A few months ago i watched the TVOne documentary Black Don’t Crack: The Cosmetic Surgery Debate. It disturbed me, to say the least. It mostly chronicled the stories of Black women (and i believe, one man) who choose to undergo cosmetic plastic surgery, noting that in the past, cosmetic procedures have been stigmatized in the Black community. However, since 2005 there has been an increase in the number of Black men and women who undergo elective cosmetic surgery. Most popular amongst patients of color are rhinoplasty (nose jobs), breast augmentation and liposuction of the buttocks and thighs. And indeed, this was mirrored in the subjects of the documentary, the gorgeous women who were convinced that they could “finally be beautiful” if their noses or lips were a little thinner.
The documentary disturbed me because in my eyes every one of the subjects was beautiful but they seemed to have some warped sense of themselves that kept them from seeing what was so plain to me. In almost every interview, the interviewee claimed that “looking more European” was not their goal but turned around and complained of having a nose that was too wide, lips that were too big or a butt that was just too large. It is a phenomenon that struck a personal chord with me because i have a couple friends who have expressed interest in plastic surgery. One of them is gorgeous by all means but insists that with a slimmer nose and thinner lips she will be even more beautiful. While i don’t want to judge people’s actions, wide noses, broad lips and ample backsides are commonly considered “Black features” and to alter them to fit an ideal of beauty that has been defined by mainstream society can be considered an attempt to look more European.
This is not a baffling concept psychologically. The effect of the media on self-image and self-esteem is not new. What discomfited me was the apparent double-standard of beauty. Alongside the stories of Black women wanting thin lips and flatter backsides was a segment that discussed trends in White women undergoing plastic surgery to plump up their lips and augment their rear-ends. Why is it that on a Black woman, thick lips and round butts are considered ugly or unattractive while the same features only serve to enhance the beauty and attractiveness of our White counterparts?
It pains me to watch Black women attempt to rid themselves of their wide noses and thick lips because they don’t fit some impossible standard of beauty. i long for the day when we will accept our features and see the beauty in our tightly coiled hair, wide noses, and thick lips. i long for the day when we will come to define our own looking glasses, and accept what we find in them as beautiful, rather than attempting to alter our images to fit the looking glass that society has fashioned for us.