It seems like every week, we find ourselves in a battle to defend our culture and humanity against mainstream media.
This back and forth is nothing new – we’ve been doing this for centuries.
But with 2017 on the horizon, I’m of the mindset that it’s time to stop pretending. Stop playing nice. Stop arguing and pleading with white people hell-bent on not understanding things like racism and cultural appropriation.
Let’s stop beating around the (Afro) bush.
My fellow Black women, I need you to understand and receive what I’m saying. Queens, we’ve been dealt a glorious hand aesthetically. We come in many shades of brown – a composite of reds, yellows, and black- a complex utopia of hues. Our hair, in all its natural glory – defies gravity. There’s nothing else like it in the world. Our features are supple, and radiate our aristocratic roots. Our curves are so sought after – women obsessively squat, go under the knife, and wear padded underwear just to get what we were born with.
The Black woman is the single most copied, emulated, imitated, and replicated woman on the planet – bar none.
But there’s a sort of peculiar duality that goes along with this.
For so long, we’ve been force-fed the narrative that we’re not beautiful if we don’t have white skin, light eyes, and straight hair. But in that same bite, our natural features have been fetishizied and put on display since the days of Saartjie Baartman.
The world we live in today is a strange amalgamation of white privilege, cultural appropriation, and intersectional identity. We’re at a space in time when every single aesthetic representation of Black beauty – whether cultural or genetic – appears to only be celebrated when placed on someone who isn’t Black.
Take a moment and digest this through the lens of our own self-care and self-worth…
It’s not just the frustration that comes from being undervalued, constantly feeling on high alert for the next egregious offense, or the emotional trauma involved in constantly having to defend your existence. But also having to be confronted daily with images and media messaging that affirm your features are only beautiful when they’re no longer yours. Your cornrows are no longer ghetto because they’re “boxer braids”. Your Bantu knots aren’t crazy looking anymore, because they’re “like, totally a thing called ‘mini buns’”. Your lips are too big – but injecting thin lips with botulism bacteria or hyaluronic acid is par for the course. Your skin is too dark, but tanning white skin is socially acceptable. It wasn’t so long ago that, “Oh my God Becky, look at her butt…it’s sooo big!” ruled the mainstream mindset. Fast-forward to 2016, and requests for butt augmentations and fat transfers are skyrocketing and on track to surpass breast implants and tummy tuck surgeries.
Unlike our white female counterparts, we as Black women are tasked with navigating the intersection between race and gender at every moment of our lives. We don’t just grapple with the gender wage gap, victimization by rape culture, or asserting the simple fact that we don’t have to smile for the pleasure and amusement of men. Our burdens come with a heaping dose of Blackness on top. At the intersection of race and beauty our identity is shaped by repeated assertions that we as Black women are simply put, not good enough. We’re either “too ghetto”, or “act white”. We’re too light, too dark, too skinny, too fat, too strong, too loud, too nappy, have features that are too broad, or we’re self-hating.
This is the vehicle of white privilege in motion. White women are free to try on Black beauty and culture – without burden or commitment. Just ask Iggy Azelea and co.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown weary of conversations around cultural appropriation, and trying to explain why the concept of buying a “lip kit” from a girl who bought her lips from a plastic surgeon is problematic.
So from this point forward, I’ve resolved to call it like I see it – Black Beauty is the new standard.
The proof is in two cliché albeit relevant adages:
- Actions speak louder than words
- Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery
The equation is simple – the primary party (white women) in their pursuit of everything from butt implants to baby hair, eradicate the-now obsolete standard of beauty (white features), and replace them with unequivocally ‘all Black everything’– ushering in a new era. One where the new standard of beauty is exemplified by its origin – our African ancestry.
And if imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, it is plain to see that the Iggys, Kardashians, Jen Selters, and Rachel Dolezals of the world are absolutely smitten with all things Black beauty – and have been relentless in their pursuit of it.
Whether it’s “right” or “okay” for them to do so is another think piece for another time.
Today, I’m making a declaration.
The tables have officially turned. Mainstream culture – which has done everything in its power to denigrate Black beauty can no longer hide behind “Becky with the good hair” as the archetype for all of beauty and value.
We know they see this #BlackGirlMagic.
We know they want it.
But guess what? There isn’t a gym exercise, injection, or rap song that can give it to them.
That glow comes from within.
And Black woman, you’ve got it.
Unpacking Pretty is a 4cHC essay series inspired by Antonia Opiah’s Pretty docuseries. Stay tuned as we dissect the narrative around beauty as it pertains to blackness across the diaspora.