Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Is There a Black Standard of Beauty?

I keep reading about criticism that Black and Asian women need to stop trying to live up to the Western European (WE) standard of beauty. We all know the WE standard of beauty: long, straight, light coloured, silky hair; light eyes; light skin (now tanned seems to be preferred); slim or thin body; small behind; and large breasts. Many Black women do not have these characteristics. When Black women relax their hair or wear straight, silky, or light coloured weaves, try to lose weight, or bleach their skin they are accused of trying to live up to these WE standards of beauty. But what is the alternative? Is there a Black standard of beauty?

Let's start with the dictionary definition of beauty. Beauty is:
  1. the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).
  2. a beautiful  person, especially a woman.
  3. a beautiful  thing, as a work of art or a building.
  4. Often, beauties. something that is beautiful  in nature or in some natural or artificial environment.
  5. an individually pleasing or beautiful  quality; grace; charm: a vivid blue area that is the one real beauty of the painting.

It seems from the definition that a woman is beautiful if she gives others intense pleasure or satisfaction when they see her. Many times this will be subjective but at other times most people will agree that a woman is beautiful but disagree about 'how beautiful' she is when compared to other women. Scientists have tried to determine what makes a person physically beautiful but of course their studies are biased by the overwhelming popularity of the WE standard of beauty. However these studies tend to mention things like facial symmetry, clear and even skin, health, and youth as important characteristics. So keep these things in mind as you read on and remember it's just as insulting to call someone ugly because they have light skin as it is to call someone ugly for having dark skin. Praising "traditional African features" leaves out all the Black and African women who were BORN with features similar to European women.

There are some characteristics of many Black women that are very different from the traits in the WE standard of beauty. For instance many of us have: short, kinky/coily, dry hair; dark eyes; dark skin (darker than White women's skin); slim to overweight bodies; and large behinds (many have large breasts though). It would be nice to say that all of these traits should become the Black standard of beauty but then everyone would automatically be beautiful, no one would try to improve or keep up their looks, and the standard would be useless! Plus it would be dishonest because we all know that some women are more pleasing to look at than others. In terms of my preferences, I think dark skin and coily/kinky hair can be beautiful and light skin and straight hair can be beautiful. But in terms of personal preference I find some facial features to be more attractive than others and it's the facial features that determine beauty to me and the actual skin colour is almost irrelevant. That's why the whole "light skin versus dark skin" thing is strange to me because someone can have light skin with unattractive facial features while someone with dark skin can have amazingly beautiful facial features. I also have a preference now for natural hair, I like some natural hair more than others (mainly if it's big I love it), and I can find some straight hair attractive if it's long (short, thin, limp straight hair isn't attractive to me).

There are many women who have low self-esteem and understandably try to make everyone accept the status quo as the standard of beauty so that they can feel beautiful and not have to change anything. This is unhelpful too and sometimes unhealthy especially when talking about body weight and hair so damaged it can't grow past chin length. This doesn't mean you are not a good person, unworthy of love, or that someone won't think you are the most beautiful woman in the world! It would also be useless to accept standards that are unattainable to even the most attractive Black women without taking potentially dangerous measures (e.g., skin bleaching, surgery). I also don't think it is useful to use African women (living in Africa) as the standard because that does not help Black people who live in Western countries who look very different and may not actually be attracted to the African beauty standard, just as many Africans may not be attracted to the WE beauty standard.

If we think about Black women who are considered beautiful, they seem to conform to many of the WE standard beauty traits because they have: long, straight (or curly but not kinky), silky hair; light eyes (sometimes); lighter skin (but still 'ethnic looking'); slim or thin body; and large breasts. For some in the Black community, Black women are considered to be more attractive if they have a bit more weight than White women and especially if they have larger backsides and thighs. These are the women that most people of any race would call beautiful. This begs the question, can Black women who don't fit the WE standard of beauty ever be beautiful? I think we can!

These are examples of women who I think are beautiful. They have various skin shades, eye colours, and hair textures. They are all thin (probably underweight) because they are celebrities. Almost all have long hair. They appear to have flawless skin because of airbrushing but they all wear make-up to enhance their looks. They dress in styles that are flattering. They are all beautiful but people may vary in how beautiful they think each woman is compared to their favorite celebs or women in their own lives. Anyone who says these women are ugly is blind, racist, or only inclined to see White, Asian or some other women as beautiful. There is no point worrying about such people and you should only focus on those who have the potential to find you attractive. I'm not going to argue about who is "really Black" or biracial because there are non-biracial women who are light, biracial women who are dark, and a lot of variety among Black women. They can all be beautiful. Someone might say that these women have some European facial features, for example their noses are not the widest or their faces are not very round (?). Well, they can't help their facial features now can they? Many Black women have the same features anyway but I guess those without these features are not as popular or I just couldn't find them. You and I may not look exactly like any of these women but we all have some features that are undeniably beautiful! Below are the Black beauty standard that we can all strive for and many of these items will be attainable to most women:
  1. A beautiful faceEveryone is not born with a beautiful face so this will be impossible for some people. But if you are willing to make an effort you can use makeup to give yourself a more attractive but naturally-enhanced look. Moisturize, lighten dark spots to achieve an even tone, take measures to reduce blemishes (use acne products and cleanse your face regularly), wear sunscreen and don't let your skin burn in the sun.  Don't forget to moisturize those gorgeous lips too! Enhance your natural beauty the way most other women do (especially the ones who fit the EW standards of beauty).  
  2. Bronzed/brown even-toned, shiny skin. Let's forget about trying to have light skin. If you have light skin great but if you don't you can still be beautiful without bleaching your skin. Just try to keep your skin even (lighten dark spots if necessary), free of blemishes, moisturized, and soft. You can also play up the beauty of dark skin by wearing lotions that add shine (White skin doesn't shine). Bronzed or brown, even, shiny skin is beautiful and will make you look like a bronze or ebony sculpture!
  3. Long or big healthy hair. People find natural hair to be more beautiful than synthetic hair (in general, not including anti-Black people). I think what makes women attractive is that they have MORE hair than men and the more beautiful hair the better. Natural Black hair is big and full and that is beautiful! Grow your hair out, keep it moisturized, have it cut into a flattering style, and keep it neat. Learn how to care for your natural hair so that it has some sheen, softness, and movement. Define your curls if you can and use products or setting techniques (e.g., braid- and twistouts) to add sheen and definition. Lion manes are just as beautiful as horse manes so long natural afto-textured hair can be gorgeous too.
  4. An amazing smile. A beautiful smile is always pleasing to the eye. Smile more often and try to have a pleasant look on your face instead of frowning and looking angry all the time. Take care of your teeth, visit your dentist, and look into getting some dental enhancements if necessary (I whiten my teeth and people notice). Fixing your smile is not trying to look White.
  5. A slim and healthy body. Being overweight is bad for your health and so is being underweight. Look at healthy weight charts, buy a scale that assesses your weight and body fat composition, and use them regularly. Try to stay within the healthy weight, body fat %, BMI, and waist circumference ranges. Visit your doctor regularly too and keep track of your health status. Consider consulting a dietitian or starting a healthy lifestyle or weight-loss program. Exercise regularly to maintain your health, lose fat, and tone your body. Black women can be slim and healthy and don't listen to anyone who says it isn't possible. Your health is more important than having a large behind!
  6. A beautiful character and persona. A beautiful woman becomes less attractive if she has a horrible personality and if she is hard and mean. Beauty if not just a physical thing. If you are beautiful on the inside, people will find you more attractive on the outside. The way you act and think about the world is something that you can actually change. 
  7. A beautiful wardrobe. I think that a beautiful woman's wardrobe should add to her beauty not detract from it. Dressing in a way that is appealing to most people can make a woman appear more beautiful. This does not mean spending a fortune on designer clothes and following every fashion trend. In my opinion, feminine, pretty clothing that enhances our natural curves is beautiful to most people. The quality and beauty of the clothing is more important than the price, label, or whether it is "on trend" at the moment.
These are traits that Black women can have or achieve that will make them appear beautiful to most people. As with all things in life, all of us can make the choice about whether to strive for these standards, choose another set of standards, or choose to remain the same. You don't have to try to be beautiful if you don't want to. I want to!

Related Articles:
Is biracial the new beauty ideal?
Nicki Minaj and Marylin Monroe: Is she perpetuating the white female beauty standard?
Is the Black standard of beauty giving you low self-esteem?
Is the Black standard of beauty actually White beauty?
Black girl's guide to weight loss (several articles here)
Black vs. White new age standards of beauty (article is quite angry)


  1. Good post! I agree with many of your points.

    I've always held the belief that there is beauty in all of the many physical variations amongst women of African descent--from cocoa brown and velvet black complexions to the palest amongst us.

    I happen to be extremely pale skinned and of African-American heritage, but my hair is curly, somewhat coarse, and textured.

    I like the fact that my hair is not silky straight, and I rarely straighten it. I always believe in keeping it as moisturized and soft as possible. I recently discovered a great brand of Olive Oil shampoo that's been working pretty well!

    "I think that a beautiful woman's wardrobe should add to her beauty not detract from it. Dressing in a way that is appealing to most people can make a woman appear more beautiful. This does not mean spending a fortune on designer clothes and following every fashion trend. In my opinion, feminine, pretty clothing that enhances our natural curves is beautiful to most people. The quality and beauty of the clothing is more important than the price, label, or whether it is "on trend" at the moment."

    Yes! I'm definitely not one to follow trends--I have my own style, which is frequently very much vintage-inspired. I love dressing nicely, putting on some makeup, and looking as good as I can, even when I'm just going to the grocery store or going to the movies.

    I adore thrifting because of all the quality & vintage pieces I can find affordably, so for the ladies who don't want to spend a fortune building up their wardrobe, I HIGHLY suggest hitting up the thrift shops!

    Thanks for this post and the encouragement you give out!

  2. Hi there!
    My name is Risa and I absolutely love your blog, I've been devouring the content here daily for weeks now. Is there any way I can get into contact with you? I have some questions I would love to ask and I think you'd be the perfect person to ask them to.

  3. Great post!

    Mary Ellen
    The Working Home Keeper

  4. Hi Risa :)

    You can reach me at bronzetrinity @ I'm not sure how well I can answer your questions because I'm not an expert but I'll give it at try :)

    Thanks for your visit!

  5. Well said. It is a difficult subject. The WE standard is always lurking in the shadows some where influencing even the perception of who we are as a people.

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  7. Black Beauty Standard