Sunday, February 24, 2008

Black Women & Beauty Standards

For a change, let us not talk about Halle Berry and Beyonce, white women or light skin vs dark skin. In fact, let's take African women out of the picture, as well. Let's just talk about everyday American black women and how we feel about us, physically.

This is one of those times I would really like to open up comments to see what others think about this--and, therefore, wish I had a blog that I could control to my satisfaction--because, unlike pretty much every topic I write about, this is the one topic I have not been able to find anything online about. There are many similar topics, but what I want to know--and can't seem to find the answer adult black women generally think of themselves as attractive, or no, despite all the negative media and trends in interracial dating that leave black women out?

So, in this case, this is not my non-PC, no-limits response to a popular topic and response that I hear and see everywhere, per se. I'm aware that you can't generalize a group as far as some black women surely have issues in terms of their physical appearance just like many other women do, while some black women are very happy with their looks. I'm curious about black women for two main reasons, though: 1) I feel that we hear all the time how white women feel about their looks, and 2) as I've mentioned before in my blog on more than one occasion, my experience with black women is that, at least compared to what we hear about women/self-esteem/beauty standards in general and all the degradation of black women physically alone, black women are surprisingly very happy with their looks and have a higher rate of self-confidence in that area than other women. As I said, I have nothing to back this up, and it really could just be a result of the kind of black women I find myself around.

My search around the internet actually did turn up more items that indicate, at least, a mindset of celebrating black femininity, not to mention topics about interracial dating. I could find topics about issues of black women and self-esteem, but these issues never really had anything to do with the self-esteem of black female adults in relationship to physical appearance--it was either how some black women felt when they were younger, issues of colorism among blacks--which also tended to relate to being younger vs now--or just general self-esteem issues.

There are a lot of reasons why I think this question should have been raised and explored by now by someone other than myself, the bulk of them mentioned above at some point. But the main reason I'm bringing it up right now is because I find myself seriously wondering if I'm the only black female adult who does not view herself as physically attractive. Now, like I said, this topic today has nothing to do with white women, the media, or even body image--though I don't like my body, either, but I think every woman hates something about her body. I'm just plain-old talking about, I don't think I'm a good-looking person. Although the topic is raised in the context of race, my issues are not race-related. I think there are many attractive black women, including many dark-skinned black women and black women without permed hair; I just don't think I'm one of them.

As a black female who is racially mixed, very light-skinned, usually has long hair and has hair of a certain texture, I have probably been assumed on occasion to be a black female who automatically believes herself to be good-looking and/or who is standoffish or what have you because of these features. There has never been a time in my life when I have found myself physically attractive--ever. I don't think that will ever change. However, lucky for me, my self-esteem has always predominantly come from my intelligence (and in the last decade, from my talents, as well), so not feeling attractive has never been the kind of thing to keep me sitting around feeling bothered or bad about myself. Throughout my adolescence, high school and probably college, too, I pretty much never thought about how attractive I was.

I worried about weight, but I think I usually think about weight for me. For the past couple years, weight has been more about feeling good than feeling attractive, especially after having gotten on a healthy regimen and seeing results from it--results being things like not just weight loss, but having more energy, not feeling gross internally from eating junk or greasy foods, having an easier time doing certain things, not having as many headaches or other medical issues, being able to workout without being in pain the next day, etc. Still, the reason I say my issue isn't body image is because I could finally achieve my ideals in terms of working out and how my body looks, and I will still not see myself as physically attractive. I will like my body, but I will not think I'm much prettier.

As I've said before, it amazes me that pretty white women or even pretty Asian women can seriously think they aren't attractive, but a range of black women know--or "know"--they are good-looking. That is, some black women look good and they know it; some black women don't look good, but they still think they're all that. Now, obviously, I'm not saying "all" here...but I am saying it seems like you'll encounter more white and Asian women who underestimate their looks than black women. Ironically, they are the most desired women in the US, black women the least desired.

I also must say that I have wondered for years how people know they are attractive. Even if I thought I were, I would never say I was to anyone, and I don't understand people who do. One time, I did put this question to some people, and they told me, basically, that they know because they're told. Do I think everyone who is attractive is told as much, though? Not really. Do I believe the people who have said it to me? Absolutely not. With family, I feel like they say it because they're family. With others, I feel they are either trying to be nice or, frankly, trying to trick me in some way. Now, I have heard other non-black women say the same thing or something similar, so I don't know why I have never heard a black woman say this.

For example, my oldest sister had to know on some level that she was physically attractive, even though she had self-esteem issues, because, at one point, she was trying to become a model. My mother has essentially always been one of those people who, as I mentioned, will announce that she is attractive and still brags on her high school and college days as one of the most attractive women at her schools. Nowadays, she's a little more like those black women who seems like her mirror is not quite the same as everyone else' offense. My white friends and I laugh about it, though, because she would unquestionably be overweight to white people. And even to blacks, I don't think she would be considered obese or anything like that, but, still, they should be able to see she has some weight on her.

However, until recently, my mother has insisted that she is "thin." I don't think she understood that's not true until a doctor told her how much she weighs and let her know she's overweight. And, honestly, I still don't think she understands fully, because she keeps blaming the weight on things such as digestion problems, failing to see that she has been overweight for some time now. She, as does my oldest sister, also insist that I weigh more than they do. For example, my mother refuses to believe that I wear a smaller pants size than she does, and my sister's stomach is bursting out of shirts I have given, she goes to work like this! I'm sure people there can see her stomach all day.

You remember my last post on religion and how I said many religious people seem to have difficulties in conversations sometimes, though I specifically meant conversations about religion. Well, make that conversations in general. I remember I asked my mother maybe a year ago why she feels that she is physically attractive and was telling her I don't see myself this way. And her response was basically something like, "Of course, you're attractive. Your parents aren't ugly. I was Mrs. Blah Blah Blah in high school and La Di Da in college, and women were after your father blah blah blah." And, come to think of it, I really wonder how my mother was considered very beautiful back in the day, because we do look similar sometimes. Again, no offense to her, but I have a hard time thinking about people in my family in terms of attraction, so I always find it odd when people describe their mother as the most beautiful person in the world, for example.

Cont'd here