Beauty is (white) skin deep

This post was originally published on the blog True Jest.

When I was a teenager, I defined beauty as everything that I wasn’t. In my mind, the lighter your hair and eyes, the more beautiful you were. I don’t know where that idea came from or when it finally and thankfully left my head, but my point is this: For more than half my life, I believed my dark hair and eyes made me hopelessly ugly. I was actually envious of the members of Hanson because they were prettier than me.
While I was in Bible college, I helped teach children’s church for fourth grade girls who rode the bus to church. Most of these girls were black or Hispanic. One day, a black girl reached out, grabbed part of my hair and asked me, “How do you get your hair so smooth?”

“That’s just how my hair is,” I told her. I didn’t know what else to say. But her question made me realize how many girls are out there walking around with the same mentality that I had: That they’re hopelessly unpretty because of who they are.

According to psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa, science supports this little girl’s mentality. In Psychology Today, Kanazawa posted the results of a study that he claims measures physical attractiveness both objectively and subjectively. According to the people he interviewed, black women just aren’t as attractive as women of other races. Kanazawa points out that black men and women in general rated themselves as being more attractive than other respondents rated them to be. That point especially makes me question the point of the study. If a woman is comfortable with how she looks, should it matter to her if most other people don’t find her attractive? Considering that Kanazawa’s article doesn’t say anything about the gender or racial make up of the group interviewed, he’s hardly proven that most people don’t find black women attractive anyway. (Since I published the original post, Psychology Today took down the original article, but it is still available here.)

What bothers me about Kanazawa’s article is that it reinforces a message that black children, especially girls, already hear from society ad nauseum: That they’re not quite as pretty or important. A skit from the first season of “In Living Color,” performed by T’Keyah Crystal Keymah, touches upon the places that black girls receive these messages from.

The skit is reminiscent of Gilda Radner’s “The Judy Miller Show,” a bit Radner performed both on Saturday Night Live and in solo shows. Although both of these sketches are from comedy programs, I find it depressing to compare the content Keymah’s performance to that in Radner’s.

I love that Chris Rock’s documentary “Good Hair” fantastically addresses the issue of black girls not feeling beautiful and points out the ridiculous, dangerous lengths to which black women are pressured to go for the sake of fitting in with unrealistic beauty standards. Bonus cool points go to Paul Mooney, a man hardly in need of cool points, for the wig he wore in this video.

Another refreshing incident was Rihanna’s response to a commenter who asked why the singer’s hair was so nappy in the photo for the cover of a single. Rihanna kick-assedly answered, “cuz I’m black bitch!!!!” It’s disturbing to me that even someone with a nearly unobtainable beauty is still subjected to being called “nappy,” but it’s also fantastic that someone with Rihanna’s influence showed her followers that they don’t need to answer for having the looks they were born with.

Hari Kondabolu discusses the pressure minorities feel to appear whiter in a video blog talking about the skin bleach Fair and Lovely. I know that the rest of the clips in this post have focused on the pressure black women feel to fit a white standard of beauty, but I still want to share Kondabolu’s clip for two reasons: First, it shows that these unrealistic expectations to whiten up apply to most ethnic minorities, and second, my Kondabo-love — or Crush-abolu, if you will — runs too deep for me to ignore how much all people need to internalize this message.

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