What is Beauty? : Culture Lines of Color
Throughout the 10 day stretch that spanned America's Beauty Show and The Black Women's Expo, it was easy to feel aware of the differences in my skin tone and disposition. Both were noted at different times and places for different reasons. Drastically varied definitions of beauty passed before my eyes while behind the scenes, on a stage, and on a runway to parade around as what is considered beautiful in front of a sea of strange faces.
Growing up, finding the definition of beauty was confusing to me. On the weekends while spending time with the only other black girls around my age that I knew, my cousins, we would playfully do the old school version of "Twerking", what we called "Popping", and the ability to do so defined femininity, probable attractiveness to boys, and to an extent, MY depth of blackness being the suburban girl. This attribute along with the straightest of straight hair, the ability to conceal any sign of that hair's natural curl pattern, and a shapely silhouette defined as "thick", were typical things that I understood to be coveted among young black girls.
When returning back home to my suburban bubble, my idea of beauty was completely lost, as I felt there was little to no room for the beauty of a sprouting black woman in my white-washed reality. As stereotypes of the ravage behavior that is expected from a black girl came to my attention while white jocks yelled "Pussy" to me down my high school hallway, my self-esteem and sense of self-understanding in the midst of my sprouting, fervid puberty withered and dissipated. At the time, white girls back home wanted the opposite of what black girls wanted to feel beautiful-- a flat ass and skinny thighs, along with the illusion of perfection and the lack of human flaws. Needless to say, as a twiggy awkward black girl with weird tastes, I fit into neither of these categories perfectly, and my reality resembled a teenage limbo.
Raking fingers through my silky straight hair, whipping it exaggeratedly to praise that hard-achieved movement and body, using the contents of opalescent Panteen Pro-V bottles, I now realize, were all steps in my subconsciously holding myself to white beauty standards (yes, even simple adopted mannerisms)--the same standards that convinced millions of women of color for generations that beauty did not exist outside of a relaxer box. With straight hair, I blended in better and looked more like the white girls around me, and looked less like the natural women in my family, on T.V. or the women in the urban black neighborhoods where I'd spend my weekends. The silky, flat, so-called civilized silhouette that harsh chemicals allowed me kept anyone from getting too offended or inquisitive about the natural texture or shape of my hair. At that point, I was unaware of just how bizarre it was to regularly and stress-fully chemically treat my hair to resemble and somewhat appease a culture that I was, in actuality, the opposite of.
Years later, similar standards are still in place. Swap out white girls' desire for flat asses for fat asses, as more characteristically typical black feminine features are now TOTALLY IN STYLE. It can be said however that a PC movement is taking place where in the world of white hair, natural hair on a black woman is modern and fashion-forward . As for any new "Trend", the "Natural hair movement" has been by default embraced, included and displayed among the ginger, brunette, and blonde women's hairstyles, to prove multi-cultural hair-styling ability, inclusiveness and representation. In short, within commercial hair markets, a "token", natural-haired black is increasing in value and becoming a commodity. As this increases with time, I've had the absolute pleasure on several occasions to be that only black face on set or behind a curtain. Some of these experiences are like many had in the past, where my racial singularity (created by casting directors' choice) is ignored (so that white supremacy is still subliminally implemented in advertisements to adults and children for products and services that all of the world consumes**cough cough**). Other times, these often pampered experiences provide insight as to just how far we haven't come as a human race. However, during these times when I stare blankly, emptily into the light bulb-lined mirror behind my manicurist as she files away at my little brown fingers, before waiting hours to have my picture taken, a resolution as to how to change these dynamics escapes me.
The magic of the Black Women's Expo turned out to be quite colorful to say the least. Inherent wavelengths of warmth, inclusiveness and family-orientation were present throughout. Despite this, themes of thickness and the supremacy of a race within a race (Lightskinned girls vs. Darkskinned girls) were brought back to my attention. Though I recall vague fragments of favor of lightness being present in my childhood, as a girl of a darker chocolate hue, I never seriously internalized the concept of being lesser than someone because of my color within my own race, as I only knew of being an outsider because of my blackness versus whiteness, not because of my blackness versus...other blackness? Growing up in a household with a sister and mother that were 3-4 shades lighter than I, I was always made to feel beautiful with my Nutella-hued skin and braids. My mother always referred to our skin tones as something sweet and pleasurable or beautiful like chocolate, caramel or mahogany, so the thought of being different let alone lesser than a fellow queen was...utterly baffling...and honestly something I was thankful to psychologically and socially escape growing up.
Between both shows from both ethnic backgrounds, beauty parallels lie in the amount of time and strain it takes to achieve a certain level of considered 'beauty' for an unclear objective. Addressing said unclear objective dares to open up a can of feminist worms that should be reserved for another time in space... Concerning hairstylists, the sheer dedication to the art form of hair styling and perfection in aesthetic for the purpose of art should be noted...
Beauty! Across cultures. What is it? What does it mean? What does it matter? Do you use elements from different cultures to help you feel beautiful?
Are there certain "beauty practices" that you do out of what you feel is necessity?
How does beauty define you? Does it have to fine you at all?
I think not.
As a vessel that conveys different forms of beauty professionally without any one solid perception of beauty personally, the quote, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder", still holds true as it transcends all nuances humanity has placed on the matter. What is beauty to you?