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Monday, May 16, 2011

Black Girl Beautiful

Satoshi Kanazawa is not the first person to disguise racism as science nor is he the first (or last) man to degrade African beauty. In spite of these givens, the Psychology Today article that asserts Black women are inherently less attractive than women of other races has lit the Black E-World on fire. So much so, several hours after it was published, Psychology Today removed the article from their site.

If you'd like to read this mess article click here.

Really Kanazawa's theory comes as no surprise. I don't know about you, but I live in a society that endorses a eurocentric beauty ideal. I live in a society where Marilyn Monroe is the ultimate male fantasy and Sarah Baartman is the ultimate fetish. Every day my senses are overloaded with images of 'beautiful' women whose features are the opposite of my own. If beauty is fair skinned, tall and lithe, with straightish hair and a keen nose, then beauty-- I am not. And that a so-called psychologist would take this observation one step further and attempt to back it up with a half-assed case study .... I'm just not surprised.

What I am shocked by is the subsequent outrage within the Black (on-line) community. Why does it take an Asian man articulating a Black woman's inherent ghastliness to make us react so passionately? Is this not the same euro-centric beauty propaganda that we spread throughout our own communities in subtle and not-so-subtle ways? Do Black women as a collective not have an inferiority complex? An outsider looking in would be justified in assuming so.

Madame CJ Walker, the first Black millionaire, made her fortune selling chemical hair straighteners and bleaching creams to Black women and today Black women still spend billions of dollars on creamy crack and other people's straight hair.

I'd like to think we are a generation beyond the brown paper bag test, but still, most of our leading ladies are women of color with Anglo features. As those in the model world like to call it, white women dipped in chocolate.

Even though it's okay to rock locks, and sista locks, twists and fros---we still praise our wavy headed sisters and brothers for having good-hair, and Black moms still slap "Just for Me" all over their toddler's virgin hair.

Guess what? African women throughout the diaspora bleach their skin. Some even bleach their children's skin. If no body was bleaching, you wouldn't be able to find Fair And White at just about every beauty supply store in the United States of America.

Statistics show that more and more Black women are reconciling their ethnic reality with their anglo aspirations by turning to rhinoplasty and other procedures that may tame exotic features.

Pretty Black girls are still told, "you're pretty, for a dark skinned girl". And no kidding, a male friend and fellow Ivy-Leaguer once told me that as a successful Black man, he can only date "light-skinned" women. He was dead serious.

Black is beautiful....
But is it?

Kanazawa seems to emphasize that Black men and Black women are not aesthetic equals. In fact, he writes that Black men are superior in looks to other men due to their "high levels of testosterone". So I'm thinking....

If Black men are the most attractive of all men, and Black women are the least attractive of all women, then perhaps Black women are not good enough for Black men after all. Kanazawa has finally supplied millions of Black women with an explanation for why they are single and why Black marriage rates are stark and why Kobe didn't marry a sista.

Are you upset yet?

It baffles me that we would decry an outsiders opinion of our beauty when as a culture, we have allowed others to define "our beauty" and politicize "our beauty" for centuries.

Beauty is an opinion. It's just that. It's fluid. It's changes over time and across cultures. That's something I learned during a recent trip to Dominican Republic. From the time I arrived at the airport I was swarmed with male attention. Fair-skinned, darker-skinned Dominican men, it didn't matter. I received marriage proposals, invitations to dinner, astounding service. "My, you are two beautiful Black woman" one man shouted as he watched my mom and I walk along beach.

It was an all-inclusive resort I stayed in, so after 5 days of big meals, daiquiris, and constant flattery--- I went home with a fatter booty, belly and ego.

"I'm moving to the Dominican Republic," I told Miles* at an outdoor concert.


"Because I've never had my beauty celebrated like that before. I want to feel like that every day."

"Please, men flirt with you all the time," he smiled. And they do. But not like that.

You see, standards of beauty shift depending on where you are in the globe. There are some aspects of a woman's beauty that are universal. Harmonious features, smooth skin, a nice waist-to hip ratio. But after that, beauty is pretty much socialized. Beauty ideals are a function of cultural hegemony. Conforming to a certain standard of beauty is an excercise in power or lack there of. It is the reason why a woman who decides to undergo the "big chop" and swap her perm for a fro is seen as making a "political" statement. Beauty is so much more than looks.

Some people think I'm self-absorbed. A narcissist.

I am.

I think I'm beautiful and I have my parents to thank for that. My mom looks like the bust of Nefertiti. I think she is the most gorgeous woman in the world. She has chocolate skin and beautiful cheek bones. Her hair is natural, coiled in sister locks. She is my beauty ideal and she raised me that way. Literally there were dozens of paintings of beautiful Black women all over my home growing up including a gorgeous one of mom right when you first walk in. My dolls looked like me. The characters in my story books and fairy tales looked like me. I realize now my parents went to incredible lengths to raise a Black child who didn't have a color complex. That's not easy.

In spite of their best efforts, I had some hiccups. I was the only brown skinned frizzy haired girl with a big butt dancing ballet with other young ladies who looked nothing like me. I questioned my beauty then. And of course I went through an awkward adolescent stage where I thought no boys liked me. I questioned my beauty then too.

But somehow, as an adult, I've come love what I see when I look in the mirror, pug nose and all. A woman can not be beautiful to anyone else unless she recognizes her own beauty. It is something that has to be embraced and celebrated.

It's sad because there is a generation out there waiting to be validated. A generation of Black women with broken self-esteem... who feel broken because of who they are. And it's not right.... because they are beautiful.

I'll leave you with this memory. It was the first time I covered a parade. It must have been the MLK parade because there were mostly Black people. Anyway, there was a group of two-dozen or little brown girls dancing down the street in this parade. I looked at them and smiled because they were so adorable. Then, I caught their eyes. Every little girl made a bee-line, ran off the parade route, and into my arms. Each one of them hugged me.

The memory makes me teary eyed.

I realized then, as a 23 year old budding tv- journalist, exactly what I was to those girls. I was them.

Finally they could turn on the tv and see themselves. A brown skin girl, with a pug nose, full lips, high cheek bones, and booty. And I was still on tv. And I was smiling. And I was ... beautiful. And I was them. There's a generation of girls out there who just want to be appreciated for who they are.

At then end of the day Kanazawa is doing what all scientists do--- they try to make sense out of everyday phenomena. If our society places the least value on Black beauty, why is that? Of course he can't see the foolishness in his attempt to apply biological reasoning to a sociological concept. Touche. But this entire ordeal begs the question of who we let define our beauty.

I hope that after the outrage over this silly man's article we hold a mirror up before ourselves. I hope we notice our own faults and propensity to judge each other based on Anglo ideals. And more importantly, I hope Black girls everywhere take a good look in that mirror and see that yes, they are too, beautiful.