The Daily Mail‘s Yasmin Alibhai-Brown thinks so. Albhai-Brown believes that Beyoncé’s current look of long blonde hair and light skin is ruining what black and Asian women think about themselves. In fact, “Too many black and Asian children grow up understanding the sad truth that to have dark skin is to be somehow inferior,” the author says. Her sentiment isn’t a new one, but what does this have to do with Beyoncé?
One might argue that she’s a grown woman, and can do whatever she wants: “On one level, you might say this altering of appearance is just women enjoying themselves — selecting different colours, shapes and styles to become what they want. But there is more too it than that; precisely because they never make themselves look darker.” Alibhai-Brown believes that Beyoncé is “betraying her heritage”, and compares her to Jazz greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, who she claimed never did so themselves. To the author, Beyoncé is more in line with Tina Turner (in fact, they show great respect for each other, and have performed together as well), who purposefully …
… lightened her hair, and according to Alibhai-Brown, “when she and I once met, her skin looked lighter to me than it once had.”
Beyoncé is a pop superstar. She is not Ella Fitzgerald, or Billie Holiday, and she didn’t come of age during their time. To compare her to some of the greatest Jazz talents of the genre is legitimate only because it was the pop music of its time. These women were legends, but they faced an entirely different set of criticisms than the ones facing women now. Though the unacceptable beauty standards women of color deal with around the globe date far back before the 21st century, they did not face the same pressure to “look white” because no one would have even accepted them as such. Beyoncé has crossed colorlines through her appeal to people of all ethnicities; Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday were never fully accepted into society. Trying to look white would have changed nothing. If it had, we cannot realistically claim that it would have substantially better their quality of life.
To put two images side-by-side from the past several years and treat them as a before-and-after looks is disingenuous. Look at either this or this slideshow of Beyoncé’s changing look over the years; she’s an incredible chameleon of an artist. She obviously loves changing her hair and her look often and, depending on the season, she becomes blonder, curlier, paler, or bronzer. I’d argue that Beyoncé is an example of Global beauty — she allows herself to look the way she wishes, and is a trendsetter because of it (just look to her alter-ego, “Sasha Fierce”). Perhaps her current look is sending a strange message to women, young and old alike, but I’m betting it won’t be around for long. When she was appeared in Austin Powers in Goldmember, Beyoncé had a huge, amazing afro that I recall reading that she loved. At the other end of the spectrum, she’s also mentioned her time in Destiny’s Child feeling as being restrictive to the look that was expected of her. She wanted to push the limits, and go blonder. And as far as I’m aware, there is no such thing as safe or effective skin lightening, so the difference in her skin is most likely due to what’s making me pale and pasty: lack of bronzer, not being done up for a concert, and the fact that it’s February.
It’s important that we take the images our children are seeing seriously. Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair explored the pressure black women feel to have “white hair.” Kathy Peiss’ book Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture showed us how the make-up industry has altered the way women of all races feel about their appearance, often in comparison to each other. Blaming an individual for her specific influence on our children is not only narrow-minded, but unhelpful. Instead, engaging in a dialogue, and asking more interesting questions in interviews with celebrities like Beyoncé, such as how they feel about their hair and skin, might make them think twice about their choices. Attacking them is unlikely to change anything, and who knows? They might surprise us.