Black Business Spotlight: Nude Barre

A medley of personal style and professional aspiration, stockings, tights, or hoisery- are a part of my daily life. However, despite its essential status to my lifestyle, the cost is often overwhelming to my meager earnings. This cost, while personal harmful, was also an expense outside black economics– marking its true detriment. This detriment finds its remedy in black-owned hosiery company  Nude Barre.  nude-barre-crystallized-fishnet-tights

Launched by dancer turned businessman Erin Carpenter, NudeBarre enables the darker-skinned woman to enter the “nude” conversation. Donned by celebrities from Wendy Williams to Tyra Banks, Carpenter cures the conflict faced by black women from all walks of life in finding their hosiery hue. Plagued with the decision to don a lighter shade at the exchange for an “ashy” look or the too-dark shade that borderlines blackface  Nude Barre specifically speaks to the brown girl’s experience. The brown woman bears a unique experience to colorism as her central placement on the color spectrum bears an often understated correspondence to colorism. Not bound to the extremes of “light” or “dark” the “brown” woman, in her shade diversity, is often omitted from the categories of color that commonly compartmentalize blackness.   nudebarreshades.png

Nude Barre, has 16 shades that brilliantly capture every shade. In capturing 16 shades, Nude Barre emerges as inclusive to every lifestyle previously abandoned in the exclusivity of a white-dominated society.  Nude Barre hosiery also has a spandex component that makes the tights both comfortable and non-restrictive. The hosiery also comes in a variety of styles for children and adults: opaque, crystallized and fishnet. My picks are the opaque and fishnet. The opaque issues a sheer look that is both sexy and sophisticated. The fishnet stockings are a classy take on the typically risqué fashion. The fishnet stockings, being couture to color, offer a sheer look that appears transparent to the casual onlooker. The sheer look makes the fishnets, in addition to the opaque, perfect for both work and play.

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While Nude Barre is certainly a great product, its greatness is largely a product of its creation. Made for black women by a black woman, Nude Barre offers fashion and culture. Nude Barre as a company epitomizes the beauty in blackness by demonstrating not a need for inclusion in history, but a means to write our own.

***I was not paid or asked to write this review. My efforts are sincerely a product of my belief in the product and wish to uphold black femininity.

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How OWN’s Light Girls Didn’t Lighten the Matter of Colorism in the Black Community

OWN’s Dark Girls emerged as a bold attempt to enlighten contemporary society about the unwavering presence of colorism. The vision displayed great effort and care in representing the dynamic of having dark skin.  Light Girls surfaced as an effort to continue the conversation of color in the black community. While both documentaries seem rooted in good intention, they are proof that the best intentions often go astray.

Reversion: Components of the documentary that took us two steps backwards…

Demonizing “dark girls”

Perhaps what stood out most about the documentary was the overt demonizing of darker skinned women. Now, I am purposefully careful not to alleviate the fairer skin woman from a degree of victimhood, as I do believe that she is a victim to a certain extent. However, crafting fairer skinned black women as a victim at the expense of those of a darker hue hurts not helps the issue of colorism. dg

The depiction of fairer skinned black women as victims is undermined as the provided anecdotes paint victims as color elitists. The anecdotes of self proclaimed fair skinned black women, recount violent experiences with those referred to “black girls.” One woman even referred to her offender as “black with short hair” while she referred to herself as “ light with pretty sandy brown hair.” The description reeked of condescension, implying a nasty reality of aesthetic superiority by fair skinned black women to her more sun kissed counterpart. Thus, what is intended to portray the bullying of the fair skinned woman, actually depicts fair skinned black women as the bully.

The main issue with the documentary’s depiction of victimhood is that they deflect from the true victimhood of the black community. The anecdotes of the fairer skinned black woman imply a personal nature to political practices. The whole “thinking your cute” phrase that is tirelessly tossed around throughout this documentary is a performance of internalized inferioberity. The offenders aren’t violent against a specific girl’s beauty, but the politics that make this girl beauty in the same image of a darker girl’s ugliness.

This light skin/ dark skin dynamic is perhaps best depicted in Toni Morrison’s first novel The Bluest Eye. This novel delivers the unforgettable scene between characters Frieda, Claudia and Maureen. With fair skin, long hair and a polished appearance, Maureen is adored by everyone at school. On the surface, Frieda and Claudia hate Maureen because everyone loves her, but really because she is everything they are not. In the heat of an exchange, Maureen declares her own cuteness while denouncing their beauty of classmates Frieda and Claudia, calling them “black and ugly.”

In two pages Morrison depicts the very anecdotes conveyed by the fair skinned black women of the Light Girls Documentary. For it wasn’t Maureen that the girls hate or even resent for making that comment, but the society that makes the Maureen’s of the world desirable in the image of their undesirability.

LSLH: Light Skin Long Hair

Another issue with this documentary is the implication that lighter skin is synonymous with long hair. Comparatively, the Dark Girls documentary implied that darker skin is synonymous with kinky or short hair. These portrayals substantiate not alleviate the stereotypes of each group. 

Absence of child perspective

The inclusion of a child’s perspective plays a pivotal component of each documentary. However, the drastic difference in portrayal, is cause for concern.

In the Dark Girls documentary, a young girl was presented with sketches of five girls, each of a different hue. The child was then asked “who was the cute/smart/dumb/ugly child?” The child effortlessly attributed lighter skin to being cute and smart. Contrastly, the darkest shade was attributed to being ugly and dumb. This depiction, while painful, captured the early states of internalized self-hatred.

Interestingly, the Light Girl documentary omits the fairer skin perspective of this same experiment. While the spectrum test is omitted, the documentary does include the input of a child. With honey blonde hair and green eyes, a child of no more than six or seven sings “this little light of mine” after speaking about the value of inner beauty. While it is certainly refreshing to see a child with such maturity and perspective, it would have been even more powerful to see this perspective in the same experiment featured in Dark Girls.

The absence of this color-attribute test from the Light Girls documentary, reveals an anxiety with representing issues of colorism as a shared perspective of black women regardless of skin color.

How would a fair skinned child’s correlation between superiority to those who look similar to themselves, juxtapose with their sun kissed’s proclamation of the same truth? The answer is simple, it would align black women as bearers of the same harsh internalized fallacy.  

It seems as if producers tried very hard not to explicitly represent the ideas of superiority that many women of a lighter hue have been nurtured to believe. These ideas are of course are quite similar to what women of a darker hue have been conditioned to believe, but are manifested differently based on personal placement on the color spectrum.

It appears that in the attempt to make fairer skinned black women as vulnerable to their darker hued counterparts, producers aligned vulnerability to victimhood. Given that many women in Dark Girls spoke of being ridiculed because of their skin color, it seems producers deemed it necessary to provide the same platform for those of a lighter hue. While all testimonials were commentary on the black experience, the anecdotes of victimhood manifest differently based on the storyteller’s assumed relationship to privilege.

The fault in this portrayal, is its dedication to the equality of the black experience, not the equity. While black women are equally abject in the projection of racism, the value of experience is manifested in a variety of ways.

A black woman’s navigation through society is determined by her relationship to skin color, hair texture, body type, socio-economic status and education. The varying relationships black women have to these factions create a black experience that is equally as saturated in racism but not of the same value.

Despite the validity of her pain,  a woman closer to the beauty aesthetic as a victim of her socially constructed beauty operates from a position of privilege. To feel pain in what makes you “beautiful,” is a gift to those born with the curse of “ugliness.”

Nevertheless, those conditioned to believe that they are superior due to their lighter skin are equally as cursed as those conditioned to believe that they are not beautiful in the absence of lighter skin. Both beliefs, cultivate black women to determine their worth by a westernized perception of an African trait. It is virtually impossible for the western world to properly compartmentalize blackness, thus this conceptualizing cripples all black women, fair skinned or chocolate from seeing their true beauty.

Male Perspective

I found it quite unsettling that a documentary seemingly centered on the black female experience with colorism was saturated in male opinion.

However, the “Men on Women” section in both documentaries did prove quite informative. This section featured men interviewed on their perception of fair skin and more sun kissed black women. I was honestly disappointed in most of the responses, as most lacked substance. One man in particular mentioned that he preferred “darker skinned” women because “lighter” women were “much more high maintenance.” He goes on to mention that if he goes to the movies “ a darker skinned women would be more willing to get up and  get him some popcorn.” 

Now, while some women of a darker hue may have smiled at his initial preference for chocolate, his reasons were stereotypical. This man unconsciously linked women of a darker hue to the role of a servant and the fairer skinned women to that of a trophy. This too revealed the unsettling reality of internalized racism’s influence on black love.

A younger man commented that “light skin stands out” and if a girl is light skin “she does not have to be anything else.” He went on to say that darker skin girls typically have to possess other qualities to compete. While this comment was certainly disheartening, it does reflect a reality of perception. Light skin, to those of a colorist mentality is the highest form of beauty, making all other attributes secondary.

Not reserved for light girls

The Light Girls Documentary featured the segment “ What Are You?” with the objective of tackling the fair skinned battle with racial ambiguity. While I do not contest that this is a reality for fair skinned black women, this practice is not limited to women with fair skin. Fair skin is just one signifier of blackness, other attributes are facial features (notably the nose and lips), hair, physique, speech, and socio-economics (money and class).

Blacks are stereotyped as having a restricted place in each of the previously listed categories. Thus, blacks who reside outside the stereotype for any of the given categories, are faced with inquiries. For example, a woman who may not be fair skinned may be considered racially ambiguous because her hair is outside what is perceived to be “black hair.”

Intelligence is another factor that causes many to question an individual’s blackness. Blacks have been traditionally disassociated with being of supreme intelligence. So those deemed superior intellectuals have often been questioned about the purity of their blackness.

The Paperbaggin’ of Tatyani Ali      

Perhaps the most disappointing component of this documentary was the reception of certain participants of this documentary. Particularly untasettling was the paper bag test many viewers performed on The Fresh Prince alum, Tatyani Ali. Now, I never heard Ali refer to herself as fair skinned in the documentary, but the backlash unveils that lightness,  is a narrowly defined, exclusive construct.

To see black women guard this white aesthetic is yet another performance in internalized inferiority. Many of the documentary’s responsive tweets referred to Tatyana as “ kinda dark” and even suggested that “under no amount of fillers is Tatyana Ali light skinned.” The harsh undertone of these comments color these words with the unsightly reality of color complexities in the contemporary black community.

Now, whether Ali is fair skinned or not, her looks have afforded her privilege that is commonly associated with fair skin women. As the youngest of the Banks children, Ali’s portrayal of Ashely Banks followed the journey of a cute adolescent to one of the most gorgeous women of the 90’s. WiTatyana-Ali 2th her sepia skin and long, curly- turned -straight black hair, Ali was as sweet as she was beautiful. While of a deeper hue than on- screen sister Karyn Parsons ( Hilary Banks on The Fresh Prince), Ali does posses a form of racial ambiguity. Ali is black, but not excessively. And it is this absence of “excess” that undoubtedly granted Ali her starring role.

Nevertheless, Ali’s reception reveals an anxiety that black women have with who is given the label of “light skin.” It’s almost as if giving someone the label of “light skin” inevitably admits their beauty, so the label is given sparingly.

I personally found Ali’s presence in the documentary refreshing. As a bearer of a degree in African American studies from Harvard University, her voice is seasoned with academic knowledge and as a product of color complexities within the Caribbean community. As both a familiar face and an educated black woman, Ali’s presence in the documentary was as uplifting as it was necessary. It is quite disappointing that Ali’s credentials are overshadowed by the need of self- hating viewers to limit her to skin color.

Interestingly, the documentary also featured sun kissed scholar Iyanla Vanzant (of Fix My Life) to whom received no commentary regarding her hue, or involvement in the documentary. Thus, it seems the animosity towards Miss Ali stems from those who wish to literally dim the light on a beautiful black woman.

Amber Rose Confession

Light Girls featured a candid interview with model and socialite Amber Rose. Amber confessed to her family’s severed relations with their blackness, admitting that this distance probably influenced her mother’s decision to reproduce with a white man. I found Amber Rose’s confession to be very candid and heartfelt. However, if the man who propelled her into fame did dadamnot possessed some of her family’s beliefs, would she be famous?

Now, Rose is undeniably beautiful. However, her recounting of a troubling perception does not alleviate her from the privilege that resulted in her being interviewed in the first place.

Bearing a similar appearance to the equally as beautiful Lupita Nyong’o, Rose and Nyong’o both have close cut hair and enviable bone structure, but have vastly different physiques and reside at polar ends of the color spectrum. In contrast, Nyong’o obtained her fame after playing a slave in

amber2013’s 12 Years A Slave and we first saw Rose as Kanye West’s arm candy back in 2008. The very different ways these women entered stardom mimic their enslaved perception, in which darker and lighter women were both faced with the abjection of slavery but in vastly different manifestations.

Star Power  

It also stood out to me that Light Girls featured star studded  commentary from well known faces such as: Essence Atkins, Amber Rose, Kim Whitley, Keke Wyatt, Salli Richardson, Tatyana Ali, and Iyanla Vanzant. This is in complete contrast to the underwhelming star power of its darker hued counterpart- Dark Girls. This observation supports the reality that women of a lighter hue are cast far more often then those of a deeper hue.  

While both documentaries feature input from cultural intellects, the absence of star power from Dark Girls misses an important opportunity to nurture self esteem within young black girls.

The presence of historians and cultural intellectuals may be necessary, but whether deserved or not, celebrities maintain a glamour not attained by intellectuals or historians. To intertwine this glamour in discussions of  black beauty would prove influential to young black women struggling to see their own beauty in magazines, music videos, sitcoms and movies.

Thus, while the racially ambiguous woman remains the Hollywood prototype of blackness, it is important that darker hued woman see a place for themselves among the Hollywood lights.

Refreshing: Components of the Documentary that were pleasant to see or hear

Light skin not enough

The documentary featured honest comments from fair skinned black women who were criticized for their possession of African traits. One woman commented that she heard her mother’s friend mention that she would be “so perfect” if it wasn’t for her “wide nose.”

This demonstrates that fair skinned women are susceptible to many of the same criticisms as their sisters of a darker hue. This parallel is pivotal in prompting black women to hold hands across the color line.

Color All Over the World

I thoroughly appreciated the documentary’s look into how a variety of cultures conceptualize lightness as the epitome of beauty. The documentary featured commentary from Indian, Asian and Caribbean women who spoke about the bleaching epidemic and other effects of colorism.  

I found this segment enlightening to any and everyone who attributed colorism to being solely a black issue.

In Conclusion

The very division of the documentaries into Dark Girls and Light Girls, depicts the restricted and troublesome classification of black women. If we can’t even be joined together in documentary, how can we hold hand in a racist system that is against us both?

 Opposing the reality that we are a race of many shades, these documentaries also problematically imply that there are only two ccolorismolors of blackness. Regardless of shade, we as black women are victims of an abject place in society. The division of black women distracts us from collaboratively seeing the beauty that of our blackness.

Perhaps the most resonating component of the entire documentary is the line “ Everyone wants to be black, except black people.”

As a sun kissed woman bleaches her skin, there is a non black woman checking the forecast to see if it’s warm enough to tan. As a full-lipped lady of color shuns her gift, the most celebrated celebrities are having fillers applied to look more like her. As a curvy woman of color is ridiculed for their curves, women outside  the diaspora consult with plastic surgeons to gain the gold many black women are born with.

Tanning and plastic surgery are just two of the million dollar industries that foster attributes of blackness onto non black women. This alone substantiates the reality that though there is pain in black femininity, there is also buried privilege in unclaimed beauty.

Are we a flawed group? Certainly. But together, we are the envy of the world- so let us light, dark and in between unite in green…

Color Cryptonite: A Brown Girl’s Beauty Testimony

Perhaps the biggest burden of the black woman is to endure the shame cast upon her body. While there are countless sources of shame thrust upon the black female body during a lifetime, perhaps this first stone is cast by color. tumblr_lxy5tlFeHk1qf8mfdo1_400 Color is typically seen as the key signifier to blackness. While unique, diverse and beautiful this signifier is often used to disqualify black women from beauty. “Dark” is hurled around like a beauty repellant, making black women invisible and irrelevant in discussions and depictions of beauty. Aside from commentary regarding my mother’s “lighter” hue, color never came up in my childhood. Growing up in a predominately black middle class neighborhood, my schools were diverse as minorities were the majority throughout most of my schooling. My high school was largely Latino, so this brought some racial tension, but my surrounding of blacks that were beautiful and proud spoke more loudly than the occasional ignorant comment or question. I do recall being in a high school gym class where a friend of mine called me pretty in front of a male classmate. He then replied “ there we have it a pretty light girl (referring to my latina friend), and a pretty dark girl.” This division of beauty by color implies an anxiety around beauty being placed in the black diaspora without proper labeling. Beauty isn’t beauty in the black diaspora, its black beauty. The use of black as an adjective to beauty as a noun, implies an exclusion of black female bodies from the unmodified noun.   As an adult, my color has randomly made its way into countless scenarios. As I’ve grown older, I know that discussions of my color were anything but random. I recall being at work when a coworker comes up to me out of nowhere and pulls out his pale arm and places it next to mine and remarked that he was “ trying to get as dark as me.” I can’t count the amount of times, I have just been talking about day to day things when I’ve heard the comment, “Yes, and they’re almost as dark as you,” or an unwarranted suggestion about my skin tone matching a clearly more sun kissed counterpart. I can vividly recall my former roommate’s labeling of my color as “black, black.” Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this encounter was my roommate’s disappointment in my response of “Thank you.”

It was at that moment that I realized that the intent of all previous commentary about my color where not random at all but rendered to counter my beauty.Thus, discussions or actions taken to intensify my blackness, were to make me feel less beautiful- color being the cryptonite to my beauty. However, my taking an intended insult as a compliment was the cryptonite to an act intended to make me hate the skin I was in. I showed a picture of my cousin to a male friend, who’s response was “ she looks a little light to be your cousin.” Being the son of an African father and a white mother, this individual had clutched to his skin color as a form of privilege that distanced himself from his African peers, who did not possess his fairer skin. As someone who had clutched onto their “lighter” skin as a form of privilege, his comment was an attempt to knock me down into my blackness, making himself feel superior enough to veil is self esteem issues.

While lighter skin is largely attributed to superior aesthetics, this belief is hardly all-encompassing. There are many cases like the one just described, where an individual clutches their light skin when they feel they have nothing else going for them. The case of my roommate, who is also a black woman was a little different. Unlike the male individual I described, my roommate was a very deeply sun kissed young woman. While her attempt, like the young man was to exile me into blackness, she wished to make me feel as badly about my blackness and she does about her own. To be honest, there have been moments in my past, where the actions and comments of others have caused me to question my own beauty. There have been moments where I would hopelessly search the sea of the brown skin that covers my face and body, for a trace of beauty. While lighter skin may result in more people aligning my looks with beauty, it would not make me more beautiful. The beauty of a black woman is the best kept secret of the western world, because it is the antithesis of western beauty, not because it is not beautiful.

Beautiful-black-women-everywhere While the perception of my own beauty could have been dismantled by comments of my color, I have used said comments as an aide in how I have come to conceptualize my beauty. As I have gotten older, I see that the need to minimize my beauty wouldn’t be necessary if I wasn’t beautiful. So while I, like countless other millennials across the United States and beyond , may play with Instagram filters – I know that I need no enhancement for the golden brown skin I was given. The personal and political components of my body are a token of the beautiful spirits that compile my incomparable legacy as a black woman in America, making me brown, proud, beautiful and perhaps most importantly, resilient. Feeling beautiful and feeling ugly are so much bigger than the individual. The perception of beauty is a reflection of politics placed into the black body, where those who mirror western attributes are praised, and those who don’t, are rendered aesthetically inferior.

These hurtful scenarios that a brown girl encounters, while they seem personal, aren’t, they are political. The necessity to differentiate and rank blackness and whiteness is essential to maintain the binary opposition of which this country functions and was founded on. Imagine a world where every black women knew her beauty. Imagine a black woman who sees through through every belittling remark and is unapologetic in the assertion of her beauty. This Black woman would refuse to be the back on which westernized culture stands on, and would use her back as the pillar that connects the beauty of her face and body. This unapologetic assertion of said black woman, issues the cryptonite to a color complex through her confidence.

Blacks in Blackface and the Upcoming Nina Simone Biopic

While the sight of black bodies on television and movies does not seem remarkable in contemporary society, there was once a time where no blacks were allowed on television. Despite the absence of authentic black bodies, blackness was a consistent presence in past plays, movies and televisions. Blackness was achieved through blackface, or the act of temporarily darkening one’s complexion. Blackface was not only present in the realm of entertainment, but in society as well. In addition to blackface, whites often hosted blackface balls where they dressed up and acted like blacks were believed to act, and dined on food believed to be favored in the black community. Blackface is still seen today on some majority college campuses, mostly seen during but not limited to Halloween. Blackness explores a means of representing blackness without the presence of blackness, further excluding an already excluded faction and subjecting blacks to further ridicule.

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While contemporary society has certainly not shied away from whites in blackface, it has encompassed a new dynamic- blacks in blackface. This dynamic is features in popular culture and colloquial life, in which the peak of blackness is excluded as a continued means to control the level of blackness displayed in mainstream America.

This discussion takes my mind to the heartbreaking choice of Zoe Saldana to portray late legend Nina Simone. Nina Simone was a late musician and activist who experienced adversity for her unconventional look and artistry, in a world and industry that encouraged conformity. Deeply sun kissed and full features, Nina Simone steered away from the fair skinned, delicately featured aesthetic not finding a place for herself, but making one. With an unwavering tenacity and pride in her roots, Simone was more than a musician but a muse for every sun kissed sister who was ever told that she didn’t belong, or that she was destined for mediocrity.

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The reality of Nina Simone as an inspiration, makes her ideal for a biopic, her worthiness as a subject should be mirrored in the actress chosen to portray her. While I do not contest Zoe’s blackness, her physical appearance and presence lacks any resemblance to the late Nina Simone.

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Simone was a woman who endured much strife in her life because of how she looked. While I do not wish to deny that Saldana has faces issues of her own regarding her color in the Latin community, her looks are far more praised in America that Simone’s ever was or will be. The selection of Saldana for the role reveals a commitment of Hollywood to only include a limited form of blackness.

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Aside from not bearing a resemblance to Simone, it also highly problematic that Zoe will don blackface in her portrayal. Blacks in blackface, makes blacks puppeteers rendering ridicule onto their own people. It is through blacks in blackface that whites and non blacks seek alleviation from the social convicts that they create, deflecting it entirely onto the black community.

Blacks who dislike Zoe as Nina are labeled as insecure racists, overlooking the reality that despite black coming in all shapes and sizes, only a small minority of an already minority group are actively pursued as subjects of popular culture. Blacks in blackface further excludes darkly complected women from roles that don’t feature them as maids, slaves, utterly troubled or women of the street.

The hand washing away the clay mask of blackface also being sun-kissed does not soften the blow of ill intentions. Blacks in blackface depict a partial tribute to an often abandoned phenotype in Hollywood, appearing to tackle a significant figure in African and American history but excluding the very demographic in which Simone represented.

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Perhaps Simone’s rendition of “ My Baby Just Cares for Me” would be far less significant if her personal struggle were not was it was. The song captures the reassuring sentiment of a lover who has an unwavering desire for chocolate, despite an overwhelming selection of glamorized vanilla. The tune places Simone as more desirable than some of Hollywood’s most iconic beauties like Lana Tuner and Elizabeth Taylor, in the eyes of her beau. The magnitude of Simone’s rendition of this song is obvious to any and every child of color who has diligently searched for herself in mainstream magazines and billboards. The power of this song is known to every girl who seeks to see her shade represented as the lead of a romantic comedy, or a chique and sexy role free from buffoonery and ignorance.

Perhaps one day the writers and producers of Hollywood will encompass the extraordinary vision of Simone’s beau in “ My Baby Just Cares for Me” and truly be able to appreciate the sun kissed end of the black spectrum beyond the singularity of Lupita Nyong’o. So while my post does not aspire to throw shade at Zoe Saldana, to deny the role of shade and color in Hollywood acts as erasure for the already largely unrepresented ebony woman.