When You Determine if a Woman is Beautiful, Does Skin Color Matter?

by Nana Tsujimoto

Belva Davis, founder of the Miss Bronze pageant

“You are beautiful.” This phrase can always make a woman really happy and let her be more confident about herself. Winning in a beauty contest is one of the ways of receiving wide recognition as being beautiful by society. This enables not only the winner but also people in the same social categories, especially in subordinate groups, to gain confidence in their beauty, including their skin color.

Numerous kinds of beauty pageants, including Miss Universe USA pageant, are held every year all over the world. As you might have known, there was the beauty contest called Miss Ritsumeikan Collection at Ritsumeikan University last month. Although competing in a beauty contest is quite widely popular in the world up to now, people in dominant group have been getting more chances to win in contests; one the other hand, people in subordinate group have fewer chances to do so.

Miss Bronze California is a beauty contest for African American women which lasted from 1961 to 1968, during the time when many African-American social protests such as the Civil Rights Movement occurred. The producer of this contest was Belva Davis, who was really making an effort to make African American women, especially dark-skinned African American women, to have more confidence in their beauty as African Americans. This contest was one of the great tools to expand the idea of “Black is Beautiful” in the US society at that time. The contest played an important role in fighting against colorism, racism, and discrimination against African American.

Moreover, because of the existence of dark-skinned winners of the contest, the definition of black beauty was expanded. However, there is an important point to consider in this contest: double consciousness. According to the concept of double consciousness, which was introduced by W. E. B. Du Bois, the standard of beauty in the whole African American community can be categorized into two parts: a white standard of beauty and an African American standard of beauty. This is because dominant views are internalized in the community, so to choose either a light-skinned African American woman (a white standard, which also shows privilege) or a dark-skinned woman (an African American standard, which also shows authenticity) for a winner depends on which standard the judges applied.

missamerica

Vanessa Williams (left) and Nina Davuluri (right)

While Miss Bronze California was a contest only for African American, Miss America is now opened for people of all races in the U.S., including African Americans and Asian Americans. The first African-American winner of the contest in 1984 was Vanessa Lynn Williams, who had light skin and blue eyes. Following after her, seven African-American women have been crowned. In addition, this year, Nina Davuluri won the contest as the first Indian-American woman. Both Vanessa and Nina have had to face negative attitudes toward them because of their skin color after they won the contest. For example, Nina has received numerous negative descriptions of her, such as “Too ‘Indian’ to ever be Miss India”. Moreover, she was described as a terrorist on Twitter. Those are not acceptable in the society with racial diversity.

When you determine if a woman is beautiful, does skin color matter? I would answer “No” because I believe all of skin colors are beautiful. Although people’s attitudes toward skin color are shaped in the societies where they grow up, I hope there will be no discrimination on skin color in the near future.

References

Broderick, R. A Lot Of People Are Very Upset That An Indian-American Woman Won The Miss America Pageant (Sept. 16, 2013). Buzzfeednews. Retrieved on Dec 10, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/a-lot-of-people-are-very-upset-that-an-indian-american-woman

Chaudhry, L. Miss America Nina Davuluri: Too ‘Indian’ to ever be Miss India (Sep 16, 2013). F.LIVING. Retrieved on Dec, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.firstpost.com/living/miss-america-nina-davuluri-too-indian-to-ever-be-miss-india-1111477.html

Craig, Maxine Leeds. 2009. “The Color of an Ideal Negro Beauty Queen: Miss Bronze 1961-1968.” In Shades of Difference, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

Davis, B. Fighting Racism, One Swimsuit at a Time (February 10, 2011). Ms. Blog Magazine, Retrieved on Dec 10, 2014. Retrieved from http://msmagazine.com/blog/2011/02/10/fighting-racism-one-swimsuit-at-a-time/

Stern, M. Vanessa Williams, the First Black Miss America, On Nina Davuluri and Racism (Sep 21, 2013). The Daily Beast. Retrieved on Dec 11, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/21/vanessa-williams-the-first-black-miss-america-on-nina-davuluri-and-racism.html

Watson, E. The Miss America Pageant Has Been Beneficial for Women of Color (Sep 12, 2013). The New York Times. Retrieved on Dec 11, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/09/12/is-the-miss-america-pageant-bad-for-women/the-miss-america-pageant-has-been-beneficial-for-women-of-color

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Double Consciousness at Miss Bronze Contests

by Miyu Fujihara

In “The Color of an Ideal Beauty Queen,” Maxine Craig talks about how Miss Bronze or beauty contests clearly show “systems of representation”, which makes contests such as Miss Bronze significantly different from beauty contests mostly for white women. System of representation can be simply explained as differences of perspective. Specifically skin color is one of the elements that decide representation, as well as other factors like body features. For example, blond hair represents white race and a dark-skinned person evokes the image of low social status, and so on. However, since systems of representation are different depending on the racial group, features can represent anything. Thus the definition of beauty differs a lot among groups, thus making different impressions. What black people and white people think is beautiful can differ.

As Craig mentions in her chapter, at the Miss Bronze Contest, black contestants try to walk carefully so they can show their well-educated behavior, which reminds people of middle class manners or the social representation of whites, and some straighten their hair to be “white” in order to achieve beauty acknowledged by the majority.

However, at the same time, since it is Miss Bronze, the contest which decides the symbol of the race, contestants want to keep their blackness or authenticity in their appearance. This is why some get their hair short in order not to be too white (long hair is regarded as element of being white). The one that meets the both expectations wins the contest, in other words, the one that is regarded as beautiful from both whites and blacks can win. This whole process to be the winner is said to be based on the one’s double consciousness.

From what I’ve mentioned above, this can be applied to Asian American women in the United States. Keeping racial identity and achieving the majority’s standard of beauty for them is to have black hair or Asian hair, but to keep it long like other white people do. Thus this shows how they have double consciousness.

In my opinion, this is something very considerable and profound in a way it shows that there’s more than one standard of beauty exists. Cherishing her race and natural appearance will build self-confidence and stop people from rushing to get plastic surgery whenever they want to change their race. As for the day a black woman won the beauty contest, it’s proved that the one that’s beautiful is not always white, but black or Asian and any other race. However, even recently it seems that  colorism still exists in a form of social hierarchy. This explains how the concept of multiple standards of beauty was established with color-based social hierarchy coming from colonialism. It sounds difficult to change this issue. Nonetheless, people at least are secured to have their own racial identity and are given the environment where they can be respected from each other in disregard of racism.

Reference

Craig, Maxine L. 2009. “The Color of an Ideal Beauty Queen” in Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Still Matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

The Miss Bronze Contest and Double Consciousness

by Han Si Hun (Jake)

In the book Shades of difference, Maxine Leeds Craig shows the complexity of colorism in the Miss Bronze contests in the United States, and the importance of color within the black community. The Miss Bronze contest can be considered a part of the African American tradition of developing institutions to facilitate black class movement. Contrasting to many earlier contests, the organizers wanted to break old relations between skin color and class position in black communities. Though the contest attracted many light-skinned black women, and these women often won the Miss Bronze title, the organizers purposely recruited contestants with darker skin. Their intention was to make the African American working class eligible to complete the performance of middle-class and femininity

Beauty queens often represent a nation, a region, or a race. Miss Bronze was selected to be a symbol for two audiences: one white and the other black. For whites, Miss Bronze’s attractive face and body could disprove long suffering representations of black women. Miss Bronze was able to prove segregationists wrong. Within black communities, Miss Bronze encouraged new ways of seeing beauty when the winners were of a darker type and fortified African American colorist hierarchies when their skin were light.

We can link this situation with double consciousness. It is a term that describes a person’s identity as having multiple sides. W.E.B. Du Bois, a famous American sociologist, first coined this term. Examples of double consciousness occur in public society through racism. Many people are stereotyped because of racism. The example of double consciousness can be found in our contemporary life as well. As there are still many inequalities based upon race that makes it difficult for black Americans to settle their identities as blacks and as Americans. Mass media shows us images of black men as athletes, rappers or criminals, and as a result white America identifies black men as such and young black males see these limited paths as their only options for advancement. This can contribute to social problem what black experience. For example, the African American have greater difficulty getting a job compared to whites (DeSilver, 2013). This is just one image of how the media, which is largely dominated by white executives, continues to assume the role of shaping the perceptions that blacks have of them (Pierre, 1999).

In conclusion, I think blacks still face discrimination and stereotypes in our contemporary society. Some white people still feel superior and they are sometimes mistreating others because of their color and ethnicity. I think whites need to acknowledge the struggles of  black Americans and recognize them fully as human and give them  respect. Furthermore, they should also fully unite with them in all development activities and plans of their country.

References

DeSilver, D. (2013, August 21). Black unemployment rate is consistently twice that of whites. Pew Research Center: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/08/21/through-good-times-and-bad-black-unemployment-is-consistently-double-that-of-whites/

Pierre, C. L. (1999, June 4). Mass Media in the White Man’s World. Retrieved 11 11, 2013, from EDGE: http://www.stanford.edu/class/e297c/poverty_prejudice/mediarace/mass.htm

Miss Bronze: Double Consciousness of Black Women

by Ayano Tsukada

On June 9, 1961, a California black newspaper announced the beginning of the very first major beauty contests for black women held in Northern California. This beauty pageant, however, was not like one of normal beauty pageants that you would think of. To become Miss Bronze, African American women couldn’t just be beautiful. They had to be more than that: a representative of the African American race. It doesn’t sound very difficult, however, for the contestants of the pageant, it was.

In the United States, features of bodies are given meaning by culturally diffused “systems of representation” and two systems of representation circulated within black communities. One big system is a nationally dominant system of representation corresponding to dominant standards of beauty; beauty from the white point-of-view. The other system is a black system of representation that is used only among blacks. Historically white systems of representation excluded black women in general, but put some light-skinned women as “exotic” types. Light-skinned women were considered beautiful in black system of representation as well, but were not considered “exotic” within the black content. Light skin was a representation of economic and social privilege. Because there was more than one system existing in black communities, black women were made to look at themselves through the two systems of representation, which made it very difficult to be both beautiful and representative of their race at the same time. The contestants had to be beautiful enough in the white system of representation but had to be black enough so that they can represent their race. For example, a light-skinned contestant cut her hair short because long hair represents whiteness. Not too black, but not too white, this was their challenge.

Though African American women had never been and will never be considered as White, they still have to be judged in the white system of representation. This was what was happening in the Miss Bronze contest. However, Black women are not the only ones that have double consciousness. Black men have double consciousness, too. For example, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, changes the way he speaks and acts in front of white audiences and black audiences. Women also see themselves through both women’s point-of-view and men’s point-of-view. We know how to act in the society where men are dominant. We internalize dominant views of ourselves and at the same time, we criticize them. This may not sound good, but I would like to think of double consciousness as a gift. The double consciousness allows them to step back and take an objective view of themselves. Like it or not, we are living in the world with different people and we cannot run away from that. Then isn’t better to have the eye of others inside of you?