I must say that regardless of how superficial this post might seem, outer beauty and physical appearance are certainly weighted heavily in today’s society. I firmly believe that beauty is more than skin deep and that it is inner beauty that truly makes an individual attractive. However, we cannot deny the effect that one’s physical appearance has on their self-esteem, confidence and motivation as well as the attention and treatment they receive from others. As human beings, we respond to things that are aesthetically pleasing and many of us strive to live up to what we have been conditioned to believe is beautiful. But, what is beautiful? How is beauty defined? Who defines and standardizes notions of beauty and how does race and culture impact these notions?
Please be reminded that the following post is not academic or research based but instead is rooted in my own observations, personal experiences and opinions on beauty as a young Black woman living in a very multicultural environment.
Here is the context for this post. I found myself watching a show on the E! channel today. It’s called Bridalplasty. The show is about brides-to-be competing for plastic surgery in an attempt to win the perfect wedding and be the “perfect-looking” bride. I know, it’s disturbing on so many levels but I can’t even lie, after watching about three episodes I found myself online researching breast implants and other cosmetic surgery procedures. Now, if there is one thing that I give myself credit for, it is my ability to self-reflect and analyze my personal beliefs and actions. I fully understand that my preoccupation with beauty, clothes, hair, and weight come from my desire to be accepted, admired and acknowledged. Trust me, I’ve been my own psychologist for some time now and I get why I do the things I do and I understand why I feel the way that I feel. I also know that I am not alone in feeling this way as many young girls and women succumb to the pressure of trying to maintain an image and reach an unattainable standard of beauty.
Now if you know me, then you also know that I have a strong interest in anthropology, anti-racism and cultural studies. So as I watched Bridalplasty and researched plastic surgery, I reminisced about my last couple “Ladies Night Out” escapades. Each time I’ve gone out in the past couple months, I’ve been flabbergasted by the amount of girls that have big butts. Some are obviously butt implants, some could be padded panties and some could simply be freaks of nature. I’m talking Caucasian, Asian and Indian girls with abnormally huge “apple” bottoms. Generally speaking, I found and still find it crazy that all these women wanted what Black women have been self-conscious of and ridiculed about for centuries.
In my opinion, the Big Butt phenomenon began with the mainstream success of Beyonce and her single “Bootylicious”. Other celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian also made large bottoms acceptable and desirable. But, if you look through history Black women have been hyper-sexualized and denigrated because of their larger hips, thighs and bottoms. Now all of a sudden it is something that is coveted amongst non-white populations. It’s similar to the lip injection phenomenon. Again, if you do some research you’ll find that in the past Black men and women have been criticized and ostracized because of their full lips. Then all of a sudden, it became in vogue for women to inject their lips with various substances in order to obtain sexier, fuller lips. Finally, consider the desire for a darker complexion via tanning as another example of the coveted beauty of Black women. Isn’t ironic that Black women bleach and are often afraid of the sun since darkness is perceived as unattractive yet, individuals of other races go out of their way to add pigment to their skin tone.
So after being ostracized and made self-conscious of the physical characteristics that reveal our African heritage, we are now the prototypes for some of the most popular cosmetic surgery procedures. Many of the individuals spending thousands of dollars on butt implants, lip injections and tanning will never look critically enough at what they are doing to acknowledge the connection between these procedures and Africentric standards of beauty. Regardless of whether they know it, we know it! So celebrate your full lips, broad hips and voluptuous derrières ladies. Clearly, Black IS beautiful and Black Girls Rock even though we are often led to believe otherwise.