Beauty. A common goal for women all around the world. In North America, the quest for beauty fosters countless billion dollar industries, careers and books. While beauty is a general conflict faced by women everywhere, beauty poses a unique impossibility to the black female body in western culture.
I’ve had these conversations countless times with my father over the years. During one of our chats last year, he recommended Twilight Zone Episode “Number 12 Looks Just Like You.” In this episode a young girl faces coercion to assimilate into established beauty standards. In the fictive society, upon coming of age, all inhabitants must select from established images of beauty— the face that they’ll wear for the rest of their lives. The protagonist finds solstice in her appearance, not because she finds herself beautiful, but she finds beauty in not being like everyone else. The episode proved quite profound and while creator Charles Beaumont, elicited white actors to convey a message intended for white minds to contemplate—this dynamic bears a direct correspondence to contemporary black aesthetics.
While some have jumped on the natural bandwagon, weaves and wigs remain inappropriately attached to black female aesthetics. Even some natural styles implement artificial strands to compensate for length and/ or thickness. While Twilight Episode, “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” encompasses a fictive dynamic, this proves a reality upon looking at black females on the television, street, schools and workplace. Namely, we live in a world were Malaysian, Indian, or Yaki hair, Mac lipstick and foundation dictates beauty. The most celebrated black females on the red carpet, big and small screens and youtube almost all wear weaves and implement their best contours, to the celebration of predominately black fans.
Even in the case when weaves are not prominent, celebrated hair is often dyed an unnatural color. Amber Rose, although she stated publicly that she does not identify as being a black woman, remains a prevalent figure to black females. While she did not become a beauty icon for long, false locks, she does flaunt an unnatural hair color that has created a style imitated by countless women throughout North America.
Much like our language and names, black beauty if often compromised for American culture. Time has similarly compromised natural black beauties like Phylicia Rashad, Lisa Bonet, Tia and Tamera Mowry, Young Meagan Good, Young Stacy Dash, and Tatyana Ali. Now, we have black women who bear a facade to the world. A facade the western world renders beautiful. From Reality starts with dangling weaves and fully contoured faces, to BET’s Being Mary Jane and HTGAWM’s Annalise Keating who bear their natural looks in juxtaposition to their glamorous image as if to scream to the western world weaves and makeups are necessities not accessories to the black female attractiveness and self-esteem.
Whether spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on weaves, hair dyes, spanks or makeup, the western world fuels capitalism from the constructed ugliness of the black female body. Yet, to the western world, the black woman will never be beautiful. In fact, this constructed beauty works to make white, and other ethnicities feel above the black female body. It’s hard, if not impossible for Indian or Malaysian women to not encompass superior feelings towards any woman who places their strands into their head. Even having their hair fuel a million dollar industry designed to afford the unfortunate the most coveted beauty attribute, is enough to afford these ethnicities a false superiority. However, the purpose of the beauty industry is not to create beauty, but to control beauty. Whether splurging on weaves or pouring paychecks into MAC. the black female body remains a controlled substance summoned by western aesthetics.
I’ll admit that seeing a black woman with a weave sends a chill up my spine and a mixture of anger and disappointment through my heart. For the beauty of the black woman, is what so much of western beauty subtly seeks. From tan skin, to full lips, big legs, thick versatile hair and curvy bodies, the black female is the prototype. Thus, there is no need for the black female body to strive to be anything but what she was born as. Thus, when I see weaves I see defeat. I see a woman who masks her own beauty to be the western world considers beautiful. Perhaps most detrimental, I see the chains of our past replaced with weaves, wigs, hair dye and foundation.
I also resent the celebration surrounding masked black female beauty. Much of what fuels female aesthetics is male interest. Thus, if men praised more natural beauties like Nina Simone, Alek Wek, Tatyana Ali and Phylicia Rashad, or the beautiful women in their own lives, the glamorous look would slowly become obsolete. There isn’t anything beautiful about an insecure woman, and there is nothing beautiful about a black woman who runs from her natural beauty. I think that most men either cannot tell, or do not wish to limit their options. Others subtly validate this behavior because it is convenient. To our detriment, this convenience is all encompassing.
It is quite convenient to run from who you are. It is easier to buy hair if yours is not as long or thick as you’d like. It’s convenient to mask your imperfect skin with foundation, and even more convenient to put on a pair of spanks, or dye your hair. Alternatively, it takes courage to be who you are, unapologetically. It takes courage and confidence to say and believe that you are enough. It takes discipline to drink water and eat right to provide you with enviable skin. To not be bored with yourself, but excited and honored to the be gifted the skin you’re in.
It is hard to be black. Being black and female imposes its own complexities that threaten our self-worth. Yet despite consistent conflict, to be black is to be imperviously and unbelievably beautiful.
Viewing blackness collectively proves a gateway to consistently seeing this beauty. When combing your hair, see the head tie Harriet Tubman wore during her nineteen trips to free those still enslaved. When you look in the mirror, see Dorothy Counts, Rosa Parks, Audre Lord, Assata Shakur, amongst others who stared in the face of white subjugation and said “I am enough.” Our self-love needs to be greater than western efforts to destroy us. We are because they were, so we too are enough.
So, no Number 12- the woman weaved, or dyed haired woman with a face full of the white man’s beauty does not look like you. For the black woman is and always will be number one.
2 Comments Add yours
Great post CC! No one really knows the pain many black women go through when it comes to self loving themselves. Everything in our culture says black is ugly and less than. You touched on quite a it in this post. Thanks for this!
This is an articulate and passionately advocated article. I think you might be over-stating your assertion that “to the western world, the black woman will never be beautiful”. Historically, blackness was omitted from history other than in negative ways. We are in more enlightened times with much remediation of the aesthetics of blackness; the current Oscars crop of Moonligth, Fences, Hidden Figures, Loving, Southside with You, A United Kingdom and others all celebrate blackness in ways not seen before. The beauty industry is a an insidious cancer on self-identity for all races and must adjust to new realities, but it will continue to be the exploiter of shame and fear as it always has. I wonder if you have seen the documentary Embrace (2016) which explores many of your themes?