Category Archives: beauty

A Brown-Skinned Lady and Her Sunblock

By Guest Contributor A. Sandosharaj; originally published in the April issue of River Teeth

In 1984, I–l ike every other girl in America–wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid. To impress everyone with my logic—I was one of those brats—I asked for the brown-skinned version, a request my Sri Lankan-born parents could only understand as preposterous: dark-skinned dolls were for black children. That this was pitiable for them—the dolls’
homeliness was a given—was no reason for me, however, to get a doll that matched my skin. At Zayre’s, my father held the boxed toy at arm’s length, wondering was I sure I didn’t want a regular doll?

A month later, I bored of her, but before abandoning her altogether, I made her over. Applying the ivory-shade foundation I (incompatibly, absurdly) wore when performing classical Indian dance, I deracinated my Cabbage Patch baby, covering her face in stage-strength makeup until she had a glistening beige face atop a cloth brown body.

Twenty-five years later, I noticed that my face was lighter than the rest of me—more “fair” in the lexicon of my mother—my hands and shoulders most conspicuously. This could potentially be explained as the ordinary outcome of idling on beaches while obsessively outfitted in hat and sunscreen, or the fact that I stroll, bike, and jog in the same
sort of protective accouterments. I am, after all, thirty-four and terror stricken by the inescapability of wrinkles.

Once, for example, I purchased a $125 vial of vitamin-C serum despite the fact that I was making nineteen grand as a grad student at the time, never mind that I was on the pill—the low-dose kind that eradicates blemishes—and that I ate compulsively well—grapes for their collagen, fish for their oils—and never mind that: I had no skin problems whatsoever.

Like many women, I feel a keen pressure to look as good as possible for as long as possible, “as possible” in this case meaning “as you can afford.” But as an American of South Asian descent, and thus a deeply-raced person, I have to question whether gender-based panic about aging is the sole reason I avoid the sun. With skin the color of a wet graham cracker (I would have failed the old paper-bag test), a graduate degree in critical race theory, and a lifetime preoccupied with color, I have to consider that for me, skin—youthful, poreless, undamaged skin—is never fully divorced from colorism.

A product of the ethnically mottled tenements of Langley Park, Maryland, I grew up drinking milk because I was told it would make me more fair and thus more appealing. When I wanted to punish my mother for some injustice, I would willfully play in the sun, then weep later over how dark I had become. How transformed.

Sucking her teeth, my mother would apply Fair & Lovely cream, purchased at what was only called the “Indian” store. On the pink tube of what was mostly sunscreen back then, silhouettes advanced in lightness and presumable attractiveness from left to right. I tried to pinpoint my location on the Fair & Lovely gradation.

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Shimmying Toward Freedom

By Tami Winfrey Harris, cross-posted from Waging Non-Violence

Brown Girls Burlesque performs at the New York Burlesque Festival in 2010. Image by CreatixTiara/Flickr

 

Perle Noire takes the stage at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. Her costume: brilliant orange silk against brown skin. She glides, shimmies, and beams. To the sound of an urgent drum beat, her skirt falls, revealing silvery fringe swinging across a bared bottom. Horns. She thrusts and dances. A turned back. Full breasts and glittering pasties. The crowd whoops as she leaps and cartwheels. She beams: the performance is magnetic and joyous. It is burlesque.

A variety performance traditionally featuring striptease, burlesque has seen a resurgence in popularity over the last two decades. A bared shoulder or the shake of a hip can be sexy, sensual, and funny. But the art form is also a means of resistance. Undulating bodies can uncover histories, challenge biases and defy stereotypes. And when politicized bodies move this way–bodies still straining under the weight of racial stereotypes that stretch back to the era of slavery–it is even more insubordinate.

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Retrolicious–Mad Men 6.3: “The Collaborators”

Hosted by Tami Winfrey Harris and Andrea Plaid

Tami and I, joined by Renee from Womanist Musings and Fangs for the Fantasy, watched this week’s ep in horror: yes, at Peter Campbell’s state of perpetual swaglessness and Weiner’s needless explanation of Don’s sexual hardwiring, but most importantly, the frosted lipstick on the lips of Phyllis, Peggy’s Black executive assistant. And you can read on in horror, knowing that we got lots of spoilers in this  roundtable…

Tami: Lots of collaborations in “The Collaborators”: the sexual sort, the political sort (North Korea and the Viet Kong), the business sort…

We talked about the theme of evolution, death, and aging last week. I think those things continued in this week’s episode of Mad Men. The gigolo persona that seemed so sexy and exciting in early seasons is getting old and starting to stink.

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Renee: Only if you mean running in as many ways as possible, from the lives which the characters have created. For me it was another sign that what people are told to want, or rather what will make them happy, is not, in actual fact, what they need or desire.

Tami: It occurs to me that we’re just months past the Summer of Love when this episode occurs. And the ethos of “free love” seems to have filtered down from counter-culture into the suburbs and tony Manhattan living rooms. Even good Midwestern girls and middle-aged, Catholic doctor’s wives are trying to get a piece. But “love” really isn’t free when you’re a grown up.

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Retrolicious: Mad Men 6.1: “Doorways”

Hosted by Tami Winfrey Harris and Andrea Plaid

***TRIGGER WARNING: Rape***

Don Draper has a sad about being called an "Organization Man."

Don Draper has a sad about being an “Organization Man.”

Mad Men‘s season premiere got Tami and me–and guest ‘tabler Renee Martin–thinking about how much Mad Men is about aging: yes, about how we physically and emotionally age–and how different decades of life meant different things in, well, different decades–but also how institutions, like Sterling Cooper Draper Price, get on as the founders get on in age, and US society itself gets on with mediating changes, like the counterculture of hippies and wars with people of color. Conversation and spoilers after the jump.

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Don’t Call It A Comeback: The Presence Of Natural Hair

By Guest Contributor Aisha Davis

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Image Credit: Instant Vantage

Last Monday, Simon Doonan pulled the best prank of the year: he pleaded for the return of the afro. This was not a spontaneous call to arms for natural hair; rather, it was inspired by Doonan’s recent marathoning of Pam Grier Blaxploitation films in preparation for an interview with the icon of film and style.

Pam-Grier

Image Credit: Pam Grier

Now, I love Pam Grier, from ‘fro to foot, but Doonan doesn’t have to go back to the 70s to find afros–or any other expression of Black women’s* natural hair. In fact, there has been something of a Natural Hair Revolution™ in the past decade. This movement includes such heavy-hitters as Nikki Walton and Taren Guy, along with the hundreds of tutorials online that discuss styling, hair typing, and homemade products to better nourish natural/curly/kinky/coily hair.

How do I know so much about this Revolution? Because I am part of it. I’m not one of the bloggers, vloggers, or gurus of natural hair but, seven years ago–after transitioning from relaxed to natural for about eight months–I cut off my hair. That decision sparked more conversations than any other decision in my life. I have never regretted my decision, but, unlike Doonan, it’s not a decision that I would try to talk anyone else into making because I know the backlash that can be associated with it.

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Meanwhile On Tumblr: Ms. Afropolitan As Frida Kahlo And “The Good, Racist People”

By Andrea Plaid

In between the “are-they-or-aren’t-they-having-an-affair” gifs of Scandal’s Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn and the ongoing privilege-reading on Tumblr, Racializens loved a couple of gems from the past, like Minna Salami, a.k.a. Ms. Afropolitan, who joined our tweetversation about African feminisms a while ago, photographed as Frida Kahlo:

Photo credit: © Bumi Thomas Photography. Via Minna Salami's Facebook page.

Photo credit: © Bumi Thomas Photography. Via Minna Salami’s Facebook page.

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Beauty In Color: Oscar Highlights

by Fashion and Entertainment Editor Joseph Lamour

Quvenzhane Wallis and Halle Berry bond at The Oscars. Image via Buzzfeed.

We’re trying something new here at The R. In coverage of awards shows I’ve noticed fashion writers tend to completely ignore people of color, since there are so few nominated for the big awards. This holds true much more so for white-centric awards like The Oscars–less so for The Grammys. Unless you’re Halle Berry (and even then), beautiful people of color have to clamor for the spotlight. That’s where I come in.

There’s so much beauty in the world and, while I love Jennifer, Anne, and Jessica, I would like to shine a light on Inocente, Quvenzhane, and Octavia–some of the best dresses of the night. Beauty in color, under the cut.

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