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Featurism and the standards of Black beauty.


So as I’m doing my routine stroll on Facebook, just swiping away, I came across this post that was shared by Strong Opinion Loosely Held. The post originated from Refinery 29, and it was a short video clip about “Light Skin Privilege”. Well, because it was shared in a Facebook group that platforms its group on the basis of darker skinned women, it took no time for the out pouring of relatable opinions to surface.

In the clip the fare skinned women spoke on how they are aware that due to their lighter complexion they get favoritism and opportunities that couldn’t be said the same for their darker melanin sisters.

I, however, took a different view on it. Now, I won’t deny that we do have the issues of colorism within our community; but only by the way of how the system of slavery conditioned us. Colorism is the Discrimination based on skin color, also known as shadeism. It is a form of prejudice or discrimination in which people are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin color.

I remember growing up, mid 80’s to the early 90’s, most of your leading lady roles on television or movies were played by women who had light skin or was racially ambiguous. You remember the Whitley Gilberts and Denise Huxtables? I mean the closer to white you were, the prettier you were. However, it wasn’t just about the complexion. See if Whitley or Denise had a large nappy afro, would they still have been perceived as the beauties in that show? I mean Kim was gorgeous if you asked me. From her milk chocolate complexion and skin to her beautiful smile and her voluptuous physique, Kim was hittin’. So how come she couldn’t have been D’wayne’s leading lady?

Which comes to my point to say; it’s much more than the light skin that gives you the privilege. Like I stated in the comment responding to Refinery;

“I would have to say that this doesn't just apply for the light skin but any European feature like hair, eyes freckles etc. You can be light skin but your kinky hair takes you out of the privilege category, while at the same time you can have darker skin and curly/straight hair and now you’re gorgeous!”

Light skin isn’t what gives you the privilege, it’s any Eurocentric feature that compels to societies perception of white beauty. So you can have the light skin but you need the curly, long, straight, or wavy hair to accompany or you’re just a (excuse my language) another nigger that just so happens to be lighter than the rest.

I was very overwhelmed with the response to my comment. I saw so many women relating on so many levels with so many perspectives. It was educating in a way and healing. I had one lady speak on how her granddaughter is darker than her siblings but because she has long curly hair she get’s special treatment, while her siblings are ignored. Another young lady spoke on how she’s light skinned but because she had an Afrocentric nose, she got picked on a lot.

I have a friend who is darker than me but she has the softest low maintenance hair, and the phenotype of a narrow nose and slim face. While I may be lighter she always stood out among me and others based on her looks. She also had to hear the insulting remarks of “You’re pretty to be dark skin” too. Although I may have been a bit lighter, I had the kinky hair.

As the conversation kept building among my comment, I had one wise sister explain how “Featurism” has been an issue for some time now but just has never been addressed. “Featurism”, I had no clue that was even a thing. But sure enough when I looked it up there was the definition. Well the socially conscious definition, the other has to do with an architectural term, however, I digress. So what is “featurism”? Featurism is society accepting or preferring certain features over others (i.e. European features over African features). Of course it isn’t just any type of features but features that uphold the Eurocentric standards of beauty. For instance, a Black woman with curly, wavy, or straight hair would be admired because it’s the opposite of what type hair Black people are known for having such as kinky, coily, and wooly. Hence when I made the observation that if Whitley Gilbert or Denise Huxtable had nappy hair (ie: kinky, coily or wooly) would they still have lived up to societies standards of beauty? If Tyra didn’t have the green eyes would she be a top model? So there could be no colorism without featurism.

It was another young lady who made a statement that resonated to the insecurity of me that I had to start questioning why I do the things that I do. She made a statement about her niece having dark skin and dark wavy long hair. She spoke on how her niece always garners attention wherever they go. She stated that “People are naturally attracted to certain things and it has nothing to do with skin color. Cute is cute.” That stunned me and had me thinking…”why is wavy hair cuter opposed to kinky hair? Is it really just cuter to our eyes or is it deeper?

Deeper in the sense that we have been conditioned for so long to believe that anything that correlates to the European phenotype is “cute” or cuter. Had we not been able to see anything but blonde hair and blue eyes on our television or when we did see a black woman she was damn near white or had the features of them; maybe, just maybe we wouldn’t be that impressed.

Imagine waking up and watching your favorite actress on the screen and they had the characteristics of Viola Davis. What if your favorite model in the magazines looked like Lupita? Imagine if everywhere we turned we were constantly influenced by kinky hair, dark skin, wide nose and big lips. Would we still think that these attributes weren’t as cute as those of our counterparts?

All this has me reflecting back to myself, in the sense that maybe I put too much emphasis on my edges being laid (well that’s changed since I’m now back to free forming) and not enough emphasis on making how God made me, accepting and beautiful just the way I am. And maybe it’s my responsibility to make our Afrocentric phenotype just as beautiful and resonate on a level to where we shift the perspective of black beauty. We can make beauty within our community the face of beauty diversity. Where there isn’t just one standard of beauty.

I can take the aspect of showing how kinky hair is beautiful because it’s so easily manipulated where as curly hair not so much, but it doesn’t make one better over the other. Where our sisters with the kinky hair can do so many things to their hair, our curly hair sisters have the benefit of doing less maintenance and still being fly. We have to find a way to love on our diversity and show that it’s all beautiful in its own way. We can’t allow the outside to influence and define how we feel about ourselves and that’s the same for our shapes too! Listen I’m black mixed with black and it’s nothing wrong with that. It’s nothing wrong with having light skin, dark skin, nappy hair; it’s all beautiful we just have to open our eyes!

What are your thoughts do you believe we perpetuate the stigma and we should be pushing away from it?

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