. Wantonly sexual.
Without morals.
Desirable for one reason only.

This is not about wanting to be admired or desired by random individuals. This is about wanting to live and to have my humanity acknowledged, and the humanity of all people. We are taught in this culture that if you disdain something, you don’t need to let it live. It frightens me to death that in a small Texas town, teachers are allowed to carry guns to school.

I wanted to know what kind of demographics were in the area … because I am suspicious. (Just because you’re paranoid….and all that.) Here’s Wikipedia’s description of the county:

As of the census of 2000, there were 14,676 people, 5,537 households, and 3,748 families residing in the county. The population density was 15 people per square mile (6/km²). There were 6,371 housing units at an average density of 7 per square mile (3/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 78.17% White, 8.86% Black or African American, 0.66% Native American, 0.63% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 9.73% from other races, and 1.91% from two or more races. 20.54% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 5,537 households out of which 32.20% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 53.10% were married couples living together, 10.80% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.30% were non-families. In 2000, there were 136 unmarried partner households: 129 heterosexual, 3 same-sex male, and 2 same-sex female.

My search also landed me on a white supremaci$t site, which I will not link to. There was a discussion about the school district’s decision… where commenters were saying things like:

….if it’s a mostly black school, I can see why they want to be armed.

…maybe the best idea is to have lots of armed security to protect teachers and students from black and brown thugs.

That’s right. If the children look like mine, arm yourselves.

Or… recognize their beauty… their humanity.

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