Last week the Huffington Post published an irksome article about the newly crowned winner of Nuestra Belleza Latina, a beauty pageant reality show that, objectively speaking, seems to be mired in racism. The first line of the article reads "Francisca Lachapel was the unlikely contestant to win Nuestra Belleza Latina 2015," and goes on to cite how as an Afro-Latina, Lachapel and women like her have had difficulty finding representation on the show. From getting selected as contestants to being judged fairly against lighter-skinned, straighter-haired models, women with typically African features are not celebrated as they should be. In fact, the Huffington Post quotes one of the show's judges as having asserted, "Black Venezuelan women are not very beautiful." Even the one judge who advocated most for Lachapel implied the curls in her hair and richer complexion were hindrances. The hilarious part is Lachapel is only partially Black. If she had such a hard time winning the title, would someone with 4C kinks and chocolate skin even stand a chance? A reflection on recent events provides the resounding answer...
It would be aggravating enough if these were isolated cases, but the upsetting truth is Black women are used to this prejudice. Regardless of location, many of us grow up being told our hair isn't presentable unless it's straightened, that we shouldn't play in the sun lest our skin go darker. Our noses are too wide, our bums too big, and our lips too fat. And just when it seems there's nothing left, along comes cultural appropriation to tell us that in fact our features are desirable -- just not on us.
I know the subject has been beaten to death, and yet cultural appropriation still happens on the regular. Whether or not it's intentional is up for debate. I prefer to believe the majority of these perpetrators are ignorant rather than malicious, but maybe that's just a foolhardy coping mechanism on my part. Anyway, Katy Perry was put on blast last year for mocking girls who wear their hair in cornrows and who slick down their baby hairs (ie: Black and Latina girls). Despite her blatant and offensive insensitivity, the video in which she shames us for our unique style has been viewed nearly 290 million times. Similarly, Miley Cyrus will go down in history for putting rachet culture on the map and for inventing twerking, behaviour that mainstream society has spent decades telling Black people is "trashy" or "ghetto" when we do it.
Enter Kylie Jenner, the most recent celebrity to waltz obliviously into this mess. Last week she posted a selfie in which her lips were noticeably enlarged. She invited all her fans to join her in her #LipChallenge, which involves stimulating blood flow to the vessels in one's lips so they appear fuller. People have been achieving juicier kissers in all kinds of questionable ways, including sucking on shot glasses and water bottles. I'm sure you've already come across the hoards of bloggers imploring the young people of the Internet not to partake in this potentially dangerous challenge, but far fewer people are talking about the more insidious harm behind Kylie's latest craze: its societal implications.
When I first found out about the lip challenge, I chose to give Kylie the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to believe she was using her fame to promote an alternative standard of beauty. I wanted to believe she was telling the world that big lips are pretty, period. Of course after watching how the lip challenge unfolded on social media, I couldn't help but notice the stark unfairness of it all. I know many of the participants are Black. I also recognize not all Black people have big lips and not all White people have thin lips. However, the undeniable truth is it's Black people who have been ridiculed for hundreds of years for possessing this unchangeable physical trait, and yet overnight Kylie Jenner has somehow made big lips universally irresistible.
Back when blackface was a thing (*shudders*), makeup artists strove to paint the actors lips as ridiculously gigantic as possible. The actors would then behave like total fools, underscoring the belief that Blacks were animalistic. Today, the aftermath of this racism is evident in the low levels of self-confidence and self-love many people of colour feel at some point or another in our lives. So when someone like Kylie or Katy or Miley presents these "epic trends" to the Earth with no history or context or respect, it's infuriating. These are people with great social influence who can - and have - changed the world. I am not questioning their character or their right to express themselves; they are independent human beings who can do as they please. My issue is their lack of public acknowledgement of the double standard. They are unabashedly adopting for their own fame and fortune the very elements that make Black people unique -- the elements that have been the nexus of so much of our pain.
Ultimately I understand that beauty and fashion are constantly evolving, and some people might even consider all this proof that society is becoming more open-minded. While I do value that sentiment, the lack of appreciation for existing Black culture as a manifestation of Black history continues to trouble me. I guess what I'm really wondering is: why does the world need to see how pretty big lips are on a White girl to realize how pretty the've always been on a Black girl?