Supporters of the “Black is Beautiful” campaign and several others similar to sought to redefine beauty in ways that both included and uplifted black women from what Princeton professor Imani Perry describes as the “generally degrading and unattractive, or hypersexual and less feminine” images of black women in society. The message was clear: as Bill Cosby famously put it, “It isn’t a matter of black is beautiful as much as it is white is not all that’s beautiful.” Could it be that black women ignore the dominant images of beauty and instead dance to their own tune, or have we simply flipped the coin and replaced one set of controlling images with another?
Being skinny was never a crime. Yet somewhere along the way, African American pop culture took over and a binary standard of beauty once more became dominant among black women. In a classic two-steps-forward-one-step-back scenario, the Washington Post announced what watching any rap music video will tell you: skinny is out, “thick is in,” and having some extra meat on your bones is a virtue (cue the parade of “fiercely real” women with curves, because “real” women obviously come with curves.)
One self-proclaimed “real” woman is the British TV and radio presenter Mica Paris, who, with her less-than-real hair, claims that black women are happier with their appearance. Paris wrote in the UK’s Daily Mail in 2012: “I don’t know any black women who aspire to be skeletal, and even if we did, nature decrees that we shouldn’t be. We’re made with breasts, bottoms and well-developed quads.” It doesn’t take a genius to know that aligning black women to the supposed naturalness of a fuller figure is not only incorrect but also horribly subjective.
– From “Binary Thinking About Body Image Hurts Us All,” by Vinjeru Mkandawire