Black Views on Beauty Are Shaped by Women, Not Men
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because beauty doesn’t have to be in the eye of the beholder.
By Nick Fouriezos
Check out a special edition of OZY’s Black Women OWN the Conversation focused on the impact of COVID-19 on the African American community. These episodes bring together real women and a curated panel of experts, professionals and thought leaders with host Carlos Watson for a timely discussion on how we are living during this pandemic. The specials air Saturday, April 18, at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. CT), and Tuesday, April 21, at 11 p.m. (10 p.m. CT) on OWN. Join the conversation at #BlackWomenOWN on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Angel feels beautiful today, but she didn’t always. Her mother, who showered her with material goods but not verbal affection, never talked to her about such “girlie” things as appearance — and it took Angel until her 20s to embrace her beauty.
Kayla grew up hating her dark black skin because her mom had. “I was bullied so hard, even by family members,” Kayla said, noting that as a mother to a fair-skinned child she feels a special responsibility. “I have to instill in my daughter that beauty inside,” she said. “I had to instill that in myself because I didn’t have that [growing up].”
The two women were among 100 Black women gathered in Atlanta for Black Women OWN the Conversation, a special TV partnership between OZY and the Oprah Winfrey Network. Illuminating intimate conversations in the Black community, this weekend’s series premiere focuses on the concept of beauty. A poll conducted before the show revealed the roots of perceptions of beauty in the Black community:
67 percent of respondents said that women shaped their views on beauty more than men had.
Not every such experience was a negative one. Lexi, born in Louisiana, said classmates called her “a fly in a bowl of milk” for her darker skin. But in Lexi’s case, her parents encouraged her by teaching her that beauty comes from within. Actress Kym Whitley — onstage with fellow guests politician Stacey Abrams and singer Monica — said it’s the women in her life who help boost her confidence: “My girlfriends also help me to say, ‘You know what, you look good, girl.’ We compliment each other.”
The poll results were surprising: While pop culture and media might have us believe that women are conforming mostly to what men want, their ideas may be shaped more by the women around them. While the traits perceived to be most valued by society for men were honesty, professional success and ambition, the leading perceived value for women was physical attractiveness, according to a Pew Research Center poll of Americans conducted in 2017.
The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report, which interviewed 10,500 women across 13 countries, found in 2016 that women’s confidence in their bodies is on the decline — but that 71 percent of women and 67 percent of girls are asking the media to do a better job portraying women of diverse races, ages, shapes and sizes (full disclosure: Dove is a sponsor of Black Women OWN the Conversation).
“This room represents what I could not enjoy as a child. Ebony magazine told me that I needed to buy Nadinola,” said one 77-year-old woman. “I put Comet cleanser on my skin and my face to take the black off because I was too dark, and people told me, ‘You pretty to be dark.’ … or “You dark, but you pretty.” What kind of compliment is that?”
Another attendee remembered how excited she was to hear her best friend was getting married, only to be told that she couldn’t be part of the bridal party because of her weight. “You can be an usher,” she was informed. Yet another woman described being attacked by fellow Black girls in the school bathroom and losing a close friend out of jealousy of her attractiveness.
Others felt the focus on beauty was itself a problem. Abrams spoke about how her pastor parents were never fixated on looks. “I don’t care what men think. Or women think,” Abrams said. Her hair hasn’t been permed since 1995, she said: “It’s not a political statement. I just don’t like doing my hair.”
Noting the small gap between her front teeth, Abrams said that to conform to others’ standards of beauty would erase a part of her own identity. “I wasn’t going to Invisalign myself out of looking like my mother,” she said.