“We need a First Lady who rolls her hair up at night.”
It was a joke, but it was also a serious statement. Michelle Obama is the first African-American First Lady. One of the many things that I love about Michelle Obama is that she is a beautiful black woman and you don’t have to scratch your head and wonder if she’s of African descent.
Most of our African-American models of beautiful women tend to have long hair and light skin. And these women are beautiful. Beyonce, Rihanna, Mariah Carey, Halle Berry, Alicia Keyes, Tyra Banks. They are without a doubt beautiful women. But where are the brown-skinned women who are held up to the world as examples of beauty? The other day I had a conversation with a friend, trying to identify high profile actresses, models and singers with dark skin who are considered beautiful. The list was small.
Throughout our country’s history, our paradigm for beauty has too often been the sentiment that Dr. Joseph Lowery invoked in his inaugural benediction. “If you’re black, get back. If you’re brown, stick around. If you’re yellow, you’re mellow. If you’re white, you’re alright.” In other words, the closer you are to white, the more acceptable you are.
That’s why a young man could say to me as a teenager (and think it was a compliment), “You’re cute to be dark.” So the assumption is that dark is usually not cute or attractive.
Unfortunately, in 2009, we still see those attitudes. A recent Tyra Banks show featured women who bleached their skin because they thought their dark skin was unattractive. Although our new First Lady has been hailed for her fashion sense and style and compared to Jackie O, many of the comments left on Web sites like Women’s Wear Daily whenever there is a story about Michelle Obama are so hateful, calling our First Lady a gorilla and Aunt Esther, that I wonder why they even post them.
When I see Michelle Obama, I see a real American beauty. She is tall, statuesque, intelligent, compassionate, educated, confident and articulate. When I see Michelle Obama, I see me. A black woman.
When Vanessa Williams won Miss America, my brother and I sat in the basement watching the pageant, trying to decipher if she was black or white.
“She looks like she has some black in her. Yeah, she’s definitely got some black in her.”
When Vanessa won, we jumped and screamed. We were so excited about the first African-American Miss America. But although I rejoiced, Vanessa Williams didn’t look much like me. My eyes were not green, my hair not sandy brown, my skin not fair and nearly white.
It was a few more years before I saw a Miss America that looked like me.
“How good looking is my wife,” President Obama said at one of the inauguration balls.
Very good, indeed, Mr. President.
I hope people all over the world will appreciate the beauty of our First Lady. That’s a change I can believe in.