The white standard of beauty has been the benchmark for woman all around the globe. Many African-American women have fallen victim to the systemic pitfalls of this beauty standard and have been the victims of inter and intra racisim. The brown paper bag test was a ritual once practiced by certain African-American sororities and fraternities who discriminated against people who were "too black." These groups would not let anyone into the sorority or fraternity whose skin tone was darker than a paper bag. Spike Lee's film "School Daze"satirizes this practice. In the past skin bleaching was the most prevalent means that African-Americans had available to them to radically change their appearance. Plastic surgery has replaced skin bleaching as the most universal and advanced means of physical reconstruction.
Plastic surgery has become more accessible to the populace with many insurance companies offering partially coverage of some procedures thus fanning the flames of this epidemic.
According to statistics generated by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons in 2008 there were 12.1 million cosmetic procedures performed in the U.S and 91% of those procedures were performed on women. African-Americans represent 10% of that staggering number and it is steadily on the rise. The report states that the most commonly requested cosmetic procedures by African-American women are rhinoplasty (nose reshaping), liposuction, and breast reduction, which raises the question of patients attempting to erase the broader noses and curvier silhouettes associated with their ethnicities.
Hollywood is a dominating force that sets the trends for beauty, style, and fashion. African-American actresses and entertainers have fallen susceptible to the pressures from this unachievable standard of beauty and their admiring public have followed suit to imitate them.
Actresses Elise Neal, Megan Good, Vivica A. Fox, and Vanessa Williams are among many African-American actresses/entertainers that have talked openly about going under the knife. Elise Neal has admitted to having had a breast augmentation.
“I did my breast enhancement for me. But it didn’t have to do anything with acting. It had to do with being a performer. They were always hiring the girls who were more voluptuous.”
Actress Vivica Fox has declared several times publicly that she is an advocate of plastic surgery. She has been quoted as referring to her surgical procedures as “tune ups”.
“This is how I feel about life; as long as you keep getting better, whatever it takes to get you there, you do it. If you’re comfortable with it — you like it, I love it.”
Recently Vivica was the center of public scrutiny and was featured on Perez Hilton’s blog when her breast implants looked as if they had malfunctioned on the red carpet.
Dr. Julia Hare, psychologist and founder of the Black Think Tank, said “Many Black women are trying to achieve the white standard of beauty because many go to get the nose pointed. Whose standard is that?” Hare said. “The person getting it may see it as a self-improvement, but when you really sit down with a therapist, then you find out where the self-hatred comes in.”
In the 2005 documentary, “A Girl Like Me”, director Kiri Davis interviewed young African-American girls about the standards of beauty that have been forced on them by society and how it influences their self-image. She also directed the “doll test”, originally conducted by Dr. Kenneth Clark for use in the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education. Davis’ test results showed that 15 out of 21 children preferred a white doll over a Black doll.
Dr. Hare said that African-American women who opt for cosmetic surgery are communicating negative messages to young African American girls like those in Davis’ documentary.
“Black women who are very successful are sending another message out to a younger sister that ‘I may have achieved, but I still don’t look acceptable’,” Hare said.
The instant gratification of plastic surgery in many cases might look aesthetically pleasing but what is consequential and most often ignored are the psychological ramifications on the individual and society as a whole.