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A Twisted Perception of Beauty
by Kim Campbell


How many times have you sisters been envious of a pretty girl? You know the one with "good" hair and a light complexion. How many times have we wished we were like those video chicks who, have flawless skin and seem to have all of their fat perfectly distributed to all the right places on her body? Whether you would like to admit it or not, I'm pretty sure all of us have questioned how beautiful we are at one point or another. Whether it's from getting rejected by a boy or just watching a few music videos, you have probably felt that some physical feature you possessed did not make you beautiful enough.

But what is beautiful? There has always been constant conflict among the female African-American community as to what true beauty is. For example, the light skin versus dark skin issue. There is a stigma that blacks of a lighter complexion are perceived as more attractive or in some cases more capable than people of a darker skin tone. Everyday conversations will show that several African-Americans feel that it is better to be light skinned. For example have you heard a boy make a comment like " yea, she's aight but she's mad dark," or a friend going on vacation say " I'm gonna make sure I don't stay outside too long cause I don't wanna come back looking crispy." Comments like these suggest that being dark has negative connotations. There are historical references that indicate that this mindset may have come from times of slavery when light skinned workers (whom were probably products of a rape between a slave and her master) were chosen to do the less physically demanding housework rather than the grueling work outside in the fields. Their fair complexion made them "better" than the field workers because they were "privileged" enough to work inside of the house. This built up a great deal of animosity between dark and light skinned blacks that subtly exists today and is one of many issues preventing the African American community from uniting and moving forward as one.

Another conflicting issue on what is beautiful is the texture of a females' hair. African-Americans have a history behind the hair on their heads. During the late 1800s entrepreneurs such as Madame CJ Walker were finding ways of straightening the texture of black women's hair. With the use of the hot comb andrelaxers such as, No Kink and Black-No-More women achieved the European look of straighter, smoother, less "nappier" hair. There was a transition period of black pride during the 1960's where celebrating blacks' natural features, such as the kinky texture of their hair was encouraged through hair dos such as the afro. However the afro declined and stylessuch as the jeri curl and box braids dominated during the 80s into the early 90s. Nowadays, perms are quite dominant but dreadlocks and cornrows are quite common as well. Today's ranges of hairstyles are rather diverse but a paradigm of "good hair" still exists as straight smooth and long. Among the issues of skin complexion and hair texture, women of color had to deal with how their bodies were portrayed as well.

For a long time black women were not even represented in the media. During the 1930s it was rare to see a black woman other than Aunt Jemima on a pancake box. Black women were usually depicted as woman with excessively large breasts, wide hips, a large behind, and thick thighs. Although African-Americans do have a tendency of being shapely and having a voluptuous figure, the media exaggerated certain features and made sure that black females' natural thickness was not deemed beautiful. This however is not to be confused with what males in the African-American community find attractive. Contrary to the media's perception of thin being in, black males tend to be attracted to females with curvy figures. The hip-hop and R&B culture perpetuate this with songs such as Fatty Girl (LL Cool J, Keith Sweat and Ludacris), Bootylicious (Destinys Child), Back That Thing Up (Juvenile) and lyrics from the song Baby Phat (De La Soul) which is dedicated to thick woman:

Every woman ain't a video chick (Nah)
Or runway model and I wrecks it
I love what I can hold and grab on
So if you burn it off then keep the flab on

These words obviously celebrate the full figures that Afrrican-American women posses. This of course poses confusion as to what is an attractive body. The media depict beauty (white) as slim is in, but the hip hop culture dictates that males are attracted to women with wide hips and a good amount of junk in her trunk. African-American females who may not be as "bootylicious" may feel that they don't have a "black girl body" and that they are not attractive. Then there are black women who are very shapely who feel that they are too thick because according to mainstream media, less is best. So with all of hese conflicting paradigms and perceptions of beauty what is defined as beautiful?

Is it a thick woman with dark skin and long straight hair? Is it a size 0 girl with a light complexion and a head of short kinky hair? Of the two girls I described, is one more beautiful than the other? You may be under the impression that I am here to glorify the "true" beauty of a dark woman with natural hair but the truth is those women are no more beautiful than light skinned girls with straight hair. I could be focusing on why big is beautiful, but there are very thin girls who are beautiful as well. The reason we have a twisted perception of beauty is because it based solely on the physical appearance of a woman. If we, as a unified community took the time to observe that our diversity is what makes us as a race, beautiful, then there would be less bitterness between the light-skinned girl and the tar baby. There would be little resentment between the girl with kinks and the girl who gets her perm every 6 weeks. There would be less hostility between the women who wear a double 0 and the women who wear the size 10. These feelings of animosity are what prevents us from uniting and conquering bigger problems that affect all women, light and dark alike. We need to realize that our differences are what makes us beautiful and that it is possible for all of us to be comfortable in our own skin. In addition, we fail to see that being beautiful has little to do with how you look and has everything to do with the person you are inside. A supermodel could be paid 1000 dollars a day for her looks but if she has no self respect, no pride, no ambition, no compassion, no hopes, no dreams, and no love of oneself, is she to be considered beautiful? A woman who has all the characteristics that supermodel is lacking will hold herself differently. Her self-confidence and positive vibe will be reflected in her every movement. True beauty does not come from your dress size or your skin tone it comes from your heart and soul and that is the message that should be emphasized in the media.

Now wouldn't that be a beautiful thing?


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