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Standards of Beauty/Perceptions of Black Women March 2, 2007

Posted by Melissa in beauty myths, Kiri Davis, race, video.
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I found this great video after watching a news report a friend sent me about standards of beauty among young Black girls. Kiri, 18, reconducted an experiment originally executed in 1950’s in which children were asked which doll (the Black or the white) they would like to play with. What she found was that regardless of the “progress” the same standards of “good” and “bad” still permeate. It is particularly painful to watch at minute 4:30 when a girl has trouble picking out which doll looks like her after she just identified the black doll as being bad because she was black.

I thought this was interesting considering that the film we just watched (Imitation of Life) was made in the 1950’s, the same year the original experiment was conducted. Its disturbing to realize that children, and society, are still struggling to realize the beauty and goodness (or glamour) in Black women. As with the movie, the new documentary shows that white dolls (in the films case, white women) are more positively portrayed and accepted.

the documentary

the news report

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Comments»

1. mattwm - March 2, 2007

I keep trying to figure out what’s going on in here, to be able to think about what to do about it. I guess I come back to the concept of discourse (which I think is handy as long as it doesn’t obscure the fact that the oppression of black women is historical, intentional, and vicious): representations of black women are still controlled by whites (or white concepts) in our national consciousness. She’s the quintessential Other, and an interesting one at that: at once sexualized (“every black female has a big butt and big boobs,” in the opening words of the video; in the Hottentot Venus image; in the language describing “plus sized” non-white celebrities who are anything but) while dismissed as . . . is ugly too strong? by virtue of lips, skin tone, hair. That this representation of the black woman persists in white society (and is used or subverted interestingly, I think, in movies, ads, and especially pornography) and, as this video shows, has been well internalized by black parents, is disheartening. Straightening your hair is still a big, exciting deal for black girls as they come into adolescence. Parents, sisters, and peers encourage such thought– but I’m not going to blame the victim.

Anyway, I guess I’m saying is: how are black women going to be able to take control of their own representation? At the very least– if not in the larger culture– for their own selves and daughters. Is it enough for parents to encourage and ensure their daughter of her natural beauty as she grows up? Or will black girls consciously have to confront and fight against the standards of “beauty” imposed on them? It seems like that’s what these girls have had to do, and I think that’s what most of my friends who will talk to me about it have had to do. Its difficult for me still.

2. elizabethwilkes - March 5, 2007

I don’t know how many of you are Idol fans, but an interesting story has emerged in the past weeks involving one of the top 24 contestants, Antonella Barba. Some racy pictures of Barba, many of them shot at the World War II memorial in Washington, DC, have surfaced, prompting many to suggest that she deserves the boot from the show. The producers of American Idol have decided to let her stay on the show, prompting a number of fans/bloggers/critics to point fingers at the clear discrepancy between Idol’s treatment of Barba versus its treatment of Frenchie, another scandalmaker, a few years back. Many outraged critics of Idol’s decision have brought up the fact that Frenchie, an overweight (not size 12 overweight, for real overweight) black woman was kicked off the show when topless photos of her surfaced, while Barba, a thin, white woman was allowed to stay on the show. The point has been made that the producers of Idol are essentially saying that the sexualization of a large, black woman is inappropriate to have associated with the show, while the sexualization of a skinny white woman is ok, possibly because it corresponds to the image over the sexy, 20-something celebrity that is already so prevalent in today’s media culture.

The fact stands that Frenchie’s pictures were taken with the purpose of being displayed on a pornographic website. Barba’s photos were shot for her personal use. Based on these particulars, it seems as though the debate should be a nondebate- the circumstances surrounding each set of photographs are very different. But, because the sexualization of plus-sized women has become an extremely culturally relevant issue, especially in the past year with the emergence of stars such as Jennifer Hudson and America Ferrera, this debate seems to have a lot more at stake than simply whether or not Antonella Barba gets to stay on Idol.

3. elizabethwilkes - March 5, 2007

I don’t know how many of you are Idol fans, but an interesting story has emerged in the past weeks involving one of the top 24 contestants, Antonella Barba. Some racy pictures of Barba, many of them shot at the World War II memorial in Washington, DC, have surfaced, prompting many to suggest that she deserves the boot from the show. The producers of American Idol have decided to let her stay on the show, prompting a number of fans/bloggers/critics to point fingers at the clear discrepancy between Idol’s treatment of Barba versus its treatment of Frenchie, another scandalmaker, a few years back. Many outraged critics of Idol’s decision have brought up the fact that Frenchie, an overweight (not size 12 overweight, for real overweight) black woman was kicked off the show when topless photos of her surfaced, while Barba, a thin, white woman was allowed to stay on the show. The point has been made that the producers of Idol are essentially saying that the sexualization of a large, black woman is inappropriate to have associated with the show, while the sexualization of a skinny white woman is ok, possibly because it corresponds to the image over the sexy, 20-something celebrity that is already so prevalent in today’s media culture.

The fact stands that Frenchie’s pictures were taken with the purpose of being displayed on a pornographic website. Barba’s photos were shot for her personal use. Based on these particulars, it seems as though the debate should be a nondebate- the circumstances surrounding each set of photographs are very different. But, because the sexualization of plus-sized women has become an extremely culturally relevant issue, especially in the past year with the emergence of stars such as Jennifer Hudson and America Ferrera, this debate seems to have a lot more at stake than simply whether or not Antonella Barba gets to stay on Idol.

4. CosmoGirl films: don't forget to vote! « 13.69 - April 12, 2007

[…] please, please, please check out all of the videos (the link above will take you there). Also, Melissa on the Girlpower 2 blog has a post with the Davis video in it, as well as the original video the film is based on. […]


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