America the Beautiful…

Hello World!!!

Do you think I’m beautiful? Am I sexy? Do you want me? Do you think I’m fat? I guarantee if you’re a female in the United States of America, at least one of these questions has run through your mind…but I don’t like speaking for other people so let me turn the focus back to me…

A few weeks ago, a friend and I watched the documentary, “America the Beautiful”on Spelman’s College campus. Doumentary director Darryl Roberts examined America’s unhealthy obsession with beauty from a variety of angles. The documentary starts with an interview of two pre-teens, one, an average looking black girl, and another black girl, Gerren Taylor, who becomes the focus of the movie. Roberts correctly notes that both girls have the same pre-pubescent look…you remember- long in the neck, scrawny in the arms, etc. but for whatever reason the first girl is considered not-so-attractive and Gerren is beautiful.

One day someone arbitrarily tells Gerren she should be a model. Gerren’s mother, who once dabbled in modeling, takes this stranger’s word and seeks the help of a local modeling agency to make her daughter America’s next top model. Gerren, who was once teased for looking like a giraffe, almost instantaneously (at least it seems that way) becomes a star and finds herself rocking the New York catwalk for some of the country’s hottest designers including Marc Jacobs, DKNY and Tommy Hilfiger.  And she’s only 12 years old! As her middle school principal notes, something is clearly wrong when the body type of a 12 year old is the standard!!! What fully grown woman can achieve the body of a 12 year old? And why the heck would any woman to?

I blogged about my own body images issues in other posts. Unfortunately, my issues began at a very early age, but I remember really beginning to devote some serious mind space to such issues when I was about 12 years old…appropriately, about the time that we enter puberty…Since my parents emphasized education in our household, thankfully I gained some self esteem from my grades, writing and other areas of intellectual pursuit – but alas I became a victim of the images that bombarded me as soon as I left the safe cocoon of my childhood home. I began reading Seventeen magazine when I was about 13 years old. Only a cursory look through its pages and you can deduce a few things: “white is right,” “if you black, you need to stay back” and “thin is in!”

Roberts interviews a few magazine editors during the documentary and the answers they give about why unrealistic images of girls and women are featured in their pages is utterly shocking. Basically, they realize they are contributing to unhealthy body image issues, but they gotta make a living… Perfection, as they see it, sells and reality is clearly not profitable…One of my favorite parts of the movie is when Dove shows how an average woman can look like a superstar model through hair, makeup and photo shop trickery. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty Rocks!!!

Women have been grappling with beauty/body image issues since Biblical times.  Here is an excerpt from Song of Solomon.

I am black but beautiful, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Cedar, as the curtains of Solomon. Do not consider me that I am brown, because the sun hath altered my colour: the sons of my mother have fought against me, they have made me the keeper in the vineyards: my vineyard I have not kept.

Song of Solomon 1:4-5

The woman in this book makes a point of noting that while she is dark, she is still beautiful. It makes me sad to think that blackness is not automatically associated with beauty…Roberts also gets into the whole dark skinned/light skinned issue that that black people are still grappling with even in 2009.scholarship

By the end of the documentary, Gerren nearly has a breakdown after she is cast out of the modeling world because she is too fat…At 15, she was a size 4…

So I have a few questions for you that I would like for you to consider and answer:

1. How has America’s unhealthy obsession with beauty/body image affected you or someone you love or don’t love?

2. Are you currently on a diet now? If so, why? Is it because you could stand to lose a few pounds or is it because you want to achieve a weight that is seen as more desirable, regardless of your body type?

3. What can we do to encourage young black women to see their beauty in spite of images to support the contrary?

4. How is the light skinned/dark skinned issue rearing its ugly head in 2009?

5. Are men now getting messages that they, too, have to be “beautiful? ” If you don’t have a six-pack and some guns, are you less desirable to women? My friend thinks so…

Any thoughts (on these questions)

P.S. I have included a couple of pictures that reflect my inner struggle with beauty/body image issues. In one pic, I had a won a scholarship to my university’s journalism school, but I was thinking about about my weight. In another pic, two years later, I had lost the weight. I was in a pageant, the Miss Atlanta-Jamaica Pageant, but I was worried about not being pretty enough or Jamaican enough for that matter, but I digress…



~ by jackieholness on March 4, 2009.

3 Responses to “America the Beautiful…”

  1. I don’t have time to answer all those questions, but I do think the Dove campaign is wonderful. I signed my granddaughter up for it last month. Helping young girls appreciate themselves by their own standards is so necessary.

  2. Late to the party on this one…you’d think this subject would have garnered more response. But I suspect it’s too charged of an issue for people to respond to with ease.

    I mean, it all touches on our insecurities, what we think we need to do to be accepted physically; even issues about race and skin color, terms like “good hair” and “fair skinned,” etc.

    I think you’ve hit on something here, and I encourage you to explore it more fully than in just one blog. Don’t take the lack of comments as a failure to resonate, because I can assure you, that’s not what it is.

    By the way, I totally think you’re “Jamaican enough” =)


  3. Hey Soul Daddy,

    Yeah, I thought this post would have gotten more response as well…oh well…I will discuss this topic in other posts although I’m not sure what aspect I will discuss…and thanks for the “Jamaican enough” comment…some of my cousins definitely think otherwise 😦

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