A Woman's Brain, A Woman's Beauty

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Is it possible for a woman to celebrate her brains as well as her beauty? Well, the answer is quite obvious - of course. But in my opinion, the topic should be discussed a bit. The media today seems to imply that intelligence and beauty are mutually exclusive in women, as if to suggest that if a woman has a high IQ, there is a fair chance that she may not be aesthetically favorable in the human gene pool (or that her beauty is not necessarily praiseworthy). If you need examples, look at women who are celebrated for their beauty on television (to name a few, Angelina Jolie, Tyra Banks, Jessica Simpson, Paris Hilton), and look at the women who are celebrated for their intelligence (e.g. Hillary Clinton, Condoleeza Rice, Suze Orman, Rachel Maddow [who are all beautiful in my opinion]). It is very rare that I see a woman on television celebrated for their beauty as well as their intelligence - and that is quite annoying (and for the extreme right conservatives who are reading this - I do not believe Ann Coulter fits either standard!). We are living in the 21st century, where women are flocking to colleges, grad schools (they even outnumber men at a lot of academic institutions today), and yet, the media seems to lag behind the times. Instead, shows like "Girls Next Door" continue to portray women as airheadish, uneducated and dependent on men to support them. Tyra Banks (as much as I appreciate "The Tyra Banks Show" when decent topics come up) doesn't stray far from playing a "ditzy" character at times, which may make her more likeable and cute, but unfortunately makes her come off as airheadish as well. And let's not forget about the hip hop music industry today, which pretty much considers women as accessories - interesting "jewelry" to dispose of at their will, if they so choose.

I think it's about time that the media promotes more "Natalie Portman" types - rather than view them as the exception ("She's beautiful! And she went to Harvard? Wow!"). Seriously, get a grip. There are plenty of Natalie's out there - they are not as rare as the media may suggest.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

The posts you see below are a compilation of my blog postings on two older sites I had - now I combined everything onto this site, Brains and Beauty. Definitely stay tuned for the next posting!

This particular post is a reaction to a quick video on ABC about black women and their potential upliftment as a group because of Michelle Obama’s rise to fame in America.

As much as I found this video entertaining, there is a part of me that does not even want to discuss it, partially because it seems to suggest that black women on average have some serious self-esteem issues to deal with based on how the media has constructed their image. However, the part where they show the experiment with the dolls (where the black children choose white dolls over black dolls because they view the white dolls as “better” - in whatever way they perceive “better” to mean), is troubling. Consider the video below, and consider how a young black girl would feel in the same position:

(Feel free to see my comments on this video on another blog entitled "Own Your Beauty".)

Interestingly enough, despite the media's obsession with particular images and standards, studies that have shown that black women have, on average, strong confidence in their body image (and they are less likely to be prone to issues such as anorexia, bulimia, etc.). Also, generations upon generations of black women have taken intense pride in their natural hair texture and have shown great affection for their own individual skin hues (whether that be dark chocolate, caramel, mocha, tan, or very light). However, I do believe that Michelle’s rise to fame and attention will help some black women feel more comfortable with their beauty when they see their own image thrown back at them in the role of First Lady of the United States. However unfortunate it may be that people are affected by images in the media, it is important to realize that women who have been pushed to the fringes of the accepted beauty standard in America have their own range of features that are very worthy of praise and should be acknowledged as traits that are to be admired and ACCEPTED. Perhaps Michelle and her daughters may be able to assist in such a realization for women of all shades and sizes.

The Media’s Misinterpretation and Effect on Black America

There is a part of me that doesn’t want to let the last blog post go (see below: “Intelligent Black People…an Oxymoron?”) - partially because the relationship between the media and Black America has always fascinated me, and partially because the media’s warped interpretation of Black America (particularly how it chooses to portray it) has boggled my mind for quite some time.

The most recent situation that hit this particular nerve of mine happened several months ago, when I sat down with a group of young African-American girls, who upon being asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, stated that they wanted to be singers. Out of some frustration with that answer, I gently suggested, “how about a doctor or lawyer?” (This isn’t because I have a particular bias towards those two careers – I just figured I would throw something else out there on the table!). One little girl smushed up her nose at me and said, “Eww! Doctor? Gross! I don’t want to deal with blood!” Feeling empathetic to her response, I suggested: “How about a lawyer?” This adorable little girl just looked at me with somewhat of a blank stare, and shrugged. When I asked someone from the community about their responses, the individual basically said, "What else do you expect when these children don't have other major examples in their community or in society that would suggest that they could be something other than a singer or basketball player?" When I responded that women like Condoleeza Rice or Colin Powell could potentially serve as role models (leaving their politics out of it), he politely told me that their potential effect has been slight in urban America.

I have to admit – I don’t think that the media is completely to blame for how it portrays Black America. Why? Because on some level, Black America doesn’t completely reject it. In fact, I would argue that on some level it absorbs the media’s interest in shaping what it means to be “cool”: which pretty much means, mirror the image and perhaps the career of Michael Jordan, Keyshia Cole, Beyonce, Ashanti, or Lil’ Wayne. Many people complain about the misogynistic lyrics in rap/hip hop lyrics, and wonder what happened to the old school flavors of hip hop and rap “back in the day” (the 1980s and 1990s ☺). Many people also wonder why black youth label sometimes label their friends who want to pursue an education as “trying to be white.” Despite this discomfort sizzling and buzzing about among Black Americans, there seems to be little effort to fight its very image in the media. Perhaps they figure its not worth the effort, they may not win, or perhaps they don’t care enough to bother.

If change is going to happen in the media, perhaps the reality in Black American culture has to take a dramatic paradigmatic shift before positive changes reflect back through the television set and radio. I’ve recently heard a few people emphatically suggest that more Black Americans truly have to embrace the value of education in order to create the paradigm shift. And yes, they then followed that statement up by suggesting that the election of Barack Obama to the Oval Office could have potentially marked the beginning of the shift. I hope so – only time will tell what really happened, and where Black America goes from here, and how its image is shaped through various media channels in society today.

“Black” and “Smart” … an Oxymoron?

No. It is not an oxymoron. And anyone who even thinks such a thing should get some serious psychological treatment. Really – I’m not kidding. Perhaps 24 hours worth of television shows like “A Different World,” “The Cosby Show,” and a little bit of Carlton (“Fresh Prince of Bel Air”), Urkel (“Family Matters”), and a sufficient amount of “Obama” hype should help.

People who exhibit signs of needing this sort of treatment may not always be obvious to the naked eye (or ear, for that matter). For example, they may exhibit signs of sheer ignorance by stating to a black person, “Wow! You are so articulate!,” or “Well, you’re different,” or may even subtly allude to the fact that they are surprised that black people go to top-tier colleges and graduate schools. And you may be able to point them out in particular when they compare black people to famous television characters or politicians such as “Theo,” “Carlton,” “Condoleezza Rice,” “Colin Powell,” (and they most likely are now implementing “Obama” into their comparative vocabulary).

As a self-identified nerd from birth, I’ve always found the antiquated idea that “smart black people are the exception to the rule” quite amusing as well as far from any sort of truth, considering how I was surrounded by intelligent black people all the time, ranging from all different careers, educational backgrounds, and nationalities. However, there was no doubt that the media, on average, tended to promote the classic stereotypes about black people over and over again through music videos, television shows, as well as terrible movies that somehow made it to the silver screen. And let’s not forget the recent strange popularity of Flava Flav and “New York” from the show, “I Love New York” (and Flava Flav’s show as well). I therefore dismissed the media as an unfortunate and unaware institution that has not yet chosen to leave “blackface” in the past where it belongs.

I am therefore somewhat relieved that many people will have to challenge their notion about black people and intelligence with upcoming constant exposure to the next President of the United States, who won his position in large part due to his incredible intellect. And let’s be honest – there are plenty of men and women out there like Obama who have not risen to the same level of fame.

Perhaps now, when a card-carrying “Black People Are Smart?” individual decides to “compliment” a black person by claiming that he or she is “so articulate!,” perhaps the receiver of this “compliment” could remind the individual that the next President of the United States, his wife and their kids are intelligent as well – so get a clue. And stop watching Flava Flav.

Path Dependence: “the idea that decisions taken in the past limit the scope of decisions in the present (and future).” –Oxford University Press

To what degree can we broadly claim that our futures are dependent on the decisions we’ve made in the past? To what degree do people limit their potential or their ambition based on a wrong turn here or another detour there? I believe that our lives and our desires for achievement are strongly path-dependent – that is, our next steps along the paths of success are strongly dependent on the steps taken this morning, yesterday, last week, last month, and the list goes on. If you take a pencil and trace your steps over time, you may sketch out a complex, multi-linear trajectory of individual footsteps that resemble a game of “connect the dots.” And after you are done connecting the dots, you may or may not like the resulting picture, but it is important to observe it along with every other picture posted along your metaphorical path. Why? Because the success and purpose of your next steps are pretty much dependent on it. As the saying goes, “those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it.”

What does this have to do with ambition? Well, when you continue to make so many choices in one direction, you may find that you have to work twice as hard to correct those steps and create a new path in life. In addition, no two paths look alike. It may take one man ten years to become a successful entrepreneur, while it may take another man half that amount of time. The decisions you make impact what road you can take towards a given outcome. But regardless of the detour, there is no reason to give up. Difficulty does not warrant stagnancy. When it gets difficult, that is when you should work even harder to accomplish the goal that you have in mind. The ambition in you should rise up, and you should use it as fuel to push through a hurdle or a tough spot that appears to trap you in a pit of sinking sand. Never buy into the saying that “I’m just living life according to the cards that I was dealt.” Instead, remind yourself that you hold ALL the cards – you just have to play them in the right order. And if you make a mistake, then keep on playing, because the game is not over until you say it is over. Society does not dictate your success – in fact, it is silent on that topic. So why not define your success for yourself and define your own path? Everyone hits a hurdle or two along their own roads – it is how they decide to deal with those hurdles that will ultimately determine the proximity of their next steps to their dream goal in life.

A powerful quote in this video: "the White House, in part built by black slaves, welcomes its first black president." One cannot help but notice this uniquely symbolic and historical moment of watching the first black president check out his new lodgings. I really hope that people are inspired by these images today, and the images to come, of Obama in this special position of power. This society is so used to seeing disturbing as well as unnecessarily comical images of black men on television (evening news and BET are the worst, in my opinion), so I am more than thrilled that Obama and his beautiful family will soon be photographed and videotaped in and around the White House, showing a new side of black images on television.

Speaking of which, I could not help but go "awwww, too cute!" when the morning news provided an account of the "Little Obama's":

Obama has already impacted many young black Americans who, post-election, decided to re-invent their definitions of self and reassess their ability to positively change their lives and the lives of those around them. This video is a vivid and potent snapshot of a baby "Little Obama" movement that will hopefully become stronger and impact more youth across the country!

Perhaps Obama's image and success displayed on television everyday will have the sort of impact on the younger generations today that the "Cosby Show" had on my generation. To show that yes, success is possible for all black Americans. And even though some people believed that the "Cosby Show" was a very fictitious account of Black America (as if there were no stable and financially well-off Black Americans already in existence at that time), no one can debate the fact that Obama is not an actor, but a real person, making history, making change. No one can debate the fact that we are indeed watching a very true account of a wonderful, beautiful family that is about to inherit the White House and an ambitious President-Elect that is about to make change in a country that centuries ago would not have dared to provide him the opportunity.

Is it possible for America to piggyback on Obama’s win and consciously choose to transcend race, and realize that it serves as nothing more than a tool to divide, rather than unite? Obama’s win clearly demonstrates that when we look past race, we actually see our commonalities, not our human divisions. As a former student of cultural anthropology at Harvard, I have studied race through many different lenses, only to come to the conclusion that race is and has always been a social construct utilized over centuries across this globe as a powerful and destructive tool to categorize, manipulate, control, stereotype and dehumanize “the other." Terrifying episodes throughout this world’s history illuminate this very issue: the Holocaust, American slavery, the Japanese American internment, and the list goes on. And unfortunately, fear of the “other” continues to manifest on a daily basis in everyday life today, from unjust racial profiling of Muslims in airports to DWB (driving-while-black), SWB (shopping-while-black), or even applying for a job while being “the other” (any minority). And as much as affirmative action and other legislative anti-discriminatory measures have sought to correct blatant and accepted racial discrimination, racism did not really go away – it just learned how to adapt and evolve, and how to cleverly use vocabulary, digging deeper into the recesses of creative expressions and measures in order to further enhance systemic racism, while simultaneously wearing a mask declaring that yes, “we truly are all equal.”

So what does Obama’s victory mean for American minorities? Does this mean that we can officially kiss racism good-bye and embrace the notion that it is a thing of the past? Only the na├»ve would have embraced such a concept, and clearly did not notice that there was a fairly significant portion of the American electorate that did not want to vote for Senator Obama simply because of his race. However, I will say that this nation has made tremendous progress since the days of slavery, and even the civil rights movement (there are many examples of such that I will save for a future blog post – and truly deserve mention!). Obama made it a point to run for President not as a “black man,” but as a man, who had a particular vision, and allowed men and women of different backgrounds, ages, religions, etc. to fall in love with him. He refused to acknowledge himself as “the other,” and purposely made it a point to in fact identify himself as “the same” – the same as “everybody else”: an American who truly craves change, and hopes for a better future – one that is not burdened by the systemic deficiencies and bureaucratic madness.

It is nevertheless important to note the amount of attention that his race has received in just two days post-election. Despite his efforts to detach from “the other” status, the media has officially made it a point now to talk about it in depth: “The First African American/Black President!!!” And such focus has led some people abroad (and in America) to wonder – “Was he elected because he was black?” My answer? I’m sure that played a factor for many voters, but for the most part, people voted for him because they could identify with him, with his vision, with his hope, his values. In doing so, the nation chose to “humanize” a black man in front of the world, thereby declaring its choice to humanize a person from a “race” that has been historically dehumanized for so long. And in my opinion, this is amazing progress for American culture and society! People who qualify as “the other” in juxtaposition to the majority can no longer claim that their “other” status permanently stamps them out of achieving success – because they have a very clear example of a man who would qualify as “other” and made it to the top.

But is the fight over for racial progress? Nope. Nor should we depend on President-Elect Obama to rescue the nation from the tangible and intangible traces of racism that still plague segments and sub-segments of American culture. It is up to every individual to look to Obama’s win as a symbol of what they can do – that they live in a country in which anything is possible, and they can dream as far as the stars if they wanted to – and not believe the hype that the “minority glass ceiling” exists. Why? Because November 4th, 2008, officially shattered the glass ceiling. This nation just has to be careful as it walks across the broken pieces of glass now scattered across its own foundation.

-Written By: Kris B.

Senator Barack Obama's win is a direct testament to every single American that there really is no limit to what you can achieve. It proves that through strength, tenacity, willingness, faith and relentless ambition, you can achieve whatever you want to achieve. As much as people discussed the Bradley effect and America's big problem with race, it turned out that Obama's passion, hard work, and very committed supporters nulled out the increasingly archaic concept that you can only go "so far" as a person of color. Black Americans in particular have fought over centuries with all their might for this very moment to arrive - and finally - it has come.

Yesterday was a big moment for me, and I am still feeling the effects of the excitement of Obama's win yesterday. As a black woman (of Caribbean descent) who has graduated from an Ivy League university and is about to graduate from a top law school, I am no stranger to the thrills of ambition. I have always loved the idea of success, and the idea that if I work really hard, I can succeed in whatever I do. Since my youth, I was surrounded by ambitious and successful family and friends, and shows like the "Cosby Show" and "A Different World" made me feel connected to a movement of blacks in America who loved success as well and embraced the notion that education is the best way to achieve it in this nation. Education has unlocked the doors for so many people (most recent example: Obama!), and allows dreams to be born and success to be lived.

Last night therefore made me realize something - that Black America, as diverse and wonderfully complex as it is, can uniformly look to Obama's win as a testament to success that is awaiting them right now. Although there many black Americans have achieved incredible amounts of success in their lives, it is important to note that more success is waiting to be born and embraced in the black community. History has proven that Black America has the strength, power and guts to be able to pull of what it asks for - guarantees of particular civil liberties, civil rights, you name it. Ambition, true ambition, the REAL ambition that lives in the hearts and souls of every human being, is enough to be able to inspire the most depressed American citizen to have faith that they can achieve the impossible. And I strongly believe that America rewards the hard work/labor, labor and faith that is required to achieve success in life. Now, it may be harder for some rather than others to get to a certain place in life, but that does not matter. Every individual has their own story to tell, and dreams do not have to disappear just because times get tough. In fact, dreams should be even more stamped into one's consciousness and mental framework when times get tough. They are what fuel ambition, and allow faith to push a person farther than they ever thought possible....

So thank you, President-Elect Obama - you have set a historical and well-earned standard for Black America. Now it is up to each and every individual to allow this breathtaking story in history to echo across the country and the world, and inspire dreams, fuel ambition, and remind people that with faith, hope, and unrelenting efforts, anything is possible!

More to come - stay tuned. :)

Written by: Kris B.

I think it is time to clarify something - curvy is not a symbol of all that is "Playboy" and "King Magazine." On some level many men automatically equate a woman with breasts/a butt/or both with the images they see in X-rated photographs. And yet, a Paris Hilton-esque figure is more lauded for a statusque presence to be admired (rather than gawked/lusted after). Beauty is in the eye of the beholder - and I believe beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. However, I think society today has taken curve to the utmost extreme of raunchiness. "Video girls" on music television are another form of denigrating the beauty of feminine curve to the most base level of raw sexuality - and I do not consider that to be "appreciating" the female form - it is distorting it in order to appease an appetite for visual gratification.

Having curves should not be equated with sex - it should be equated with the beauty of womanly form. And the two are linked, but they are not the same. Appreciating a woman's body for its beauty is on a much ligher level of adoration than simply lusting after her for her "assets". Perhaps it is time to redefine how we think about curves. Most women have them - let them be adored, rather than thrown into the trenches of raunchiness-supreme...

The media today seems a bit obsessed with Kim Kardashian and her body. Well - it seems mostly obsessed with her body. You can't turn on cable TV without seeing her flash across the television set or notice an advertisement for her show, "Keeping Up with the Kardashians." Furthermore, it seemed as though NY subway magazine stands had more male viewers than usual when her Playboy front cover showed up on the stands. Plus, you have to find it amusing when she playfully comments about how much she likes her own butt. Now what is it about this girl's body (or should I say, booty?) that pulls in the attention? Haven't women been sporting curvy bodies for a while, only to be told that "sorry ladies, thin is in"? And yet, contrary to this "standard," men will naturally gravitate to someone like Kim Kardashian, who does not sport your classic Abercrombie and Fitch model body. And so I have to ask - why?

I have noticed this dichotomy in society for a while now but chose to remain quiet about it until now. The media worships "curvy," and worships "thin." And at any given moment, it will worship one over the other at any given moment, depending on what you're watching on television - either a Versace fashion Show (thin thin thin), for example - or a Victoria's Secret Fashion Show (curvy thin) - or, "The Girls Next Door"/"Keeping Up with the Kardashians" (curve curve curve). Can the media make up its mind already?

Or perhaps I'm being too harsh on the media - perhaps it shouldn't have to definitely say whether or not curvy or skinny is in. Perhaps they do their part by putting some "alternatives" out there - you can look like J Lo, Keira Knightley, Scarlett Johanssen, or Kim Kardashian - take your pick. And yet, on some level, there is this default concept of "skinny is in" that is quite disturbing.

Case in point:

Clearly this blog is biased towards curve, so you already know what I'm about to say before I say it - there is something wrong with promoting this type of image as the standard of beauty. Most women do not look like this. For those that do - all the more power to you - there is nothing wrong with natural skinny. But when you go out of your way to diet, avoid carbs, exercise like crazy, and complain about being too fat (and we all know somebody who has a "thigh" obsession), there is definitely a problem. Let's face it - the media will promote a Keira Knightley standard of beauty before they'd consider promoting Kim Kardashian's body type. Not because Keira's body is inherently more beautiful and appealing - but because there is an underlying current of denial of the natural female form. And although there are plenty of rumors that Kim's body isn't exactly "natural," her body shape is actually more in line with the typical woman today - big boobs, big butt, or both. And hey, some women have some tummy too - what's so wrong about that? And so I end this blog post today by stating that I am a huge fan of "healthy curve" - curve that you're naturally born with, and embracing it and loving it, despite what society tells you to do with it. And if you have people in your life that tease your curve - perhaps consider the fact that underneath all that criticism, they may actually be jealous of that curve. Ever think about that? With all the "curvy" women in Hollywood splashing across our TVs and magazines, I would not be surprised. ;)

Have you ever felt self-conscious about your chest? Every now and again I am made very much aware of my bust size - and no, I do not flaunt my chest out there for the world to see. I have a 34D cup size, so unless I am wearing a very baggy shirt, you can tell I'm a busty girl. And note - I do not live in the land of big-chested girls (I currently live on the upper east side of Manhattan), so my "girls" stand out around here. And yet I ponder: Should I feel self-conscious about my chest size? Both men and women notice when you do have a large bosom. Men are quick to say "bless you" with a smile on their faces - not because I sneezed - but because that is their way of saying "bless you - for having a nice bosom." Women are sometimes quick to notice if you have a curiously large size as well. I went to a party one night at a bar around the area and the next day, a friend of mine told me that her co-worker (who was present at the party) said to her: "Your friend is really nice!" and then leaned in closer and and whispered: "By the way - she has really huge boobs!" Now, my friend already knew what I looked like, so I wasn't quite sure what the point was for her co-worker's comment. Was it shocking that my breasts were naturally big? Was she trying to get some scoop as to whether they were real or not? I found the comment quite amusing and flattering. (I nevertheless doubt I would get the same reaction in a place where a 34D cup size is average, rather than an extreme.)

One girlfriend of mine was made quite aware of her chest size while running into a store before it was about to close and some women walking by gave her an off-putting look that pretty much read: "She's too breasty and bouncy..." She saw the look and immediately, for a second, became self-conscious about her 34-D chest size. Perhaps those women thought she should have strapped down her boobs with scotch tape before attempting to run anywhere?

The take home message for this post is: as much as people may make a big chested girl feel somewhat insecure for having a large chest (as blessed or "strange" as that may be for the viewer), a woman should be very proud for being blessed with her bosom. And yes, people may react to the size, but - who cares? Today, people are paying thousands of dollars and even going to the lengths of soliciting boob-job donations to get a nice bosom. So embrace a large bosom if you were naturally blessed with one - and celebrate your curve.