Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hot Chocolate, Ugly?

A Cocoa Chronicle Vignette

For as many variations of chocolate that exist, there are equal number of hues and tones of women of color. And many, black women in particular, embrace this coincidence, boldly. Many a "sistah" has likened hers, the skin color of dark, milk, even white chocolate. And just as many know what it is like to be called-out to amorously. "Hey, Cocoa Brown!" or "Hot Chocolate!" or even "Milk Chocolate Momma!" These are terms of endearment to our collective, the sorority of African Diasporan sistahs.

Strolling through Brooklyn, Harlem, Los Angeles, Orange County, Calif. -- my home, and so very many places in between and beyond, you cannot help but marvel at our diverse and wide array of beauty. We come in all sizes and shapes, heights, weights, and wear a cornicopia of fashions, styles and looks, ranging from classical to way, way out there. We so often create "looks" that are all our own and that go on to set the pace for the "mainstream." Yeah, black chicks rock. Just look around.

This is why just over a month ago, mine wasn't a reactionary response, when Satoshi Kanazawa's study results were published in Psychology Today, drawing wide spread response and backlash for suggesting that Black women are genetically predisposed to be ugly.

In the results, the author claimed he had quantified proof that Black Women, as a class of people, are blanketly and broadly, less attractive than their same gender counterparts, based on his efforts to objectively and quantitatively measure the physical attractiveness of peoples of various races.

Using emperical data to conclude that most men and women's attractiveness rate as above-average, Kanazawa leaps inferentially to claim that "black women are significantly less physically attractive than women of other races."

Psychology Today ran the story and the sparks continue to fly.

My reaction to the story and its premise, wasn't one of fury or anger, as I understood the "science" behind the headline wasn't really about beauty or even ugliness, at all.

While my read may have minced semantic hairs, it is also took into consideration a whole host of different judgments, social and racial stereotypes, etc. that probably were melted into Kanazawa's conclusions.

This is to say, I clearly don't think Black women are ugly, but our natural physical beauty, features and attributes which are at once loathed and loved, are often, grossly undervalued until they are appropriated.

Consider the popularity of beauty enhancing treatments such as tanning, lip injections, butt lifts, braided and crimped hairstyles. With so many of our attributes being "copied," black women and our beauty cannot be all bad. Tastes, however, can be bad and do change. And since our American culture is one which drives and set standards for many things global, no doubt as such perceptions shift so will the barometer of chocolate beauty.

Further, I think, more and more broadly, that the average black woman is given fewer options, reasons, expectations and resources for and with which to really try and contend with conventional Western standards of beauty. Often times, I feel this is why black women develop, define and embrace our own notions of beauty, rather than assimilating to exisitng, culturally non-inclusive ideas and ideals that constrict, alienate and run counter to many black women's real lives.

As an example, I look at the publication Today's Black Woman, and others, ones which I feel are  fascinating attempts to re-cast a black female aesthetic into a broader, more modern, net. African, "exotic-looking" and European-esque though strongly, clearly and proudly black, bi-racial models in the magazine and publications like Essence and Ebony, more and more seem to be trying to articulate a broader view of a black beauty and to a larger extent, style by offering a very different, fresh voice. This new approach is at once softer, yet edgier, modern yet reminiscent of our past and everpresent flair for originality.

Some of my recent writing, about skin care, and beauty treatments, have an eye to this dynamic and the polemic of creating a modern black beauty, the common thesis: To be one's best, on one's own terms.

Looking to kick things up a notch, in terms of a pursuit of being my best self, I've been trying to stretch, and to try new things, changing my own perceptions of "what is and isn't Black", and steping out of old comfort zones to embrace change. My 15-year-old daughter helps me with this a lot. Busily developing her own sense of style, my child has inspired me to rock sidewalk-grey mani-pedis, stack on chunky and skinny bracelets and to generally pay more attention to details so many of us black women forget in our day-to-day, hustle-and-bustle lives.

More, watching my relatively carefree child move through her world, I'm reminded that there's nothing quite as pretty or as inviting on anyone than a smile. And that is universal. But for so long, and for so many black women worldwide and here in the U.S., a simple smile has been a luxury.

Attenuating Invisible Women, Neither Seen or Heard?

Further, the article, Are Black Women Invisible?; Do Black women go unnoticed more often?  as linked below is to me, presents a polematic more clarion than Kanazawa's tale. It also was published in Psychology Today. Notice the article's thesis. then consider that FLOTUS, Michelle Obama's reign has a shelf life, that is a direct relationship to President Obama's term limits. More, this paired with Grande Dame, Oprah Winfrey's retirement make this story, in my opinion, more unsettling and disturbing than the other about black women's beauty.

These named are strong, often outspoken women, just as so many of out historical heros are. Ironically, it is this same strength, when parsed out and named with such adjectives, have led to sweeping characterizations of black women as aggressive, shrews, with masculine tendencies, perhaps a social factor that has landed the collective to be cast as ugly and not feminine, beyond obvious examples or incidents of hormonal imbalance.

More, to the introduction about Rosa Parks, I think black women are forced to "get ugly" far too often. So much so, that such ugly behavior has become expected as part of the way in which the world sees the collective of black women, albeit a stereotypic assumption.

Speaking loudly, being combative, wearing the constant scowl of self-defense and the "attitude" of resistance against gender and ethnic marginalization is not pretty, but rather is tiresome and corrosive, factors which over the years can have lasting effects on one's countenance, physical health and overall sense of well-being. Making this all the more a circular an arguement, such behaviors become self-fulfulling, beyond notions of simple perception. Consider the old adage re-written: Ugly is as ugly does. Perhaps when fewer black women no longer have to fight to be seen heard and respected, more of our numbers will have the luxury to be pretty.

© 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez. All rights reserved.

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