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What Color Is Beautiful?

December 3, 2014

            I remember one day asking a group of kids to list things they liked about themselves, and as you can imagine some kids had a long list of things, while a few kids actually didn’t like anything about themselves. One little girl in particular actually could not list one thing, and though I tried to assure her that she had a number of things to be happy about she could not see it in herself. When I think about that day I am reminded of the fact that when we grow up in a situation in which we don’t get any reassurance or support, or if we are not told how special, beautiful, smart we are, it is hard then to find those characteristics in one’s self.

            Now imagine you live in a society, one like the world we live in today, in which we are continuously bombarded with images of what is considered beautiful, desirable and acceptable.  If we are relentlessly seeing images of beauty that we ourselves can’t relate to, how do you think that affects our self-confidence? In a world with so many uniquely beautiful diverse races and cultures, why are the quintessential ideals and imagery of beauty tall, thin, and white skinned? The systemic stigma of racism has plagued African American, and many other minorities in this country, enabling many of the sub groups to have insecurities about themselves.

            Unfortunately, individuals within these groups had to struggle against their own identity in order to feel good about themselves in a society that made them feel inferior in not only social standing, but in terms of beauty as well. Although I was just a pre-teen in the 70’s I remember the phrase ‘Black is beautiful.” While some misguided people believe this is somehow a phrase made to substantiate a belief that Blacks are superior, to me it simply tries to convey a message to people who have historically been made to feel inferior. A message saying that they matter, and are very beautiful despite being told otherwise by a nation that reminded them daily of how devalued they were as a race in this country.

            Though the more overt tenants of racism in this country have become more subtle, and of a more covert manner, we see the remainder of the systemic ideologies of racism in our entertainment industry and mass media outlets. At a glance, they don’t appear to be overtly prejudicial, but any annual most beautiful list that consistently omits a substantial amount of attractive women of color must be called into question. Whether it’s Maxim, FHM, People or others, magazines routinely parade a host of the usual suspects, many of them often composite images of the same age, body and skin types; and to top it off, they then list these women as the most beautiful/sexiest women in the world!!! I always say to myself, “If this list is supposedly the 100 most beautiful in the entire world, then why are they almost exclusively made up of Caucasian women”?

            Regardless of the fact that every man may have a specific type, a specific feature that he prefers, why are so many separate lists from varying magazines and outlets so similar to one another? Are these lists, many of them endorsed by major media outlets, all judged by the same panel of 100 White males ages 18-32 who have a Sports Illustrated swim suit edition that they spend a little too much time with, if you get my point? I am a non-delusional African American male who has no qualms about admitting there are dozens upon dozens of White actresses that I find very attractive/sexy, but I take issue with any Caucasian male that acts as if Erica Tazel of the FX series “Justified,” or any actress that looks like her, is somehow unattractive, or could not make one of these lists.

            I purposely referenced the “Justified” actress because while she may not be a household name or face she is no doubt a very beautiful actress with very attractive dark skin, and I defy anyone to dispute her beauty in open forum! Not only do I take issue with magazines and their claims to feature the most beautiful women in the world, and 80 percent of the alleged most beautiful women in the world are always Caucasian, but if they have any women of color, they are typically mixed or light skinned women; now what’s up with that? Are we led to believe that a woman of color is only considered beautiful if she is fair skinned?

            Another thing I take issue with is the notion that skinny is desirable! I may be setting myself up for the typical “Black guy” jokes, but I have no issue with a woman of any race with some curves! While it may sound ridiculous, but some women who have beautiful dark skin or natural curves are made to feel that they have to lose weight in order to fit someone else’s standard of what beautiful or sexy is.

            In the past I have often referenced the Vanity Fair’s “New Hollywood” magazine cover a few years ago. In it were featured a bunch of actresses, all 20 something, and I couldn’t help but feel that not only did this perpetuate a lot of the things I stand against, but it sends a underlying message that this is the quintessential image of beauty in Hollywood.

            I got into a debate with someone, who responded to a post I made about the magazine cover, and he/she explained that if I didn’t like it I could just tell Zoe Saldana, Gabrielle Union and others to go pose for Ebony magazine! They even had the nerve to accuse Ebony of being racist, and I explained that Ebony existed to give many Beautiful and talented women (people) of color an opportunity that most mainstream magazines were not giving them. Jennifer Aniston does not need an Ebony cover, but a much lesser nationally known minority actress, despite being just as talented as her more famous White counterpart Aniston, just may need that opportunity to finally be recognized.

            When it boils down to it, each magazine is surely entitled to promote who they choose, but my issue is not necessarily or singularly the fact that these different magazines discriminate, my beef is in the fact that these practices are further substantiated by media outlets who either officially or unofficially report these list and the stars who appear on them. I also don’t buy into these same magazines occasionally trying to save face after the fact by allowing their select few men or women of color to finally grace their magazine covers.

            It reeks of a disingenuous attempt to make amends with a part of society that they obviously aren’t too concerned with. Who truly is to blame in these situations with magazines and their images of beauty, the subscribers that allegedly vote on these lists, the Hollywood culture that perpetuates these standards and allows them to exist, or the general public that sees the glaring disparity and says nothing?

            Speaking of saying nothing, why do we allow the Hollywood culture to treat actresses in their 30 or 40’s as if they have no viability of being relevant unless they bare their bodies? Are older actresses relegated to being typecast as the mom with no other purpose in any story? Does an actress lose her sex appeal once she ages or has a baby?

           While some women may seek to stop the test of time, are women who bask boldly in their process of aging somehow more sexy and beautiful for it? While mainstream culture seems to be fixated on the young, super thin woman who can’t help but take off her clothing in film or on social media, I think there is something to be said about a woman of any color, age or body type that can get a man’s attention without having to take off one stitch of clothing. Confidence is sexy! It’s not always about skin people!

             I was in the grocery store one day this past year and out of nowhere this older White lady walked in dressed really nice and she just had this strut to her as if she knew that she looked good. It was not some stuck-up arrogant type of vibe; it was just this subtle little strut that made people notice her. I came home and told my wife about it and she told me that I had to write about it. Confidence, call me old fashioned, but I truly believe it starts with that; but how can you achieve that goal as a woman if the world beats you down subliminally with its standards and makes you feel as if you have nothing truly to offer?

            I remember talking to my niece years ago about how women had power, and if women ever discovered how much power they have, they would never surrender that power to just anyone casually. It’s time for women to realize their true beauty and regardless of your color, your age or weight they need to understand real men, (not adult adolescents) real men appreciate real beauty! In this multicultural extremely diverse society we live in I find it ridiculous that some people still try to substantiate the media obsession with superficial standards of beauty that focus all too often on tall, thin and White skin.

            I say again for anyone who may read this, and misinterpret my message and assume I don’t think that White women are attractive, on the contrary. I just think that there are a lot actresses that I would put on my list that may not make the typical list perhaps mainly due to the color of their skin, their age or maybe even because they have curves, and the 18-32 (Caucasian) demographic that makes up most of these mainstream magazine subscribers, can’t handle women with curves (just my theory). We all have tastes, we all may have preferences, but we can’t deny that real beauty comes in all colors, shapes and sizes. Real beauty is colorless, ageless and can’t truly be measured until it takes your breath away the moment you spot it.

E.D. Armstrong

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