The Black Girl Experience with Beauty: Pushing the Limits, Redefining the Definition, Creating Our Own Spaces
by Cimoan Atkins
The mainstream beauty industry for years has shoved down our throats what the ‘ideal’ woman looks like. Depicted in television, film, and advertising we all have seen the Eurocentric definition of beauty praised and rewarded. The black girl experience in the beauty realm has not always been positive. Imagine having a darker hue and a skin condition, then it becomes a full fledge challenge.
I am by no means an expert in the beauty realm. I am just a black girl speaking from experience.
Decades of being left out of the beauty discourse, black women and girls have been forced to create their own beauty spaces and redefine the concept of beauty according to individuality. As black women and girls, we come in various shades, body types, and cultural backgrounds. The beauty is in our individuality. We have redefined the beauty discourse beyond just products, brands, and services to self- acceptance, self-awareness, and self-care. Before I go on about this revolution in the black girl beauty movement, it is important to discuss the torturous perceptions and outright outrageous behaviors that have and still plague the black girl experience in and with beauty.
The beauty industry is plagued with colorism. That is the idea that lighter skin tones are seen as more desirable than darker skin tones. We see this playing out in music, movies, and television shows where white and lighter skin entertainers, actresses, actors, and television personalities dominate our screens. We see it in advertising, modeling, and beauty campaigns. This practice is evident in the products, brands, services that are made available to the public …cue in the outrage of skin lightening products still being produced and advertised to this very day. It is only until recently, with the launch of beauty brands like Fenty Beauty, that we see foundations accommodating varying skin tones on the hue spectrum. Now many other beauty products, brands and services are following suit in releasing darker shades, using darker models in order to capitalize on the opportunity, to capitalize on the popularity.
Tokenism is also a major issue plaguing the black girl experience in beauty. We have ‘tokens’ in the beauty industry that have been praised and idolized as the standard of beauty for all women and girls. These tokens, so to speak, are often celebrities or entertainers. Do I really have to name them? I am sure you catch my drift. These women are often sexualized for their body type and skin color and become the archetype and/or stereotype of what black women are, what we should have, and what we should look like to be considered beautiful. If you do not possess these traits, then your black girl identity comes into question. The big boobs, big hips, big booty, big lips are the stereotypical black girl features. The thick curly hair and clear skin is the go to ‘exotic’ look for many. The struggle for the black girl to claim her beauty is a constant struggle of power. Do not get me wrong, there are instances where women who do not fall under this typical stereotype are in fact part of the idealized group but who knows how hard these women and girls had to fight and claw their way to claim their space in the beauty realm? Then there are non-women of color with ‘black girl features’ whom are being idolized and are being used as an archetype to further complicate our experience.
Self –Acceptance, Self- Awareness, Self-Care
The battle with our appearance has definitely taken a toll on our collective mental health as well as our individual mental health. For years we have been made to feel negatively about ourselves and forced to look a certain way in order to fit in the mainstream standards of beauty. The black girl experience in and with beauty is about constantly challenging and redefining the beauty discourse. Collectively, we have accepted that we will never be included in the mainstream beauty standards so we have broadened the definition of what beauty is and what being beautiful means. We began with self-acceptance. That is accepting who we are and how we were made. We continue with self –awareness. This is understanding our position, our power, and our pride. We keep going with self-care. We refuse to define our worth based on others perceptions, insecurities, and ignorance. We created our own spaces. We celebrate ourselves and each other in our black owned magazines, via our black run Instagram pages, and through our black owned and operated products, brands, and services.
I struggled with my beauty growing up. I was mocked for my cocoa appearance and for my eczema. I realized later in life that I will never win if I kept comparing myself to others perception of beauty. I would never be and look like the people I saw on television or in magazines. I looked different because of my eczema. My revelation in beauty came when I decided to accept who I am, what I look like, and stopped measuring my self-worth according to a made up scale. I became unapologetically me. The black girl experience in the beauty industry, in the beauty discourse has become and continues to be unapologetic. We created our own space, redefined the existing, and continue to push boundaries to eliminate the divide. #WeAreUnapologeticallyBlackandBeautiful #BlackisBeauty