In a comprehensive list that touches on the relentless insults — both blatant and subtle — that many black women face on their daily beauty journeys, Gradient Lair makes it very clear that conforming to standards of Eurocentric beauty is so 2012. Tackling everything from patriarchy to weight bigotry, the list seems to have it all:
1) Stop calling our natural hair ugly.
2) Stop approaching our natural hair with a hierarchy that reinforces colourism.
3) Stop using placement in the natural hair community to bully Black women who may still have relaxed hair or weaves.
4) Stop saying “she’s pretty…for a dark-skinned woman.”
5) Stop saying “she’s pretty…for a big/fat woman.”
6) Stop implying that any biracial women who identify as Black or any light skinned Black women are the only ones that are attractive, and stop acting like any Black woman who deviates from this appearance should be “lucky” to have a man, regardless of how utterly lousy that man might be. Love is not something to be rationed out like a commodity only for those who are closest to appearing White.
7) Stop saying “you’re too pretty to be single.”
While this entire list is excellent, what stands out the most to me are numbers two, four and six. These three points speak to the juxtaposition of beauty, race and colorism that is just as indicative of how black women are viewed by society at-large as it is about how we view ourselves in context of that society.
More than any other ethnic group, there are exhaustive marketing efforts to guilt-trip us into being more black, more white, less fat, more curvy. We are told to be stronger, yet more submissive, independent, but more vulnerable. All of society’s norms and mores pertaining to assimilation, kyriarchy, colorism — and even feminine competition — are tossed into a gumbo of instructions that are deemed to be in our collective best interests; when, in fact, it’s merely a reflection of a society trying to find its racial and gender equilibrium– at our expense. So, here we are, positioned as guinea pigs in a maze trying our damnedest to conform to standards of beauty and femininity that morph with each tic-toc of the clock — and make sure we don’t forget to “look black” while doing it.
At the top of the year, I penned a piece titled, “Evolution: 5 Things Women Should Embrace In 2013.” And number 5 on that list reads as follows:
5. Ignore Media/Studies
If we are to believe the avalanche of negative studies and media coverage, then black women are overweight, unlovable, narcissistic, multiple baby daddy, baby having nymphos who can’t get a job or keep a man, because we’re too busy being independent and angry.
Black women are not science projects or social experiments. We know that we are not a monolith and we are not the bottom-feeders in the feminine ocean. We will continue to hold our heads high, embracing sisterhood, service and success.
If you will, pay special note to “Black women are not science projects or social experiments.”
We are not — or rather we shouldn’t be — the blank canvas upon which society doodles it’s perceptions of beauty, scribbles it’s asinine, flawed expectations of womanhood, nor traces figures of racial homogeneity.
More importantly, we should not be made to feel that our expressions of beauty are irrevocably linked to our race and ethnicity.
With that said, I’d like to add a few more items to this already amazing list:
1.) If some black women want to relax their hair, maybe it’s because they simply like the manageability of straight hair. It doesn’t mean they want to be white any more than it means white women who get perms want to be Puerto Rican.
Stop saying that.
2.) If some black women rock a weave, maybe they simply like versatility. It doesn’t mean they want to be white any more than Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton wearing extensions down their backs mean that they want to be horses.
Stop saying that.
3.) If some black women color their hair blonde, maybe it’s because it compliments their complexions or it pays homage to the Solomon Islands.
It doesn’t mean that they want to be white any more than white women coloring their hair black means that they want to be, well, black.
Stop saying that.
4.) If a black woman happens to have come out of the womb with light-skin and straight hair, maybe, just maybe she’s not automatically the enemy benefiting from colorist privilege (and subsequently treated as one rung beneath a white supremacist) any more than another black woman, who happens to have been born with dark-skin and kinky hair, is automatically destined to always be pretty — “for a dark-skinned girl” — and one Molotov cocktail away from joining the Black Panther Party.
Stop saying that.
The bottom line is that black women in this country have the added burden of proving racial pride, authenticity and solidarity through our beauty choices, and that is a burden that we should reject. Just as we embrace individuality and autonomy in other aspects of our lives, that is how we should approach beauty.
There may be underlying feelings and perceptions of inferiority and superiority in some women, but I guarantee that it manifests itself in ways that are much more incriminating and/or validating than a teeny-weeny fro or a bottle of Revlon 71. And it’s past time we move beyond this entrenched house negro/field negro dichotomy and get on with the important business of being sisters.
***To paraphrase ATL’s finest, Outkast, every sista with dreads ain’t for the cause, and every sista with weave ain’t for the fall. So don’t get caught up in appearances, there’s more than one way to live the Black Experience***