Good choice # 1
Embracing the Skin You're In
"I am black and comely . . . because the sun hath looked upon me."
— Song of Solomon 1:5,6
Is a red rose more beautiful than a yellow one? Or a white rose prettier than a pink? Who can be the judge of which is more valuable?
Just as roses vary in their beauty, so do women. Whether white, black, Hispanic, Indian, or Asian, all are beautiful. People may have individual preferences, but to compare one type of beauty to another is simply ridiculous. There is no set standard for flowers, and there should be none for women. . . . Now, wouldn't it be great if life were a bed of roses? As we all know, this is not the case.
Several years ago, while I was a professional beauty image consultant, I presented my work in Lyons, France. My portfolio reflected a rainbow of women varying in shades, sizes, and shapes. One afternoon, while showing my portfolio to couture designer Maurice G., he remarked, "Mademoiselle Grace, I've always believed we have the most beautiful women in France, but these American women — they are very gorgeous. I think I'll move to America!"
At first I laughed because I found his expression humorous. I then thought about the underlying message and responded in a serious tone, "Monsieur G., beauty is where you look for it. All women are beautiful. With no disrespect, as a couture designer you ought to know one can find a woman's beauty by creating styles that suit her best. This enhances her natural beauty, no matter where on the globe she is located."
I cannot blame him for his thinking because he had been conditioned that way. As a mainstream designer, he was used to working with high-fashion models. He thought only these women had any claim to beauty. Can you imagine, sis? Less than one percent of the total population are selected as "models," so the remaining 99 percent can aspire to look like them. Is this nonsense or what?
This selection is made is made by a few corporations, modeling agencies, and fashion publications. The world of high-fashion modeling is a large moneymaking industry. I give these women credit for being able to succeed at it. For many young girls and women, however, the practice of having just one narrow definition of beauty causes pain, lack of self-esteem, and insecurity.
What's especially distasteful is that black women in particular are disrespected this way more than any other ethnic group in the United States. How unconscionable it is for anyone to discriminate against a certain sector of the population, just because the Creator has colored their skins with various shades of beautiful brown. Many sisters have negative feelings about their brown skin because of problems, discomforts, and false standards that Western society forces on them. Because of racial prejudice, we have undergone much suffering, oppression, and even bloodshed. But the truth is, the melanin that gives us our lovely brown tint is a magnificent chemical.
One major contributor to the self-sabotage of black women is the scarcity of self-affirming images of beautiful sisters in television and other mainstream media. In an article in Essence
entitled, "Where Have All the Black Models Gone?" supermodel Veronica Webb wrote, "Clearly the black model is the subject of a 'disappearing act.'" Katie Ford, CEO of Ford Models, affirmed this frightening fact: "Yes, I agree that this is a totally blond season." She admitted, "It's a trend started by designers like Prada and Gucci. If you're a brunette, it's hard to get on the runway." "Think about where that left us as black models," Webb pleaded. "At least white brunettes could turn to a bottle of peroxide."Don't Fall for the False Ideal
Fashion designers, beauty publications, and most television commercials dictate how the "ideal" woman should look: blond hair, blue eyes, white skin, pencil-thin figure, five foot seven or taller in height. The majority of women, who do not reflect these images, end up resenting themselves and wishing they looked like someone else.
This deplorable practice tells black women, "Your looks don't fit the bill — you're not good enough." While my white sisters embrace bottles of peroxide, my black sisters nurture tubes of bleaching cream. One's hair color is just an accessory, but to change one's skin color is an abomination because the chemicals in the bleaching cream actually damage and kill your natural skin cells. This is dangerous stuff, sis. Don't fall for it.
How tragically dehumanizing for another person or race to set standards for others to live by. No one has the right to criticize any of God's creations. The Creator has blessed each of us with our unique and individual features. Is man therefore greater than his Creator, to consider himself an authority on which of God's creations is ideal and which is not?"So Close, but Yet So Far"
Another feature article in Essence
, "Hollywood Shuffle: With White Men Calling the Shots, Black Women Have No Reel Power," focused on the lack of appealing roles for black women in films today. Tyra Ferrell, an actress, shared, "I was told by an agent, 'You're talented, but you're never going to work in this town. You're too black, and in this town we like the Vanessa Williams type.' For black women in Hollywood," Ferrell concluded, "that has meant being cast at the margins as either caretaker to the white characters or as a sassy bit of exotica."
Black women have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. Recently Good Day New York aired a segment on black women's self-esteem and skin-coloring issues. The program included dialogue among various professional and educated black women from ages twenty-five to sixty. The sisters chorused that low self-image is a "hidden and real pain" that black women harbor. They discussed their individual experiences, insecurities, and concerns about "keeping silent regarding ethnic features and skin complexion issues," and the harm of pretending they don't exist. They expressed an urgent need for a self-empowerment program specifically tailored to help black women overcome and heal their battles with their self-worth.
Well, this is the program, sis. I'm here to pull back the curtain of deception and let you know that there is nothing wrong, unattractive, or ugly about being black. The only thing that's wrong and ugly is comparison. When we compare one race to another, it damages people's minds. The practice of comparing is damaging because it psychologically binds us to a false standard of beauty created by a governing body outside of our race. Many black women have become discontented and depressed, silently wishing to look more like society's ideal, and as a result, they have adopted body image and beauty standards within our very own race.
It's healing time. Let's get to the healing by facing, erasing, and replacing the false beauty ideal. It's time to stop pretending. The only way to erase this type of false programming is to acknowledge it, analyze it, and disregard it. If you have a wound on your foot and do not treat it, doesn't the affliction become widespread? If you bandage it, cover it up, because you are ashamed of people seeing it, won't the disease continue to fester until you eventually lose your foot? But if the wound is exposed and properly treated, so what if people see it? Isn't it better to see it and heal it?From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from 10 Good Choices That Empower Black Women's Lives by Dr. Grace Cornish. . Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.