Against my better judgement, last night I watched Bravo's "Fashion Queens." Let's begin by saying the show is a train wreck. Bravo's Andy Cohen loves to trot caricatures of Black gay culture for his amusement, and this show was no exception. I might have been able to overlook the fact that this show clearly sprung from a privileged white man's hood fantasies had the hosts delivered anything near quality. Instead we got thirty minutes of unwitty shade. Perhaps someone wants to tune into to three hosts tearing women down to mask their own insecurities, but I'm certainly not the one.
I knew the show was unsalvageable when host Bevy Smith asked professional hair stylists Miss Lawrence and Derek J for their opinion on "the natural hair movement." Derek J replied without hesitation. "the natural hair movement isn't for everyone." Miss Lawrence chimed in with something along the lines of "if you have short hair, you need a perm." He said this with a triumphant swoop of his permed/weaved side bang. Their answers came as no surprise. If I made my living perming and weaving Black women, I'd probably say the same. Plus, I've seen the show. These men sport "women's" apparel and accoutrements, but they are far from progressive.
The comments serve as a reminder of just how important men, all men, can be in shaping the aesthetic expectations placed on women. Men attempt to exert control over women's bodies. This extends beyond heretosexual men policing the femininity of women they feel their won. Gay men feel just as entitled. Despite the historic alliance between black women and black gay men, we have to tune them out.
Black women spend far too much time at the mercy of men's preferences to our own detriment. Women who desire partnership and/or validation from men (in a patriarchal society that's basically all of us) are cautioned to walk the tight-rope of narrow beauty because if our self-presentation doesn't meet men's approval, we'll face rejection. We're warned of consequences without thought of how we, personally, will suffer. We know exactly what happens to women internalize these messages of deficiency. Some of us come out relatively unscathed. While others can't hide their gaping wounds. Navigating men's desires while attempting to reconcile your own takes a toll. As a woman, you being to doubt yourself--your attractiveness and value.
Men need to shut up about what women choose to do with their bodies, but that's unlikely. Tearing down our physical appearances keeps them in control. Women will have to change the standard. Freeing ourselves from the oppressive male gaze requires us to affirm each other and ignore the noise.
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Kimberly Foster is the Founder and Editor of COLOURES. Email or Follow @KimberlyNFoster