Is (Black) Beauty Still a Feminist Issue?

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That’s the question that Feminist Law Prof Imani Perry (Princeton) asks in this piece over at HuffPo:

Last night I read my friends’ tweets about the Miss Universe Pageant. But I didn’t watch it. I am an old fashioned feminist when it comes to pageants. They turn my stomach. I find them embarrassing and absurd. But I can’t be preachy about my dislike.

After all, I love fashion magazines, the ones filled with fantasies of over-the-top consumption and impossible beauty and I won’t apologize for that indulgence, so I have no judgment for pageant watchers. Pageants just aren’t for me.

But out of curiosity this morning I looked at the Miss Universe contestants online, inspired by the internet chatter. And lo and behold I was shocked when I realized that Miss Ecuador, Miss Honduras and Miss Nicaragua, were all Latinas of African descent. Only recently have noticeably Indian and African looking women begun to be featured on Latin American television and film, and still in small numbers. * * *

As a Black woman, for centuries now, flesh like my flesh has carried the burden of presumed inferiority. Black women have been cast as hypersexual or desexualized, always available yet undesired, ridiculous and often ugly, the mules of the world. Notwithstanding a few beauty icons, public figures, and celebrities, these stereotypic representations are still common. And perhaps this is why the fantasy of a beauty culture that includes Black women has so much allure. Fantastic images of Black women who are desired yet untouchable, pristine, flawless, and admired, lie so contrary to how we have been cast throughout history. And that feels kind of good. * * *

My personal resolution on the beauty issue is this: When images of physical beauty serve to diminish the depth of a woman’s personhood, we should reject them. And when they seem to restore an appreciation of that which has been devalued, or to be attached to an open sense of expressiveness, play, and fun, then we should feel free to enjoy them. But in either case, our eyes must always be focused on actual lives, not just screens and pages in a magazine.

Read Professor Perry’s full article here.

-Bridget Crawford

images (from top): Lady Mina Lastra (Miss Ecuador 2010); Kenia Martinez (Miss Honduras 2010); Scharllette Allen Moses (Miss Nicaragua 2010)

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