Welcome to the Women of Color and Beauty Carnival.
I had a feeling that I probably wasn't alone in that.
The first discussion I remember hearing about Black women and beauty was my father holding forth very loudly on what he thought was the best color for Black women to wear, which was red. The context was a discussion with family friends about Black women in the fashion industry, particularly those modeling in Europe. Black women, particularly dark skinned Black women, were often conspicuously absent from mainstream media involving when I was growing up. So instead my family subscribed to Essence magazine, which always had Black women of a wide range of hues in it; I knew that Black folks shut out of the domestic US fashion industry had their own fashion shows showcasing Black designers; I knew that Black women were strutting around the catwalks of Paris and Milan and had been for years. In fact, in New York, there were *plenty* of Black models, like Beverly Johnson, who I never met, but everyone knew someone who claimed to know someone who knew her, she was apparently only a few degrees of separation from every Black person in the entire city.
I grew up knowing that when I was grown I had to look sharp and step correct, with the word "Style!!!" being uttered like a mantra in my ear by the same hairdresser's assistant who wanted to know what my grades were.
All of this was of course in sharp contrast to the contempt and hostility for my skin and hair I was being exposed to attending white schools, but that's another carnival subject entirely.
Things are different now.
Women of color are conspicuously absent from mainstream media, despite the growing diversity of audiences in the US and the globalization of the media content market. When they do appear, it is often in a form which bears little or no resemblance to their appearance in nature. Fairness creams run amok in developing countries, frequently leaving a trail of permanent facial scarring, liver damage, and general trauma in their wake. Model and agent Bethann Hardison has pointed out (repeatedly) that women of color had it better in those halcyon 70s of the fashion industry that I remember so fondly than they do now.
And so I was feverishly typing to saskaia and wondering "What does beauty mean to us?" "How does racial stereotyping and white supremacy affect our concepts of beauty?"
And I looked at the conversations I saw other women of color having, about whether or not men of color were supposed to think we were attractive enough to bother with, about whether or not we were considered attractive to anyone at all. About seeing little to no representation of people that look like us having relationships with each other. About how shocking it was for some people to look at us and realize we could be not white *and* pretty at the same time. About how at the same time we manage not to exist in the media, people still know all about sexual stereotypes as Hattie Gossett pointed out in is it true what they say about colored pussy?
Talking about this in public is difficult, and I know there are plenty of people with fierce testimonies who refuse steadfastly to share them in public. Women of color in the blogosphere have learned repeatedly and the hard way that when we share our experiences they will often be the subject of voyeurism, condescension, and further exploitation, sometimes even by people who consider themselves our allies. Responses to Kiri Davis' film A Girl Like Me so often start and end at 'Black women have low self esteem, how sad'. Discussions of women of color and body image start and end at 'In the Black culture it is fine for Black women to be fat' as if Black culture is a monolith and Black women are some how all women of color, all at the same time.
I think it is still important for us to speak out when we can and so I decided to make a Women of Color and Beauty Carnival. I am grateful to everyone who submitted a piece for this edition, especially those who wrote something specifically on the topic.
First, some music.
Black Amazon sums it all up with I aint pretty; and an overview from karnythia, Learning To Love Myself (A Black Girl's Perspective On Beauty).
My original idea was for a Black women and hair carnival, so it's appropriate that we have these two pieces, Nappy love: Or how I learned to stop worrying and embrace the kinks from What Tami Said and A New Approach to Race and Beauty from Entry Level Living.
If you've read enough Black women bloggers you know that a frequent topic of rage is hair touching. You know, when Black hair (particularly in its natural state) is just so fascinating that it transforms the average nappy Black woman into a public petting zoo.sairaali has a wonderful post on the topic: "Hair, redux."
One of the most important (but seldom admitted) issues related to women of color and beauty is colorism. sairaali also contributed On Colorism: "This one is for all my gora, paleskin, high yella, anglo-looking or otherwise light skinned sisters." The new blog skin colored "is a collaborative, visual exploration of what it is to be non-white in a white culture." "Flesh toned" bandaids, and all that jazz.
I asked men of color to contribute their thoughts on relationships between men and women of color, and how they perceive them to be affected by concepts of beauty. One of them responded with the deeply personal Why I love Black Women: A personal narrative. From another, Dating and crossing the line.
Oh, and then there is weight. Fatness. Body image.
saskaia contributed On diets, beauty myths, and leisure: Even when the poor women and/or women of color deeply desire to mold their physical selves into something resembling wealthy thin white womanhood there is no time for it.
Oh, and then there's sexuality. From fightingwords, personal testimony on Browning Burlesque.
So now, we end with pretty. Alek Wek: The First Model I Cared About, which also includes lots of wonderful pictures, and some thoughts on theJuly 2008 Black issue of Italian Vogue with pictures of my personal favorite, Sessilee Lopez, from the fabulous sparkymonster.
ETA: One last piece: Fatness and Uplift: Not a Post about Push Up Bras from (woohoo) sparkymonster.
Thank you for reading the carnival!