Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford
What's Your Idea of Beauty? Is Your Black Beautiful?
The topic of beauty has been one that has been debated multiple times over the years, with many people differing in their opinions and ideas about what denotes beauty. Unlike societal expectations of male attractiveness, female beauty has always been and continues to be, a topic of extreme social significance, with many people developing opinions about what constitutes beauty. In the American media, the attractiveness of women is often tied to physical attributes such as body structure (thin), skin tone (light or fair), facial characteristics (small or narrow features), hair (long or straight), social acceptability, status, morality and (occasionally) intellect. We have all been bombarded with societal images of “beauty” in movies and television shows. The images represented in movies typically include a slender actress, with physical attributes deemed to be more acceptable and desirable based upon its alignment with societal beliefs and expectations. Women that do not fit into societal beliefs or images of beauty are often seen as less attractive, unattractive or less desirable. It is for this reason many women struggle with low self-esteem, identity issues, low self-worth, and a distorted perception of self.
For generations, black women have felt the pressure to maintain an air of strength through the face of challenge and diversity. Within the black race there are multiple, varying shades of brown skin, hair color, textures, features, etc. which makes black women and men so unique. In spite of all of these enviable features and characteristics, it not uncommon for black people, specifically women to have their beauty represented in the media by their lighter counterparts. Many of the distorted images we see in the media consist of the “bitter or angry” black woman, the self-loathing woman, the want nothing has nothing woman, the insecure woman, disillusioned woman, or my personal pet peeve, the side kick, a woman society insist possess all or most of the characteristics deemed desirable. After generations of being portrayed negatively and bombarded with distorted images of beauty self-esteem and self-worth can be greatly affected. Unfortunately, some women may begin to adjust their perception of beauty based upon society’s demands and expectations of what is attractive, desirable, and appealing. This unnecessary adjustment of perception can wreak havoc on how one views him or herself, how they engage with and function within the world, and even how they raise their children to function within and view the world.
It never ceases to amaze me how physical characteristics present on an African American woman can be seen as “ugly” or “undesirable”, however when it is seen on women of other races those same characteristics are praised, even adored. Regretfully, this distinction or judgment of beauty not only occurs with other races but within our own, begging the questions, what does it mean to be beautiful? Are we defining beauty for ourselves or ascribing to society’s views and perceptions regarding beauty? It is important to recognize and acknowledge the presence of beauty in everyone and everything, especially when it pertains to children. When children are not taught to appreciate and love individual differences they learn to become rigid in their understanding of what it means to be beautiful, valued, appreciated, and respected. This negative thinking leads to decreased self-esteem and failure to embrace what makes them special and unique. What is not taught at home will be learned in the world, therefore you have to decide who you would like that teacher to be, you or society. Keep in mind, if it is your intent to teach your child something as important as self-love, self-appreciation you must believe this about yourself as well, the teacher cannot also be the student in this instance. What do you think makes you beautiful?