I had a really interesting discussion about identity, self hate, cultural capital etc with my BFF today and it got me thinking of Margaret Bowland’s selection of paintings of young black girls in white face. When asked to comment on ‘Portrait of Kenyetta and Brianna’ Bowland said that ‘It is a commentary on how women still have to jump through all these hoops to be desirable. These girls are still visible beneath all those layers of crap … they’re still looking back at you.’ I think that a lot of black girls looking at Bowland’s paintings would say that the metaphor transcends beyond the art world. For many black girls Bowland’s paintings are a life metaphor - reflecting a reality where black girls are often marginalised by European standards of beauty. I agree with Cherise Kramarae when she states that ‘For women of color who are viewers, trying to achieve idealised femininity entails not only adjusting or refining one’s body, but also rejecting one’s identity and certain characteristics altogether. To resist this artificial standard is to stand apart from beauty as defined by society’. The frustrating thing for me is that even if you put the fact that there is very little aesthetic diversity across all media platforms to the side, in the black community we impose European standards of beauty on each other with a vengeance. It’s black men that make fun of Alek Wek and it’s black girls arguing about natural hair v relaxer/weave (e.g ‘These little nappy headed hoes need a terminator’ - Nicki Minaj) etc. It’s this infighting that is the real tragedy.
Somebody told a lie and we believed it.