Monday, 18 December 2006

Beauty is In The Eye of The Beholder: Embracing a Black Beauty Aesthetic

"Mirror, Mirror on the wall, whose the fairest one of all?"

With the western media fascination and churning out of Caucasian features as the hallmark and standard of beauty, one could be forgiven that the "eye of the beholder" has a very limited and restricted view of other possibilities of beauty and how it is ultimately defined. In each of our waking hours we are bombarded and seduced with television, magazine, video, newspaper advertising images that duly prompt us to buy the products that promise to deliver a desired appearance and status. For black folk this usually is of a Caucasian appearance and ideal. One only has to check the local beauty store, with the plethora of lightening creams and different styles of weaves and wigs to confirm this 'norm'.
Each season a part of the female anatomy is deemed fashionable. Breasts, bootys, hips, and full lips. Each of these body parts take their turn at being the 'in thing' to flaunt and with it comes all the peripheral tools to help achieve 'a look' (if one doesn't possess it already}. There are breast implants, liposuction, buttock injections, coloured contact lenses etc. It is ironic that these women - and it is in the main women - who are already blessed with nature with the above (and more) features are rarely deemed fashionable let alone, beautiful. Black folks are only recognised and acknowledged by the mainstream (read white) media when it suits them or when 'black is (becomes) the "new" black'.

There is no need to wholly absorb an alien culture to be used as a standard. It would appear that some black folks are most affected by foreign traditions. Our psyche and culture has been attacked in such a profound way that our reaction to outside invasions can only be best described as 'confusion'. Ultimately, we suffer the most from embracing euro centric standards in all aspects of our lives.

Malcolm X utilised the model of the 'field nigger' and the 'house nigger' and how their status on plantations were used as a basis for division. The slaves who closely resembled the slave master, i.e. straight hair and pale skinned were more favoured and were privileged to work in the house. Those slaves who were 'unfortunate' and possessed more African features took the brunt of hard work in the cotton fields. In fact, intra-racism (to call it what it is) is still in effect in the 21st century. The colour complex still has an impact on our psyches. Consequently, those with lighter skin complexions are still more favoured. One only needs to look at the proliferation of music videos for confirmation. Additionally, the adverts - both on TV and the billboards - cater towards a lighter skin aesthetic. Ultimately, the light skinned, long haired black woman is still by and large accepted as the most desired.

In Hollyweird (sic) the palette of the colour aesthetics is still the same. Nothing has subtly changed. Black actors when speaking frankly will state that if they looked more like say, Vanessa Williams, Beyonce or Haille Berry they'd receive (albeit restricted) better roles. For any positive changes to be made, we have to shoulder the mantle ourselves. We are not in control nor do we own the mass popular mediums, which replicate images of beauty. However, what is owned, consumed and controlled by us tends only, at times, to perpetrate euro centric beauty standards.Take a look in popular Black womens magazines such as Essence and Vibe's Vixen to confirm this.
Although there are independent magazines, such as 'Naturally Yours' (a black women's magazine which celebrates and embraces natural hair/beauty) which is breaking the mold - albeit on a tiny scale.

We really have to start at home. It certainly initiates there like a seed ready to germinate. For instance, what images are going to reinforce our children's perception of their beauty and self worth?
Can you imagine if every day since the day that a black child was born - regardless of the gender - that there were positive images around them on a daily basis that emphasised that they were the standard for beauty and achievement? There would be no bounds or obstacles to their ultimate accomplishments. Just think, this is what white people internalise every day!

Challenge the prevailing attitudes to how YOU see yourself. For example, how do you wear your hair and why? Do you internalise the negative aspects to your own beauty?
Much has been written about how much we as humans learn more through what we see than what we hear.
Check yourself; examine attitudes to us folks who have a lighter or darker complexion, or those with long or straight textured hair. I know it's not an easy thing to do. I know, that in the past, I have had my own issues with my skin complexion.

My journey started at a young age. Although I didn't go as far as attempting to erase my colour with lightening creams or such, I still internalised a negative image of myself and my true African features. My journey, or 'enlightenment' came from reading.
When I discovered the Toni Morrison's 'The Bluest Eye', I 'saw' myself in the main protagonist, Pecola Breedlove. I desired, like her to have the 'bluest eyes' so that I could obtain love and desire. It took a long, long while for me to finally accept and embrace my African features. I still have to stop myself sometimes when it comes to discussing the deep down hurt I felt as a young girl. I guess, my healing was and is in my writing; it's an ongoing process *smile*.

Truly, in conclusion, beauty is totally subjective and it really is 'in the eye of the beholder'. We may all wail and state that there is no difference to our overall attitudes when it comes to the notion of how beauty affects and impacts us. However, our general behaviour is so ingrained and internalised that it will take gigantic efforts to throw off our lasting legacies of this mis-education.

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