The Black Student Alliance and Black College Women hosted a discussion in Maury Hall Monday night about beauty standards, colorism and confidence in an event called Melanin Matters.
After the few dozen attendees settled in, the event started off with from MTV Decoded, entitled “The Problem with White Beauty Standards.” This helped set the tone for the discussion, ripe with personal experiences and anecdotes from participants responding to life in a culture that frequently promotes narrow beauty standards. For example, a quick Google image search for “beautiful woman” revealed a grid taken over predominantly by caucasian models and celebrities.
Ciara Blackston, a second-year College student, is the director of membership for BSA, and also served as the head moderator of the Melanin Matters. She said the topic was very relevant to herself and peers.
“A lot of times, just in my experience here, I haven’t really felt beautiful, and I would just think why, why is that so hard for me as an African-American woman on Grounds to feel accepted, feel beautiful, feel wanted,” Blackston said. “It was just amazing to sit here, and see so many black faces, and just all share, even though they were all different experiences. Different, but same if that makes sense.”
JaVori Warren, a first-year College student, attended the event and was also involved in the BSA committee that helped plan the discussion.
“All the committee members came together and tried to come up with a list of questions that we think would hit a lot of facets when it comes to talking about colorism or just beauty standards in general,” Warren said. “There was a lot of planning in who to collaborate with and who to co-sponsor with, and we ended up choosing Black College Women.”
Black College Women was founded at the University in 2015 to provide a community and platform for black women across Grounds. Although it is a separate entity from the BSA, the two organizations frequently overlap.
The issue of “colorism” was a key theme throughout the evening, and many in attendance brought up difficulties associated with differing beauty perceptions based on darkness or lightness of skin. Blackston defined colorism as “a system of prejudice in which people are treated differently based on societal meanings attached to their skin color.”
Much of the discussion honed in on the role of the media and fashion industries in perpetrating white beauty standards.
Several participants brought up the difficulty in finding makeup shades that accurately fit their skin tone. One attendee chose to stop buying a brand that produced a shade that fit her, because they did not offer enough varieties to fit all of her friends with darker skin tones.
According to Blackston, Melanin Matters was just one of many events aimed at bringing together the black community. BSA has a year-long goal to foster more thought-provoking conversations, both within and outside their community. In November, it will be partnering with the Queer Student Alliance for a month-long series of events.
“We’re going to help them with a remembrance for trans women who have lost their lives over the course of the past year, because a lot of trans lives that are lost are black trans women or at least trans women of color,” Blackston said. “To end off the month, we’re going to have a discussion, most likely on the representation of black and queer people in media.”
Blackston said Melanin Matters facilitated an important discussion.
“I feel that there are not enough spaces on Grounds where black people and specifically black women can express themselves without being judged,” Blackston said in an email to The Cavalier Daily after the event. “This is why events like Melanin Matters are extremely important. The impact of Eurocentric beauty standards whether in the form of colorism or hair texture bias are issues that many African-Americans deal with daily and it’s about time that we had places where we could discuss such topics without being fearful of the repercussions.”