Colorism, Hair, Sexism & Black Women
Recently there was a picture circulating the Internet featuring Ebony Magazine’s February 1966 Cover Article, “Are Negro Girls Getting Prettier?” For anyone who wants to sweep this under the rug and chalk it up to that era, do not kid yourself. This type of attitude is still very much prevalent in 2015. This is obvious by the longstanding trend of whitewashing Black women in print media and making sure they aren’t too brown in broadcast outlets.
Below are three reasons why this article written nearly 50 years ago is still relevant and why we need to continue promoting- or start- positive images of Black girls and women.
Three Reasons The Story of Black Women and Beauty Keeps Repeating Itself
1.) Light Bright Is Always Right.
Is “more beautiful” code for “can pass a paper bag test?” Looking at the pictures on the cover of the Ebony Magazine as well as those in the the feature article, sure make it appear as if this is the measurement being used. Colorism perpetuates the erroneous belief that anything darker than a light-brown paper bag does not fit the bill for prettiness. This is a belief to the 1700’s when our skin tone started to become lighter and lighter due to consensual and non-consensual sex between masters and other white men and slaves. One of the nasty results of what was the rape of our identity and our bodies was the division between what has been called the house slave and the field slave. The lighter skinned, female house slaves often received better treatment by the master than the darker skin, female field slave. Part of this may be attributed to the fact that the house slave was actually the master’s child, but that is irrelevant. The primary point is that favoritism based upon skin tone that occurred in 17th Century America is reflected on the 1960’s cover of Ebony Magazine and is still running rampant in the 21st Century. We need not look any further than today’s skin lightening by print publications, the appearance of women featured in music videos, and the look of those chosen to be “the one” by Hollywood.
Outside of the less than a handful of darker skinned women that they tolerate, Hollywood and the media’s preference leans heavily toward Black women who are either of mixed racial background or who could be a member of the Blue Vein Society. If you take a quick glance at the cover of any of today’s printed or broadcast media, you will get an idea of what they define as beauty when it comes to Black women. The fact that publications such as Ebony, Essence, and Black Exploitation (Entertainment) Television feature content that is supposedly written by Black people, and for promoting the positive advancement of Black people, means nothing when they merely support historically negative beliefs about what makes our women beautiful.
These forums are doing us no favors as they continue to give credence to the “Black is not beautiful” myth, and it is a slap in the face to all of our girls and women. It shows us that to some in our own community, Black Lives really do not matter unless they are able to pass the skin color test. It is tragic to see our Black girls and women buying into this ideology and deciding to bleach their skin, agreeing to Photoshop and funny lighting for photo prints, and/or teaching our Black girls at a young age how to use make-up in order to appear lighter skinned. We must do something to change the conversation we are having about ourselves in our own heads before we can change the conversation being had by society.
2.) Straight Hair Don’t Care.
All of these women have wigs, straight, or straightened. There is not a kink, coil, or offensive curl in sight. Is that what makes them more beautiful? Is a relaxer or what is asininely referred to as “good hair” the standard for beauty? If so, let me pause to thank Madame C.J. Walker for showing us the light. Thank you, Madame Walker. You have my undying gratitude and praise for making it possible for so many of our women to fit into the European definition of beauty.
You can spare me the “straight hair is easier to manage” talk when the next sentence out your mouth is you prefer the look of straight hair. After all, you claim, “I can’t do natural because it doesn’t look good on me” or “My man doesn’t like it” or “Pastor said there are ‘spirits’ attached to women with natural hair.” Who has ingrained in your psyche- or that of the people who you allow in your ear- that the way God made you is not good enough? It is not pretty enough? Teaching our girls and women that there is something inherently wrong with the hair that grows from our head is our subtle way of saying that God got it wrong and we need to fix it.
This negative view of non-European approved hairstyles was put on full-display just a mere few weeks ago when Giuliana Rancic made her ignorant- and subsequent lame apology- regarding Zendaya Coleman. Ms. Coleman decided to wear locs on the Oscar’s red carpet, and Rancic stated on “Fashion Police” that she looked like she smelled of weed- a common stereotype of persons with this African influenced hairstyle. It is shameful that we are still facing the same hair biases today that Ebony put on display in their 1966 article. Anything that is not straight or “well-tamed” if it is natural is typically shunned.
3.) Where Are the Girls?
The article asks if “girls” are getting prettier, however, I see no girls in this article; I see women. Why are grown women being referred to as girls? This piece not only panders to the paternalism inherit in allowing men to define our beauty, but it is also sexist by demeaning women and calling them girls.
To answer the question, no, Negro women were not getting prettier in the 60’s, and they are not getting prettier now. At any era, this answer remains the same, because we have always been beautiful and strong whether we fit into “the Blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice,” “light, bright, and damned near white,” or somewhere in between, we are a marvelous creation. We have always- always- been beautiful women, and to suggest otherwise, either through self-hating articles or trying to whitewash us in print and broadcast media, is utterly false and idiotic. I challenge us all to take the following five simple steps and use March, Women’s History Month, to make history by changing the conversation of what defines Black girls and women as beautiful.
5 Easy Ways to Starting Changing Attitudes About Black Beauty
- We can start with showing our girls and women that beauty begins with our thoughts and attitudes toward self and others. If we are broken on the inside, no amount of weave or make-up will make it better on the outside. Let’s show them that this type of change starts with your decision to love and respect yourself.
- We can teach our girls and women the difference between being pretty and being beautiful. Prettiness fades, beauty is forever. We can start by being the change we want to see and altering our own harmful behavior.
- We can show our young girls (and boys) positive images all year round. We don’t have to wait until the shortest month of the year to do so. We can be that year-round example. Furthermore, we can introduce them to other living examples of persons who truly promote the positive advancement of our culture.
- We can show them who we really are instead of hiding behind our outward appearances. It is good for our children to see us in our natural state, without all of the costumes and masks we wear because we think they make us look pretty.
- We can teach our girls and women that our sense of worth and beauty is not based on a man’s point-of-view but on the fact that we were uniquely made individuals. We have the power to define our own beauty.