by Nova B. Rutherford
Special to YWCA USA
Last week, the YWCA turned tension into a teachable moment by creating a forum for positive thought leaders in the aftermath of the hurtful Psychology Today article by Satoshi Kanazawa titled “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?” The ridiculous theory was quickly discredited and an apology was issued by the publication, yet the negative tones of the discussion lingered on the Web and surely in the minds of many.
Staying true to the mantra of “eliminating racism, empowering women,” YWCA CEO Gloria Lau and her team took action by inviting powerful speakers Susan L. Taylor, former editor-in-chief of Essence Magazine, Stanford University law professor and author Deborah Rhode and blogger Stephanie M. Crumpton, to unite in the important exercise of defining our own beauty and becoming aware of beauty discrimination in the webcast “Beauty and the Beholder: The Politics of Beauty and Image.”
I’d assumed beauty discrimination was a retaliation statement created by the Kardashians, but millions of us have been confronted with it. As Professor Rhode explained, beauty discrimination puts a hindrance on the way in which you choose to express yourself. It might be your employer demanding you wear heels to work, or maintain a slender “attractive” figure. When cornrows, tattoos, piercings, even a man with earrings are a no-no, that is beauty discrimination. In some industries beauty comes with an enormous amount of pressure. Rhode reminded us, “It shouldn’t take the death of a couple models on a fashion runway to wake the fashion industry up to the need to have more realistic women without weight disorders who are our iconic images.” Here, here!
Despite numerous advances, from India to the West Indies, women of color are pressured to conform to an Anglo definition of beauty via skin bleaching, fake colored contacts, cosmetic surgery and so on. North American symptoms of this Anglo assimilation were demonstrated in comedian Chris Rock’s documentary “Good Hair” – an inside look at the $9-billion-dollar Black hair industry. Companies profit off of this social anxiety and the only way to stop it is to stop buying into it.
As the former editor-in-chief of Essence Magazine and founder of the CARES Mentoring Movement, Susan L. Taylor has made it her mission to redefine what beauty means in America; specifically, in Black America. As someone who has read her works for many years, it was a joy to hear and feel the sincerity of her words. Taylor elegantly stated, “There are no two leaves, no two blades of grass that are exactly the same and no to people. We have to begin to redefine what is considered beautiful. Beautiful is being healthy and strong and doing something in the world, contributing to the world.”
Taylor set the scene of an Essence photo shoot where the goddess that is supermodel Iman was the point of focus. As people primped and prepared her, Iman blurted, “I can’t believe that the world thinks I’m beautiful because in my village, I’m not even attractive.” I’d like to visit that village! A practical reminder that attractiveness is truly ‘in the eye of the beholder’ and by training ourselves and our children to see the beauty in everything, perspectives can continue to evolve.
Stephanie M. Crumpton provided excellent suggestions to help us define our own standards of beauty. An accomplished writer and young breast cancer survivor, she chose to wear her surgery scars as a badge of “you made it”, and stressed the importance of tuning inward to that light of beauty and surrounding yourself with others who uphold and reflect that very light. Crumpton said, “If I didn’t have people around me to remind of who I was on the inside there would have been no way to keep up with the changes in my appearance on the outside.”
From a woman who has lived to tell the tale, Crumpton provided valuable advice to combat those internal “ugly girl” moments.
- Do a reality check to challenge negative inner voices. They often focus on one area that manages to blow out of proportion and we miss out on our beauty, our community our accomplishments, we are narrowly focusing on the one thing that puts us out of the running to be accepted. Do you really feel that way? Or are you having an ugly moment?
- Defeat the internal negative voices by creating a positive soundtrack with outside voices. Create a soundtrack of uplifting music by your favorite artists (try Jill Scott, Nina Simone and India.Arie) and people who reflect your brightest light and whose love, encouragement and support is unwavering.
- Use the power of voice with affirmations. “I am beautiful. I am here. I am present. I am whole.” Repeat as many times as needed.
- “Do I like myself?” In times of peace or peril the answer to this question can shape your life. Start working on it today.
- Find art and images that represent your beauty and surround yourself with them. A wonderful habit to start with young girls so they can liken a variety of versions of beauty. Explore cultural and historical images. Remind yourself that in all of history, there will only EVER be one of YOU. Now is the time to start acting like it.
“Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.”
– Kajlil Gibran
Nova B. Rutherford is a motivational speaker and writer. Reach her at her blog, www.butilovememore.com.