It is difficult to describe what being the minority in a culture feel like, what it is to be underrepresented in almost all aspects of life, to not see yourself in all of the familiar places. In America depending on where you live and your economic strata, you might not see yourself regularly represented in your teachers, in the law enforcement officers charged with keeping you safe, or the firemen in your community. You might not see someone who looks like you when you go to the doctors, or filling your prescription. You have a good chance of seeing yourself in the bank teller who cashes your parents check, or your cashier at the drug store or supermarket. If you take a trip you are certain to see yourself in the TSA agents, but perhaps not in your pilot. When you turn on the television, you, might see yourself as the newscaster, but you will assuredly see yourself as the perpetrator of crimes being reported. If you click to an entertainment channel you will see yourself as an artist, perhaps if you are male you will be a tatted up rapper, side-eyeing scantily clad women who are bent over shaking their asses at the camera, if you are a brown girl you see yourself crawling on the floor over dollar bills with your hind parts giggling…. For you, the roles of Thug and Hoe are always being cast.
When a commercial comes on the television for beauty products, shampoos, hair color, mascara, foundation, moisturizer, you will more than likely not see a reflection of yourself. L’oreal is not telling you that YOU are worth it, you are not Easy Breezy Beautiful… You are not a Covergirl. Yes, there have been Black/Brown Spokespeople for such brands but they are almost always famous faces, we can always feel that we are being pandered to, (I suppose we are all being pandered to in a way) but as a person of color when you see Queen Latifah, Beyonce, or Halle Berry, you know that a whole bunch of white people sat in a room around a big table trying to figure out how to get black people to buy their product and then went for the short reach. They all fit within the established spectrum of the beauty (expect Latifah but she is a two for… Black and plus sized). When someone who does look like you is featured, she might be lightened to such degree that she no longer looks herself, but a very tanned white woman….
When buses whiz by plastered with clothing advertisements, they are not directed to in beauty or body type, a thin (made thinner by photoshop) pink leg pokes out of a skimpy short, her flowing hair blowing in the feigned breeze… You do not see yourself. There is no way to describe what being invisible in the world feels like. Ralph Ellison wrote about it… But to live it…It’s hard to explain especially when people don’t what to hear, to believe that it is truly a reality.
This is what Black/Brown women often feel when we open fashion and beauty magazines, it is why we have Essence Magazine, or Latina People (are Latina’s not plain “People”) When there is still a lack, of the acknowledgment of people of color in Euro-centric societies how can we expect something like our beauty to be addressed? When so often our presence, and contributions go unacknowledged, why would our beauty be seen let alone celebrated? What I find so interesting about this reality, is that the same people who systematically exclude the unadulterated images of Black/Brown beauty, will constantly siphon off aspects of it for their own use…White women have for ages have tanned, to darken their skin, they have injected their lips to achieve that, “bee stung” pout that many women of color are born with. Women of color who have been blessed with the fullest of mouths have been teased and chastised for them…The irony. And now we get to the physical trophy to end all…(END being the operative word here). The round “bubble butt,” is all the rage with the lighters set. Could this be Miss. Sarah Baartman’s vindication (truly, there is none). We know it’s true, hell The First Lady of Fashion Anna Wintour just declared the Ass IN!! So its official. To the chagrin of many, Vogue writer Patricia Garcia cited in her article The Dawn of the Butt: Big Booty in Pop Culture over the Years cites Kim Kardashian as the arbiter of the Ass… then Garcia gives credit to Instagram ass sensation Jen Selter for boosting the booty craze (Personally I think they both have fake asses)… Seriously? Seriously? These white women might have made it OK for White men to openly ADMIT that they like a whole handful of ass but these chick did not make it hot…. Wait perhaps they did, they because that’s how this society works… It’s only when the Majority decides that something is desirable that it becomes an official thing of beauty and not the object of disdain. The truth of the matter: big lips and big asses are only en vogue when on a white woman. On a black woman that is still a ghetto booty and (Excuse my vulgarity but,,), Nigger Lips… Double standard…of beauty, and life.
I write all this to say that a dock-series such as Pretty by Antonia Opiah is a great reality check for everyone. It can be a great educational tool for white people as they will have the opportunity to take a glimpse into the what it feels like to be a Black/Brown girl in a White girl’s world. I think the international scope of the work is also important. It reveals our diversity not just physically but culturally, where we don’t all look alike we don’t all speak, or feel the same way. I think what might become clear is that what most of us (Black/Brown gals) might ask for is a bit of inclusion. That inclusion would in turn broaden the spectrum of beauty for all (white women as well). I think this is a brilliant project and I look forward to future installments.