Being a black woman means I take pride in the way I look but navigating through the beauty world can often be exhausting.
For years society has taught us to hate our appearance. From our hair to our bodies, black women have constantly been critiqued for the way we look. However, this isn’t something that’s started overnight, the hate for our aesthetics goes far back to slavery.
Due to imperialism and slavery, black women have internalised European ideologies that they were taught about their beauty. This has ranged from things such as having ‘nappy’ hair, dark skin being less desirable and curves seen as unattractive.
Appealing to European Beauty Standards
The legacy of these ideologies are still prevalent today and it’s led to many black women doing everything in their power to appeal to European standards of beauty. Interestingly enough, as society teaches black women to hate ourselves, our features now more than ever are appropriated by non-black women and the beauty world is eating this up.
The very things society has taught us to hate about ourselves are now ‘in’.
As someone with naturally bigger lips, seeing the way big lips have become desirable has been quite ironic, to say the least. I remember continuously being teased for having big lips by my white peers in secondary school. Though it never really had a profound effect on me, I remember feeling extremely singled out.
Years later the infamous Kylie Jenner started over-lining her lips to make them appear bigger and this led to big lips a thing. Before Kylie Jenner though, Angelina Jolie was constantly complimented about having big lips. These compliments to larger lips never extend to Black women.
Minstrel shows were an example of how black features were seen and exaggerated. Minstrel shows featured White People in Blackface who had huge bulging eyes and cherry red lips, signifying how big lips were seen as undesirable.
A double standard continues to exist
Moving on to another Kardashian sister, Kim Kardashian West is seen an influencing factor for the rise in Brazillian Butt Lifts (BBL’s). This is a procedure where women remove fat from the stomach and insert it into their bottoms. Kim wasn’t the pioneer of this so-called ‘trend’. black women have naturally looked like this for years but were shunned for it.
The story of Sara Baartman highlights how black women have been shamed for having natural curves. Baartman was taken to Britain from South Africa in the 19th century to showcase her large buttocks in freak shows. People saw her body as being odd and unusual. She was then examined by a scientist and it was concluded that she was an example of why black people are the lesser race.
Fast forward to today and curves are now in but not because of black women.
Then we move on to hair which in itself is seen as a continuously controversial issue for black women. Many are now moving more towards being natural and reclaiming traditional hairstyles such as braids, cane rolls and faux locs. Actress Zendaya’s appearance on the Oscar red carpet in 2015 is a perfect example of how society has double standards when it comes to our beauty. Zendaya chose to wear her hair in faux locs at the Oscars which was a huge cultural moment for black hair. However, Fashion Police host Giuliana Rancic stated that Zendaya’s hair looked like it smelt like weed.
— Zendaya (@Zendaya) February 24, 2015
Similarly in the same year, Kylie Jenner was the face of Teen Vogue and her hairstyle for the shoot wearing dreadlocks which are regarded as cool and edgy. Non-black women wearing black hairstyles has less to do with the fact their wearing it and more to do with the fact that the beauty world doesn’t give credit where it’s due.
Finally one of the most relevant examples of how our features have been taken from us is “Blackfishing”. Blackfishing is a term that refers to white women appearing to be of black or mixed-race heritage. This is usually done by using aggressive fake tan, over-lining their lips and wearing hairstyles such as braids.
Various white influencers on Instagram have benefitted of this by gaining thousands of followers and having exclusive brand deals that many black women aren’t getting.
A lack of value
The beauty world does not value black women the same way it values white women.
Black women are still the minorities on runways, beauty campaigns and fashion catalogues and yet white women seem to be profiting off our features. This is why I think it’s important for black women to stop seeking outside validation and be bold in ourselves.
Beauty is often a hard topic to discuss as it’s often in the ‘eyes in the beholder’ but when that beholder has been a white man, it’s hard to see the way we’ve been represented as fair.