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    America’s Impact on African-Americans’ Definition of Beauty

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    African-Americans derive their perception of beauty from an industry that does not fully embrace their cultural values. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, beauty is defined as “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.” The perceptions of America’s beauty standards have had and still have a major impact on the African American community, in such a way that some young and old people adjust because they feel insecure and want to fit in with the trends. In some cases, these adjustments can lead to major health problems along with some mental health as well. There have been cases that show or explain how some African Americans have gotten chronic skin disease and illnesses along with the loss of hair.

    West Africa is said to be the multi-billion industry of product. The product being the skin whitening cream. According to the article, “Where Beauty Meets Bleached Skin”, it states “With some estimates putting the number of women in West Africa using lightening cream at 70 percent in some places, officials say they are worried there could be a sharp uptick in skin cancer because these products attack the skin’s natural protective melanin.” Most of the black community are descendants of Africa because of our bloodline. Therefore we carry that melanin in our skin. The scorching rays of the sun in Africa can be best withstood the darker your skin tone is. This quote is significant for the fact that West Africa has a population full of darker toned women. The sad truth is that some women would actually risk the dangerous effects to look more appealing. Some of the effects are skin cancer, mercury poisoning, and liver damaging.

    Mercury and hydroquinone are two of the main chemicals found in skin whitening creams. Mercury can have an impact on your kidneys, nervous system, and even put pregnant women at risk for a miscarriage. Hydroquinone, it can give you a disease called Ochronosis which is a disease that gives your skin a blue-black discoloration along with tissue changes around the eyes, ears, and joints. These women genuinely believe that in order to be beautiful they have to have lighter skin. In West Africa, there are billboards everywhere that openly advertise what is accepted. I read a story that talked about a lady who was struggling with her skin and finding a great skin whitening product, she was successful. Just because she found a product that works for her does not mean that what she is doing is a good thing. She did it because she started to become jealous of her sister who was of a lighter pigment. Her sister seemed to excel in everything she does compare to the writer of the story.

    The author figured if she got lighter skin she would be just as great. Her intention was a problem because she assumed that with lighter skin she would be better. Lighter skin does not equate to better success. Statistically, darker skinned women tend to get the bottom of the barrel in any occupation or even just in their everyday life. Constantly reminded that their natural darker skin is not going to cut it in this world. People like Lupita Nyong’o have been a major inspiration on the celebration of darker toned women. After the casting of her main role in Black Panther. I love that movie because it shows what we once were which were royalty. But we live in a day and age where we are treated as if we are the servants to the upper hand lighter toned people.

    Now we get laughed at for our skin and get backhanded compliments such as my favorite “you’re pretty for a black girl”. That supposed compliment has an underlined meaning that because the skin is dark people are expecting you to not be beuatiful. Darker toned women are seen as a fad nowadays like fetish sometimes. Maybe we should be happy that it is finally happening but, on the other hand, there should not be such discrimination.

    It seems like the African American women constantly change their appearance based on what society deems as beautiful whenever they feel the standard should be changed. Straight hair is what almost everybody wants. Either that or curly hair. You will not even get a second look if your hair is nappy. According to Etymonline, Nappy,”… used in a derogatory reference to the hair of black people, is from the 1950s’. Using this term is actually degrading the value of a black woman’s hair. Maybe you will but I mean it could be because they think their hair is strange. Women walking around with natural hair are looked down on.

    People see a woman who does not have the long and curly or straight hair and immediately think or even say some negative things. To keep from the insults of others or even securing a position at a new job, black women have been straightening their hair. Madame CJ Walker was the first black woman millionaire. This was because of her use of the hot comb to manage her hair. There is this idea that the only way to manage your hair is to have it straight. I watched a movie on Netflix called ‘Nappily Ever After’ and one of the main characters of the movie says “All hair is manageable if you have the right products”. One of the main characters was a man who made natural hair products for African Americans. I believe that this statement is true. But, there are not many natural hair products that benefit the woman that just needs more patience with her hair. The artistry of doing the hair of a dark-skinned woman can be a process but the end result is worth it.

    The black woman’s hair is extremely diverse. The unique textures make the creative possibilities endless. You may see a woman with braids one day, straightened hair, different types of curls, and a few other styles. They can do whatever they would like to their hair but these women should not subject to what America’s standards are. Straight hair started with the usage of the hot comb and has since then evolved into other ways to keep up your freshly new straight hairstyles. In the late 1900s, people started to use chemicals to get their straight hair. Although this technique was dangerous it did not stop the women from using the method. As a young black girl anytime there was an event to go to, it was common for you to get your hair pressed/straightened. They were trained when they were young that whenever you go out into the world to celebrate accomplishments you have to apply some heat whether it was a flat iron, hot comb, curling iron, or even making an appointment to get a perm. The sad reality of it is that some women are now programmed to think that they always need to have heat on their hair to look beautiful.

    In the opening scene of Nappily Ever After a young girl is seen sitting poolside while her peers are swimming. She knows that she cannot get into that water because her mother told her she couldn’t, it would mess up her hair and the mother was embarrassed when the little girl got overwhelmed with temptation to jump in the pool and “damaged” her hair Now, women who choose to go natural are going against the grain and for some reason, it rubs people the wrong way. When a darker toned woman has made the decision to go natural compared to a woman who has lighter toned skin, the lighter toned woman gets celebrated. People want their hair to have the loose curls and the length all at the same time. African American women can have the length as well as volume and even their curl definition is beautiful.

    One of my favorite songs is by India Arie called “I Am Not My Hair”. This song conveys the message that your hair does not define who you are. One of my favorite lyrics is when India sarcastically sings “good hair means curls and waves, bad hair means you look like a slave.”Women with darker skin go natural and their natural hair is not as adored because the hair has more coils and is “kinkier” than that of a lighter woman.

    The beauty standards not only have an effect on the women of the African American community but the men too. In some cases, it has even gone to the preference of what people would like their children to look like. Some women pray that their child comes out with mixed hair so when they go and have a baby they choose to only date men who are not within their race because they feel that their own men (African-American) cannot give them what they want. This discourages their men because if all they see is a black woman who does not date anyone within her own race, the men start to slowly hate themselves and resent their own women because some of these women do not show their own men the love that they want themselves.

    I am not saying that the women are the reason that black men go out and get married to other women outside of their race but I feel like it is something we have to think about. On the other hand, if black men talk down on their women then it would make sense to see why there are women of color who do not want to be in a relationship with the African American male. Some black women actually belittle their own people as if they are beings of a higher standard. Most of these are the women who constantly have the weave, use skin whitening creams, always wearing makeup and are dating or married to a man that is not the same race as them. The ones that do not embrace what they were naturally given. Thus, causing hate within the community. These women have been brainwashed by America and their European beauty standards. It started with what was on T.V as they were growing. Just look at all the Disney princesses and how long it took for them to have an African American princess, Tiana.

    America has had people who are known as “culture vultures” these people take what the African American people have already been doing and they make it into their own. Almost like stealing because they do not give credit where credit is due. Kim Kardashian made headlines when she got her hair braided and gave them a completely different name. She called them Bo Derek braids. Which if you do not know is a Caucasian actress. After she had her hair in that style, there were other women who started doing their hair just like Kim Kardashian as if the style was new. Yes, hairstyles do not belong to a certain racial group but they do originate from somewhere and other cultures sometimes take from the origin but it is not okay to not mention where your ideas came from.

    Kim Kardashians has a sister, Kylie Jenner that went and got lip injections and for some reason, social media went crazy for it in a good way. These two women alone have a major impact on what society deems as beautiful. When Kylie Jenner came out with her lip kits some people thought that her kits would make your lips look full. Little did they know at the time that she was getting lip fillers and her big lips helped to capitalize and get her sales up because these women wanted the lips that Kylie Jenner had. Cosmopolitan had a couple women try the product and the only black women that did the review out of ten women said: “And my lips are already big, so I don’t really see it making a big difference in terms of helping my lips.” I think it is safe to say that this women’s statement just goes to show how Kylie advertised her product to be more appealing. Social media praised her as if full lips was something she created. The average African American will be mocked for certain features that are common within the culture, such as the way their hair is worn down to their full lips. The beauty industry has some products that are owned by African Americans but the world might not ever really find out.

    Shea Moisture, Cantu, and Nubian Heritage are a few of the brands that cater to the special attention of the African American community. These three businesses are under the manufacturing of Sundial. The ingredients in these products are as authentic as you can get when it comes to the heritage of a black individual and it’s natural resources. Shea Moisture is probably the more known brand of the three mentioned before. The CEO of Shea Moisture, Richelieu Dennis makes it very clear what his intentions for this brand are in his letter on the website. According to Shea Moisture.com Dennis states, “Your support is also helping us break down the walls in the beauty industry to ensure that all representations of beauty are embraced…” The diversity and consideration for African Americans are very small when it comes to most big named companies. But Dennis makes sure to mention how portions of the sales they make go back to specific countries such as Ghana, Turkey, and Jamaica because these countries supply him with the natural resources to make the product.

    This idea also helps the small businesses expand. Sometimes expanding your own business can lead to a larger company taking over it. Unilever is a British-dutch company who wants to take over the Sundial brands and all the brands under that manufacturer. The CEO of Unilever is Paul Polman, who I would presumably say does not truly understand the importance of what Sundial stands for because he is not of the same ethnic background of the majority of their clientele. Although an article titled Unilever to Aquire Sundial Brands, The Parent Company of Shea Moisture mentioned how when these big named companies take over the smaller ones the product starts to change from natural to processed due to the new person in charge. Dennis actually promised, “the products are not gonna change and we are not selling out.” He can proudly say this because of the new executive vice president and chief, Esi Eggleston Bracey, who will be working closely with Dennis. She is of the same ethnic background as most of the consumers so I can only hope that she stays true to her word and not change the products of any Sundial brands.

    Makeup is used to either hide or enhance the beauty of an individual. This idea is a bit difficult when a man or woman can not find the right foundations to match his/her complexion. Most make up brands like Covergirl or Estee Lauder does not conform to the diversity that is needed and well overdue. Most brands only have about 10-15 shades to choose from. It was not until Rihanna came out with her cosmetic line called Fenty Beauty and put these other companies to shame. Rihanna came out the gate swinging with 40 foundation shades. She changed the game when these shades were introduced to the world because of how uncommon it is for makeup lines to have that much diversity. Even if you choose not to wear makeup I think anyone should still have the option to and not be discouraged because society is not widely advertising each and every kind of skin tone. Even if the odds seem against you, sometimes it only takes one person to start something amazing.

    Supa Cent is a makeup artist out here in Louisiana. The first thing some may notice about her is her nose. A big nose is not a facial feature that people find attractive. But once again a large nose is common for African American people but seeing what she looks like there might be some people who think that she is not “fit” to sell cosmetics. Supa is actually a self made entrepreneur. When her product went on sale, it sold out in 90 minutes and made $1 million. Sometimes it is hard for African Americans to succeed in a field where they are seen as less than but Supa achieved her dreams and continues to make more and more progress.

    The resilience of African American women and men is astounding and completely admirable. Every day women are beaten with the idea that their value comes from how beautiful they look to the world. In all actuality women of any race should not feel like their sole purpose on this earth is to please everyone but yourself. In the end, you cannot please everyone so the main goal for women as a whole is just to please yourself. I feel like this goes without saying but African American women are stronger than any other race of women because of the constant reminder from people, even their own that it is uncommon to be beautiful depending on how dark your skin is. Once you find the beauty in yourself there is nothing that anyone can say to take away that unconditional love that you have for yourself. The African American community has seemed to forget where they came from but they are surely, slowly but surely starting to recognize that they do not need approval from anyone no matter what kind of perceptions are put in front of them.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    America’s Impact on African-Americans’ Definition of Beauty. (2022, Nov 27). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/americas-impact-on-african-americans-definition-of-beauty/

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