Sunday, 19 February 2017

Beauty as a black woman in the media

Jumper - Zara
Highwaist Trousers - Zara
Heels - Primark

So I've been riding high on black power for the last while. It all started with seeing Black, powerful, successful women like Taraji P. Henson, Serena Williams, Viola Davis and most recently Lupita Nyong'o on coveted Fashion & Lifestyle magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair and Sports Illustrated. It filled me with a sense of empowerment that came from being able to relate to these women if not by color alone.

The feeling of empowerment was fuelled even further after watching Hidden Figures with my dear friend and seeing the movie fill her with that same sense of empowerment and identity. It was then that the thought occurred to me that the topic of black people in the media might be something I would like to address on the blog.

Before I go any further, I do not speak for the entire Black community, these words and opinions are my own, drawn from my own experiences and thoughts.

So a couple things going through my head as I write this. 'Who's going to want to read this' 'Do you want to be one of these people that turns everything about black people?'

And to these thoughts I silence with  'I don't know who's going to read this or who is going go want to read it. And yes I am going to be one of those people but not just about black people, about all people and cultures!'
The thing that finally pushed me over the edge to take the time out of this very hectic few weeks* for me was Vogue's 'Diversity' issue. In this issue, unless you've been living under a rock, you know about Karlie Kloss' six page spread as a Geisha. Why was this a tipping point for me? Because 'whitewashing' as it's called doesn't just happen to black people, it happens to all races all over the world and it's laughable in a way that having my eyes gouged out of my head is laughable. Lol right? No.

The effect of a lack of representation in the media as a young black woman rooted itself in me long before I was even aware of it. From as young as I can remember to just a few years ago, about two, how I see myself has transformed greatly. You know that little version of yourself you conjure up in your head when mentally trying on clothes to see how they'll fit? Well for a very long time that little version of me...was nothing like me. She was white, I am the deepest shade of black I know, she was blond, I had thick deep brown hair. Tall where I was short and a skinny I never thought I could be. I use to go to sleep and tell myself that if I believe enough I could wake up white or at least a nice caramel.

These days I can see myself for who I am when looking at that little version of me. And I admit, sometimes I still slip into the whitewashed version of myself. That is the volume of the effects of the media and the lack of representation of black women on my own self image. Of course there are other factors to take into consideration like our own cultural pressures etc but that's another story.

I am now at a point in my life where I am truly happy with the person I am and am very aware of the powerful influence of the media, its psychological and emotional effects on me and the little ways I try to deal with the insecurities it creates for me sometimes. But then there are all those young girls who are trying to figure out the minefield of insecurities and questions of life called adolescence. Young girls like my little sister whom are bombarded constantly by media and yet not in a way that inspires them or fortifies their identity.

As I said, at the height of my insecurities etc. Bebo was the greatest thing on earth and Facebook was just coming up. Now it's different, there is Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook etc. I see that my little sister has liked a pin, added said pin to 'Fashion <3', Hairstyles' etc.The picture of a young tall girl wearing black high-waist ripped jeans and a crop top, long wavy hair tumbling down her back is pretty and I like the pin. Partly because I like the image and partly because I want the good karma from the Pinterest algorithm to boost my content too. I'm a blogger, sue me.

Instagram activity list, I see she's liked similar images on IG too. This is all great and the pictures are lovely but what does she see in them, how does she relate to these images? I honestly don't know. When I hear her call herself fat or ugly, it makes me question to what extent does she believe this and how much of that is influenced by the media. It saddens me to think she doesn't see or believe how beautiful she is.

The thing with a lack of representation in the media is that it feeds into the notion that you're identity is not socially accepted. That those portrayed in magazines and ads etc deserve to be because they are more attractive and appealing to the masses and thus worthy of a six page spread whilst others get a page each. And such a notion is damaging no matter what age, race, size, gender you are.

The fact that entire races and groups of people could be replaced by a better alternate white version is insulting and hurtful. Putting a white model in Geisha dressing on a six page spread, throwing in one or two women of color and slapping the word diversity on it is not being diverse, it is a joke. To me seeing Karlie Kloss' appearance in the Vogue issue was like watching a child play dress up. Ashley Graham's slimming hand on her thighs while all the other women hug each other's waist. Frankly, it's disappointing. The media should be a medium to build up our identities and not tear people down and yet, in subtle ways and sometimes not so subtle ways, it does just that.

Seeing the likes of Serena Williams showing off a different body type, strong, athletic and just as beautiful is inspiring and relatable for it of people like myself with my broad boxy shoulders and athletic build. It is issues like these that gives me hope that things are changing and will continue to change for the better.

The media of a country should represent the people in the country and not just a selected few.
My sisters and I might be growing up in a world of whitewashed media but I'd like to hope and believe that my children and their children on will be able to grow up in a world where they too can feel empowered and gain a stronger sense of identity from the people like them that they see in the media.

Being a young black woman in today's world I can't help but feel like there is still a fight to be fought for our voice amongst many other races and cultures to be heard and represented in many different ways. The fight for beauty is by no means on par with ending world hunger ( I'm not that petty) but it is a fight I am proud to be behind, if not for my own benefit then that of my children and theirs to come.

I am black and proud and beautiful. What are you?

Till next time my pretties xxx

* Subscribers to the Albatroz & Co. newsletter know I've been working 2 jobs and it's a little crazy at times to get posts out on time if at all. If you're not subscribed to the newsletter, click here to be added to the inner circle. I've got some big news coming up in the next issue tomorrow Friday 24th! This is a change from Mondays, so there's plenty of time to come join us. Subscribe now.

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2 comments so far

  1. This is so, so important, on so many levels! The world is small enough now with technology that there is no excuse for whitewashed media. It isn't as though Vogue is a magazine that is released only in a predominately white country and doesn't expand farther than that (it wouldn't be an excuse, but it would be easier to take). Vogue is international, as are most fashion magazines. The fact that they chose Karlie Kloss to represent an IDEAL of Japan was so, so foolish. I can't believe that idea passed so many different people. And it's just the tip of the iceberg, of course.

    I feel like I need to better collect my thoughts to fully comment, but just know that I agree with you, 100%

    Erin | Explore, Refresh

  2. You're such a good example to your little sister and I hope she knows that! :)


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