I often wonder if at some point I'll be so turned off by the images (or lack of images) presented to us as women of color that I'll just unplug everything, nail my mailbox shut and stop even bothering to complain about it. Would that be tacit acceptance of the status quo or a form of enlightenment?
I spend a lot of time on this blog discussing the things about the fashion and beauty industry that I find distasteful. Sometimes I do wonder if I am just waisting my time. The comments that I think I hear often in response to my disgust about the fashion industry are
Why do you care?
Those magazines are for white people anyway!
Sit down, shut up and read Essence.
I've been thinking about this a lot since I tracked down and read an article by former model Pat Evans that appeared in Essence magazine in 1974.
In the article, Pat Evans states quite emphatically that Black modeling is just another form of prostitution. She goes on to say:
The black model business is like slave trading - only more refined. You are black and you are beautiful; the first thing you should learn is that your Black beauty should only be appreciated by your own people. We struggle so hard to fulfill out dreams in a white world that we forget this is their game, and if you look like a winner, you can be moved off the board.
Evans wrote this piece for Essence after she quit her modeling agency. She was disgusted with the fact that she had to check her self and her race at the door if she wanted to work. "Straighten your hair and carry your 'natural' in your pocketbook. There's no room for a Black image in the modeling field." She was also fed up and angry at black male photographers who used their influence in the industry to bed as many women as possible and white photographers, one of whom told her that he'd rather put a black dot or smudge in a photo instead of a black woman because, as he put it, "no one looks at you anyway."
There is a shallow part of me that places a lot of weight on beauty and attractiveness and how black women are perceived by larger society. As a younger person, I just wanted to see proof that being black was beautiful and 'normal.' It didn't matter how many times family members said it because I had to know that other people thought it was true too.
Reading Evan's essay and her call for black people to be who they are and not obsess over imitation, I wondered if I could be that person who just doesn't give fuck about black models being featured in a fancy Italian magazine or seeing young black actresses in a dramatic role on TV. I know that I am not. I know that I'm even more obsessed with images of black women in the media now than I ever was in my younger years. The Internet is my enabler. Now I can look at more images quicker than ever before. Hell, I don't even have to hold a magazine in my hands to tell you what's wrong with it.
And so I continue to read, react and blog. I've just accepted that I'm a natural born complainer and I hope that if I am ever blessed with a daughter, she won't internalize the same bull that I have and won't ever need a photograph to convince her that she is the shit like I did when I was a kid.
Evans ends with:
Woman you are, man you are, it doesn't pay to imitate. Be beautiful in your Black world, be your own image--anything you desire, from Astarte to Nefertiti.... Set the image in your family, be a model man to your woman and vice versa; ... Why should be model what they copied from us...We are the original models.
ETA: There is a fantastic carnival up at Livejournal now. The entries are written by various WOC bloggers on the topic of beauty. Definitely worth reading.
Image source: Daylife