Color Consciousness Among Young Black Females
How Societal Beauty Standards Affect Young Black Women
Black females from junior high school to early adulthood are affected by the beauty standards of American society. Oftentimes, these standards approximate the Caucasian standard of beauty. Everyday movies, videos, and magazines present the Black standard of beauty as having long, straight hair, light to medium skinned, and near as aquiline features as possible. Seldom are dark skinned women presented in movies, videos, and magazines.
There was a magazine article stating that there is a near dearth of Black models in mainstream magazines today. Black young females often do not see representatives of themselves in such venues. Many of the models advertised in media are often Caucasian or approximate a near Caucasian image. There are instances of Black models and entertainers bleaching their skin and dying their hair to be as near Caucasian as possible. The message is that Caucasian, European, and.or light is right and beautiful.
Black women with pronounced African features, a darker complexion, and/or natural hair is seldom represented and thought of as beautiful by mainstream media and society. This inundation of Caucasian, European, and non-African symbols of beauty has a deleterious effect on the self-esteem of young Black women. Yes, this phenomena still exists despite the strides of the Black is Beautiful movement of the 1960s when Black beauty in all its aspects and shades were respected and glorified.
However in the 1980s, colorism began to resurface when American culture became more conservative and through rap videos. Black women started to abandon natural hairstyles for more processed and nonthreatening hairstyles. The 1980s was an era of corporate chic.
Young Black women were always affected by colorism where light skin, aquiline features, and straight hair was glorified while dark skin, African features, and natural hair were denigrated. I remember in my elementary school which was all Black, the light skinned girls with aquiline features and straight hair were considered beautiful and feminine. Conversely, the dark skinned girls with African features and natural hair were considered unattractive, if not, downright ugly. I recollect a tanned skinned girl from my elementary school stating that all of the girls were pretty except for one ebony black skinned girl.
This particular girl was derided by all the lighter skinned classmates. Her only friends were two brown skinned girls. This girl was the true outsider girl. She was not ugly and resembled the model Alek Wek. However, because of the constant denigration she received from classmates and teachers alike, she believed that she was worthless and ugly. She fulfilled the self-fulfilling prophecy and began to act in contentious ways.
Many a young dark-skinned Black female believe that she is ugly and inferior to the other light-skinned Black and Caucasian females around her. In some Black families, the lighter skinned child with the aquiline features and straight hair is favored over his/her darker skinned sibling with African features and natural hair. Marita Golden in her book DON'T PLAY IN THE SUN-ONE WOMAN'S JOURNEY THROUGH THE COLOR COMPLEX confirmed this within her maternal family. Even in parts of my maternal family, the lighter skinned members received favored treatment over the darker skinned members.
Even today there was an experiment in which a Black girl was asked to select which doll was the prettiest and the smartest, she selected the Caucasian doll. Conversely, the same girl was asked to select which doll was the ugliest and most stupid, she selected the dark skinned Black doll. On a segment of the TYRA BANKS SHOW on intraracial colorism, one young dark skinned Black woman stated that she hated being the shade she was. This woman asserted that she felt ugly, remarking that she consistently used bleach in order to be lighter and more desirable.
Conversely, on the TYRA BANKS SHOW, one young light skinned Black woman with aquiline features asserted that her racial status was influential in gaining choice modelling assignments which led to other career options. This same woman reported that her sister who was extremely dark skinned with more African features suffered job discrimination and was unemployed because of her racial status.
On a segment of LIKE IT IS regarding colorism in the Black community, a young dark skinned Black girl with short natural hair started crying stating how hard it is to be a dark skinned Black girl in today's society. She remarked that she felt like a persona non grata, ugly, and unattractive. She further remarked that light skinned girls with aquiline features and straighter hair were treated better and more respected by the Black community than she was.
Yes, even in today's society, light skinned Black women have more opportunities to succeed than her dark skinned sisters. Studies confirm that lighter skinned Blacks have more access to jobs and earned more money than their dark skinned Black sisters and brothers. Christine Swans, Director of Criminal Justice Practice for the NAACP Legal Defense stated that lighter skinned Black women receive more lenient sentences while dark skinned Black women received harsher sentences for the same crime.
For example, in the Miss America contest, the first two Black Miss Americas, Vanessa Williams and Suzette Charles, were light skinned women. However, over time, the complexions of the succedent Black Miss Americas became progressively darker. Finally, a very dark skinned Black woman, Erika Dunlap from Florida, was selected Miss America in 2004. Ms. Dunlap is currently working on a country singing career.
In the two groundbreaking documentaries, THE SOULS OF BLACK GIRLS and BLACK RAINBOWS: THE COLORS AND SELF IMAGES OF AFRICAN AMERICAN GIRLS, the issue of colorism regarding attractiveness of young Black women is discussed and highlighted. In the second documentary, one dark-skinned Black teenage girl broke into tears, stating that her family gave her the feeling that she was not as good as her lighter skinned relatives. She asserted that she was sick of this and this was wrong.
However, there are some young dark-skinned Black women who willingly embrace their Blackness. These self-assured young women believe that they are just as good as their Caucasian and lighter skinned peers. Also there are young light skinned Black women who pay little or no attention to the racial and gender stereotype regarding their racial status. Many such women believe that they are BLACK -THAT'S IT and there is no time for melodramatics regarding this light skinned/dark skinned issue. It is these young women's mantra to be united as a people and to respect themselves as Black women.
In summation, many young Black women are suffering the negative ramifications regarding societal images of beauty. Many young dark skinned Black women feel left out by media because their images are not adequately represented by media. The media and societal image is that light equals beauty while being dark equals unattractiveness. This is evident in that many Black models and actresses purposely bleach their skin and lighten their hair so they can be more acceptable and have crossover appeal.
As a result, many young dark skinned Black women internalize this, often feeling inferior and angry. These young women feel that they are ugly and undesirable because of media images. Oftentimes, familial treatment often favor the lighter skinned person with Europid features over the darker skinned person with Africoid features which further exacerbates the problem.
Yes, colorism is alive and well. Studies show that lighter skinned Blacks have more opportunities, greater access to jobs, and greater earning power than their darker skinned sisters and brothers. Further studies show that lighter skinned Black women receive more lenient sentences while her darker skinned sisters receive harsher sentences for the same crime.
The underlying consensus regarding Black beauty is light is correct and beautiful. Even the first two Black Miss Americas were light skinned women. However, the complexion of the next couple of Miss Americas became darker. Finally, in 2004, a very dark skinned Black Miss America was selected. Rarely is a dark skinned Black woman considered to be a symbol of beauty and attractiveness. However, there is a new generation of young Black women, both dark and light skinned who are embracing their Black beauty and womanhood. These young women believe that it is time to put this nonsense behind them and to be united under one front-BLACK WOMANHOOD.
© 2011 Grace Marguerite Williams