Allure magazine polled 2,000 men and women across the country for their American Beauty Survey to find out what they think is beautiful these days. Not surprisingly, the survey revealed that African-American women have “killer confidence.”
“When asked about their personal attractiveness, African-American women were three times as likely as Caucasian women to rate themselves at the hot end of the spectrum,” the poll result states.
The magazine also revealed that women are on the fence about their curves. Seventy-three percent say that a curvier body is more appealing now than it has been in the past decade, but 85 percent still wanted to tone down their hips.
Twenty years ago Allure conducted a similar survey so the magazine compared its findings then to the those from the recent study and according to Real Style Network, “[t]hey found that our tastes are changing and where once blonde hair and blue eyes were the epitome of beauty, now we embrace dark hair, curves and dark skin.”
Now it goes without saying that white people dominated the more than 2,000 men and women surveyed. So, more correctly, the study reflects the beauty ideals of white people and not Americans of all races. But the findings, while encouraging, can also be misleading.
Yes, today Halle Berry, Beyoncé and Alicia Keys regularly top mainstream top beauty lists. And, for the most part, black and white Americans are in total agreement that these three women are especially beautiful. So, in that sense, black and white Americans demonstrate similar tastes in beauty. What isn’t noted is that while these three women would not be mistaken for white they do conform to more Caucasian ideals of beauty, with all three women possessing lighter skin and more delicate features.
On the flipside, Denzel Washington, who is now lauded for his looks by both black and white American media, is a browner hue. Kerry Washington may be considered a beauty in some mainstream circles but she rarely tops lists by black or white media as being among the most beautiful. It’s not a stretch to say that Washington probably would not win out over Halle Berry or Beyoncé even among her most adoring fans.
Similarly, Naomi Campbell has been a top model for years but yet rarely tops any mainstream American most beautiful lists. In fact, few brown skin women ever do. Even historically, African-American women who have been hailed for their beauty in the mainstream generally tend to have lighter skin. Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge immediately come to mind.
As Beyoncé, who has two African-American parents, has increasingly been acknowledged for her beauty, there have been allegations that her skin has become even fairer. In 2008, numerous media outlets like MTV.com ran stories about the apparent lightening of her skin in her L’Oreal ads. L’Oreal denied the allegations.
Interestingly, there are some in the Latino community who have noted that current American Idol judge Jennifer Lopez’s looks became noticeably more Caucasian looking as her stardom expanded. One glance at her style evolution by Cosmopolitan appears to support that claim. So those standards of beauty also nag other communities of color.
Within the African-American community, what are our standards of beauty? Have they changed considerably in the last two decades? Are they that much different than those of the mainstream? Judging by rap videos now as opposed to the 1990s, the women have become increasingly more biracial looking. In 2000, Denene Millner, then a staff writer for the New York Daily News, wrote “Blackout Dark-skin women have been banished to the background in rap videos.”
“It seems clear that the ‘Not-Quites’ — women of color who don’t quite look black — are the rappers’ delights,” wrote Millner. “They’re the ones who get invited to the mansions, the beaches, the bathtubs, the beds.”
Recently some of Lil Wayne’s lyrics where he specifically announces his preference for a “redbone” chick as in “Every Girl” have come under fire. But when it comes to those standards of beauty he is not the only black man with such preferences. Look at past editions of black men’s magazines like King and women who are fair skin do tend to dominate. Darker skin women in those types of magazines tend to appear more exotic and often their Latino, Native American or various other heritages is emphasized.
Yes, the United States and the world are both becoming increasingly more mixed racially and so it can be argued that that’s why more African-Americans and other women of color are topping such lists. The National Policy Institute actually released a report in 2008 that globally the white population is set to plummet to a single digit number by 2060 so obviously some attitudes have to adjust. The question, however, is: are those age-old beauty standards that have dominated for decades being appropriated to allow women of color in?
In other words, are the women of color who appear more Caucasian rewarded for their beauty over those women who are more representative of their racial and ethnic groups? After all, despite the increasing diversity, white people still dominate the industries that set the agenda for beauty in this country and in many parts of the world. So, while the Allure survey is interesting, attitudes regarding what’s beautiful may not have come as far as the survey suggests. When it comes to what’s considered beautiful in the mainstream, we still have a long way to go.