You’re beautiful…I think?

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Beauty has always been interesting to me. Partly because I like beautiful things/people and because in my years of inevitable, ongoing erosion and decay–more commonly referred to as aging, we sure love to romanticize what is happening to us and our bodies–I’ve come to realize that what we know to be beauty is so arbitrary and synthesized anything can be beautiful if the right people sponsor it. It is really a shame. There is a very small percentage of people that in their own right “create” beauty. Artists, such as painters musicians, poets…

Beautiful people however are simply varying degrees of others right? I mean, we collectively dress, apply make-up, and in some extreme cases go get surgery to look like what others deem as beautiful. Which brings me to my next point, models. Essentially we canonize individuals in society that are aesthetically superior than the rest of us, as if we do not already live in a world with enough social stratification. Before I continue let us examine what is meant by “model” we too often overlook issues without examining the words themselves (I will omit model as a person who wears clothes and shows them off. For I believe the word has much deeper meaning than that.) Model is derived from Latin, and varying definitions mean different things but have common themes: A miniature representation, an image or structure to be reproduced in a more durable manner, a standard or example for imitation, something/someone worthy of imitation. The word itself in many of its definitions creates a sort of inferiority complex, something or someone worthy of imitation, a standard.

This standard of beauty (at least in America) has its roots in white perspective which is, when examined closely, varying degrees of demonizing colored people. That is, an enduring affinity rooted in extreme aversion towards big lips, dark skin, wide nose etc…It was not until 1974 that a black model appeared on the cover of Vogue magazine. It is my contention, that this particular black model did not have what we may colloquially call as particularly “black” features. As she had what is generally considered “good hair” didn’t have a particularly wide nose, and lips were rather modest, not to mention that, while she is black, she is a very light shade of what one might consider black. I say that to say this black woman may have indeed made the cover because she possessed–at least to some degree–a beauty comparable to the standard of beauty, that was–at that point–synonymous with white.

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It is not a coincidence that colored models are more readily–oftentimes erroneously–considered “exotic”. Again, let us examine the term exotic, roughly meaning origination or characteristics from distant or foreign country. Greek and Latin influences literally meaning “from the outside”…If then, a colored model, a colored American model, is exotic, why then are white models less likely to be considered exotic? Are whites indigenous to America and colored people necessarily from distant and foreign countries? I’m no historian, but the “white” and “black” look are technically both exotic, as neither race has its origins in this country (for argument’s sake one could argue that since natives tend to have darker skin and facial features more comparable to blacks that whites are exotic). This may seem unrelated, but like I mentioned before a great deal of society’s issues can be examined simply by the vocabulary attributed to it. Let us digress, if then, exotic is an erroneously attributed term, it would then seem that the term is more so used as a discrete exclusionary tool, exotic in this case meaning outside what is normally expected to be beautiful.

Understanding that beauty is just as man/woman made as iPods and Mercedes will bring people a step closer to liberating themselves. There are countless oppressors in society, let’s not let beauty be one of them. It is an unfortunate reality that beauty, specifically white perspective beauty, has dominated mainstream society and has in my opinion even caused blacks, women in particular to question their beauty and go to extreme measures to achieve beauty. Again, it is no coincidence that “Beauty Supply” stores plague low income neighborhoods, look at it stores that “supply” beauty. As if beauty is something that can be bought and sold. Beauty is a concept a feeling even, hardly a $120 of Brazilian hair sewed into one’s hair to pass off as their own. I’ve asked many young black women why they pursue such unnatural looks, I have gotten many answers, some more believable than others, I have never however gotten “because long silky smooth hair is more socially desirable than my own hair” which I believe at least partly true for most women. Whatever motivates individuals to look a certain way, more power to them, I just ask that they examine why they’re doing it…

-Minority X

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4 thoughts on “You’re beautiful…I think?

  1. I have noticed that when a magazine, Elle in particular (that’s were I have focused my research), wants to emphasize exoticism in their spreads, they will practice some rang of “black face:” coloring models (usually white) darker either with makeup or through an editing program. It has become less and less exotic to be black, probably because all the black models featured in magazines and ads had to be some version of the “white negro” in order to get a spread. Now media exploits the East and Island countries to get their exotic fix… practicing orientalism and cultural appropriation by associating random iconic images of the exotic ‘unknown’ with darker colored white beauty. It’s a version of Ingres’ Grand Odalisque, the classic nude of an French woman surrounded by a colonized countries (Northen Africa/Near East) trappings… with the peacock feathers, turban, pearls, and hookah.

    The emphasis on beauty as an industry has caused not only black women, but all women (from my feminist perspective) to doubt themselves at almost every second. You say above “as if beauty can be sold or bought,” this is precisely the point. The media always have a purpose. Capitalism is the purpose for everything. Magazines and ads are there to create dissonance. Ads want to make you feel like you are not good enough, they give you a picture to aspire to, one that you could never possibly achieve fully (bodies and skin color edited by computer programs) so that you will spend all your money all the time trying to achieve the “glamour” of the ads.

    It’s not the fact that beauty is an oppressor, it is what we as a collective society have made beauty: a competition and a goal. We are not beautiful from the start, we have to be consumers and buy everything we can to achieve it. Now, with my makeup and my painted nails and shaved legs and colored hair and my whitened teeth and my waxed eyebrows and my lip injections I am beautiful… but only for now. Tomorrow I will see an ad that tells me that I have the potential to be beautiful but only if I buy that blush.

    What’s sad to me is that this isn’t just concentrated in ads and publications. It is ingrained in social life. Beauty is an obsession in songs and paintings and history and books and tv and websites and in everyday life. “what does she look like?” “what is she wearing?” “what color are her eyes, her hair?”
    The first thing I hear anyone say about a woman, be it a boy or girl, is weather she is pretty or not and to what degree her beauty reaches.

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