The March issue of Glamour magazine features a six-page spread titled Your Race, Your Looks.” The article is a response to the publication’s professional hair debacle of last year. In November, Glamour magazine rounded up a panel of esteemed journalists, beauty entrepreneurs, and academic figures to discuss the current state of the depiction of black women in the media and ways to create a future that embraces all shades and textures of beauty. The article featured a chorus of voices that revealed the same experience that I’ve shared with you, and so many of you have shared here with me — most of us have been made to feel less than beautiful at some point in our lives. Less than feminine. Less than desirable. It comes from your family, your friends, your work environment, from the media, and sometimes, from within ourselves.
Subtle slings and arrows are constantly flung at beautiful black women, and they come from all sides. There’s the ever-notable lack of inclusion on television, in movies, in fashion magazines and fashion shows. Fun fact, did you know that before they used the stunning Jourdana Dunn this season, Prada hadn’t used a black model on the runway since 1997? And despite that, Prada still was more inclusive than some of the other designers. Many of this year’s hottest shows at fashion week could be described as a whitewash.
The fashion issue’s been panel-discussed to death both Stateside — read this Jezebel article about last year’s panel discussion titled “Out Of Fashion: The Absence Of Color,” and in England. When the issue was vigorously debated recently, ever-outspoken designer Vivienne Westwood lambasted the racist industry. Now she’s chosen striking Kenyan model Ajuma Nasenyana as the face of her latest campaign, and the Juergen Teller photos reveal her posed with a spear, a machine gun, and alongside bananas and African masks. Some bloggers think it’s fly, others, most notably Make Fetch Happen (one of my new fave blogs on the block), critique the yawn-worthy “safari chic” theme models of color are so often photographed in. A “colorful native” version of the kind of fashion shoots that have also been analyzed over at Racialicious, if you will. I’d love to hear your views on this one.
Sometimes the people who love you will dim your shine without necessarily meaning to step on your self esteem. It can be a little off-the-cuff quip, like “is that what you’re wearing?” If you wear your hair in a natural style, you’ll probably hear, “aren’t you going to do something with that?” in reference to your style of choice. Or the offer of a well meaning older relative to help you “fix your hair.” Because in her eyes, it’s broken and bad.
Sometimes, it’s an incident with your employer or coworkers. I read this post on Racialicious
(penned by the super intelligent blogger of What Tami Said) and felt my pulse race with recognition at that feeling of not being considered just as female, sexy, and attractive as a lighter (or whiter) skinned counterpart. And I agreed most of all with her conclusion — “Sometimes it is freaking tiring being a beautiful black woman in America.” But not just America — these are situations and emotions that women of color all over the world can identify with. Sometimes it’s enough to chip away at even the most confident bella’s self esteem.
I don’t know about y’all, but I have had enough of doubting my beauty and my worth as a woman. I am not going to take it anymore — from the media, or from the people I interact with regularly. If you’re with me, can I get an amen?
I say, don’t waste your time buying Vogue or any of the so-called fashion bibles that hardly ever use models of color in their spreads. Support the publications that do — if you’re bored of Essence or Ebony, check out Trace magazine online instead. Or Amber Mag. Or read a black fashion blog, like I Like Her Style, or The Fashion Bomb.
I say, the next time you’re thinking about dropping dollars on a Prada bag or an overpriced item from insert the latest trendy product here, look at their advertising. Think about it, then spend that cash to support someone who celebrates you as a beautiful woman and a viable customer. We are tastemakers with our own ideas, so forget what Anna Wintour thinks should be the new hotness. Go get yourself an Alek Wek bag, or an Iman purse instead — Iman’s Global Chic line is both affordable and stylish. Before you support another designer who doesn’t see fit to send models that look like you sashaying down their runway, consider the designers who regularly use models of color. If I had the dough to spend on high fashion, I’d definitely spring for something by Rachel Roy, Diane Von Furstenberg, or Tracy Reese — designers who recognize that there are multiple shades of beauty.
When that well-meaning relative chimes in their two cents about the texture or length of your hair, don’t snap back a rude response (no matter how much you might want to). Take the time to explain to them why your hair is beautiful the way it is, or even better, show them how you style your hair, tell them what products you use, and explain why you do it that way. Mama Bella and my aunties will probably never go totally natural, but I think they admire the fact that I can wash and go without worrying too much. I can swim without worrying about getting my hair wet. Bellas of the relax-and-rollerset generation might never fully understand the new era of proudly natural women. That doesn’t mean we can’t respect each other and learn to embrace one another’s beauty. Starting a dialogue that examines your relative’s thought process about hair can do one of two things — it can make them seriously think about the reasons for their deep-seated prejudices, or it can make them totally sick of hearing your “nappy nazi” rhetoric. Either way, score! — you probably won’t have to have the same conversation again.
If a coworker or employer makes you feel uncomfortable about the way you wear your hair, or somehow makes you feel less than feminine (as happened to Tami), your first impulse might be a four-letter word that could get you in trouble at the office. Bite back the anger, and take a moment to reflect before you respond. You can’t let some out-of-touch d-bag steal your sunshine. If the people you work with make you feel invisible, or “less than,” then it’s up to you how you deal with that. Invisibility can have its benefits in the workplace (trust me,) but if your self confidence has been compromised, pick yourself up and celebrate your beauty. Look in the mirror and give yourself an unbashed grin. Know that you are beautiful and fabulous and you deserve all of the best things in life. If you can afford it, treat yourself to a fly, work appropriate top in a color you love — brights of all colors look stunning on beautiful brown skin. If you’re self-conscious about having short hair, get yourself some beautiful hoop earrings to show off your sassy side. Boost your own esteem from within by mentally listing all of your positive attributes — your beautiful eyes, the enviable shade of your skin (you’ll never need to be spray painted orange at a tanning salon, right?), the lush fullness of your lips (who needs implants? Not you, bella!), and most of all, your strong, sexy brain. We’re too smart and too fly to let anyone make us feel less than. Black is Beautiful. Sometimes we let ourselves forget that we are beautiful black women. Take the time to remind yourself today and every day.
FYI, I got the image at the top of the page from Gorgeous Black Women, a site I visit whenever I need beauty inspiration. Check it out!
Bellas, has anyone ever made you feel less than beautiful? How did you overcome those feelings of self-doubt?