In the eye of the beholder

Karen Hatter

As I read the article by Deborah Hobson on The-Latest (see above) concerning Vogue's all Black, well, not really, Black issue, I was reminded of a commentary I delivered at a fashion show a couple of years ago on beauty standards.

My station manager and I were invited to attend a 'sistahood' function, featuring natural hair styles, fashion, music, refreshments and fellowship. The theme of the evening was Creating Queens: Ancient Beauty In A Modern World.

I thought about African American women and our struggles identifying what exactly is beauty. I immediately thought of the old adage about beauty being in the eye of the beholder.

Those of us of African descent, men and women, have been concerned with grooming ourselves and being beautiful ever since time immemorial, being the first members of the human family to adorn ourselves.

However, in modern times, especially in American society, only recently, in the past few decades, have images of people of African descent been displayed as a type of beauty, with the dominating imagery represented in all media being a standard of beauty that most of African descent will find difficult to attain.

I recall Whoopi Goldberg doing a live, one woman show in the early '80s. One of the characters in this show was a young quote, unquote Black girl, who put a white skirt on her head, inviting the audience to admire her beautiful, long, blond hair.

Whoopi's character chatted about how pretty she looked, shaking her head from side to side, saying how nice her hair moved when she shook it. I've always felt Whoopi's portrayal of that character to be a brilliant glimpse into the world of a young Black girl who has internalized another culture's standard of beauty.

Growing up as a young girl in the early '50s and '60s in North Philly in Pennsylvania, I remember the images coming into my home of the Breck Girls, as they were called, and the models used in the Miss Clairol ads, on the television everyday; tall, thin, Caucasian women, often moving in slow motion, through fields of flowers, their long, blond hair cascading past their shoulders, blowing in a gentle breeze.

Personally, I never wanted blond hair but, I did want my hair to blow in a gentle breeze! Now, I proudly wear a head full of over one hundred, three foot long auburn locks, that cascade down my back falling past my waist, when they're not held up a la I Dream Of Jeannie style. Obviously, I've gotten over the gentle breeze thing! Now, a strong gust of wind is required to move my coif!

There is another adage about beauty that states that beauty is only skin deep. I have heard several meanings attributed to this proverb but, the meaning I find most applicable is that outward appearance and beauty, as a consequence of the ceaseless movement of time, is often fleeting and transitive.

Development of one's inner spirit and beauty should be and must become the major focus for us all as we travel through this existence. We should embrace all principles that promote development of our spiritual selves, thereby enlightening ourselves and those with whom our lives intersect.

We all must continue to claim and craft our own standards of beauty, inside and out, based on our terms, so that we will always be able to behold all aspects of our beauty through our own eyes.

*Karen Hatter is the producer, host and social commentator of Inside the Eye of the Storm, aired daily on Internet radio on AKERU! Global Network, formerly AKERU! NU Afrakan Network, @ Karen is also guest editor at