“Exotic” Commodities: Unrealistic Expectations of Black Women's Beauty

Why must I be labeled exotic? Is not my Black good enough to stand alone? Must I find a way to m...

Why must I be labeled exotic? Is not my Black good enough to stand alone? Must I find a way to morph my wide nose, peanut butter complexion and dark eyes into something that resembles a melting pot of foreign/unknown/questionable ethnicity that spans all seven continents of the globe? For whom does that label serve and why must it be so?

Marketing teaches us that the best way to sell your product is to package it in a way that would persuade even the most intolerable of those to at least sample what lies in the box. Unfortunately, however, regardless of how great that product may be as it stands in the present, for some, in order to reach a broader market, the material has to be completely reimagined through the lens of its intended audience without truthful context.

Black female beauty has for centuries been viewed as the cold, hard tar that is only useful in the most industrialist of ways. Seen as that which is neither pleasurable to the gaze or desirable enough for one’s pursuit, Black beauty—Black females, have been publicly promoted as mere commodities to be ravaged for the sake of satisfying one’s sexual needs. Through the racist ideals of those that sought (and still seek) to perpetuate Black women as possessing none of the European features that exemplify true/real/pure attractiveness, Black women have over time, been repackaged as “exotic” to increase the sexual desirability of non-black men.

When social scientist Satoshi Kanazawa in Psychology Today, proclaimed that black women were (and will always be) less physically attractive than their white (and other non-black) female counterparts due to their size and the level of testosterone that negatively affect their physical ascetic, he set off a firestorm of criticism that denounced his insane and unjustified “scientific research” YET, none of that stopped Dolce and Gabbana from using mammy figures and other bigoted images of Black women in their Italian fashion show, as a way of recreating African American blackness and beauty as something to behold as stylish, creative and most importantly, wanted.

It is in this “exotic” relabeling/recasting/reimagining/repackaging of the old Black woman that somehow restructures the everyday lens through which the common brown skin woman, dark-skinned woman, Negro woman becomes beautiful beyond her sexual characteristics once thought to be naturally embodied. Thus she becomes the new pedestal of attraction and allure.

While the discussions about light-skinned versus dark-skinned, kinky versus curly and so on will always be an ongoing issue within the African American community, it is important that we not subject ourselves to the degradation and participation of such ideals of beauty at the expense of our self-esteem and that of our young girls. For it is only a label that serves those who cannot truly appreciate the greatness of the product as it currently stands, that such superficial branding must be employed.


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Alice J. Rollins is an aspiring freelance writer and blogger who holds an M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from DePaul University. Her areas of interest include African American women’s spirituality, feminist/womanist pedagogy and politics of migration.

She is currently based in Chicago, IL. Email her at: alice@forharriet.com

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