Fri | Apr 28, 2017

Beauty and Di Teacha (aka black ooman haffi wuk hard)

Published:Thursday | August 20, 2015 | 8:00 AMMel Cooke
Newly crowned Miss Global Jamaica 2015, Gillian Parague (centre) with first runner-up Abigail Stewart (left) and second runner-up Shanice James.
Miss Jamaica World 2015, Dr Sanneta Myrie (Centre) flanked by 1st runner-up, Royanne DeSilva, (left) and 2nd runner-up, Rochelle McKinley, after she crowned winner at the coronation show at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in Rose Hall, recently.
Vybz Kartel
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I would hope that my stance on Jamaican beauty competitions has been somewhat established, although there is a whiff of arrogance to my believing that anything I have written on the matter is significant enough to be remembered. If it has been, a little reinforcement does not hurt - the faithful go to church every Sunday (and many times during the week as well) to hear about the magnificence, munificence and (towards non-believer like me) malevolence of their God and seem quite happy.

And the beauty contest organisers, entrants and enthusiasts have absolutely no problem representing their concept of beauty, decidedly skewed towards the fair of skin and fine of features and body, every year. We had a double dose this weekend, with Miss Jamaica World on Saturday and Miss Global Jamaica on Sunday.

They are part of the 24/7/365 entertainment package which reflects and shapes this nation. However, while we are willing and able to identify skin bleaching among the lower socio-economic class and dancehall, probably best encapsulated in Vybz Kartel, aka Di Teacha, we don't have the same national reaction to the evidence of our penchant for fair flesh striding down a runway with a rictus of a 'kin teeth', mumbling some inanities in pursuit of 'beauty with a purpose'. Which is to be taken as seriously as the 'drink responsibly' mantra.

 

Cruel reinforcement

 

So my position on beauty contests is that they are an insistent, cruel reinforcement of not only the view that the white and light of skin, thin of nose and skinny of hip is the ideal female form, but also that the further away from that constructed ideal a woman is, the uglier she becomes. That makes the Miss Jamaica of whatever beauty stripe a very bad thing for the self-esteem of our women and contributes significantly to things like the nation spending a billion dollars a year on false hair.

Those who support the contests like to single out a slight variation on the homogenous theme being crowned and crying - a little not so heavily processed hair (locks are even greater), a bit darker skin tone than usual - to say 'aha!, people like Mel jus' bad min an' fool fool! See it deh!'

Yeah, but the arrangement of the features is the same.

In the 1990s, I heard about a lecturer at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus, who turned from the blackboard (or whiteboard) to make a comment to a class with many young women. He was Indian, I was told, with a stereotypical heavy accent. His gaze swept across the room and he observed drily, "some a oonu gal haffi go work hard yu know."

Then he continued teaching.

That unnamed lecturer's quip was a commentary on the women's looks and, as painfully funny as he put it, he was right. The women who, by dint of birth, followed by a refusal to fall into line with the hierarchy of attractiveness reinforced by beauty contests through the make-up and add-ons, have to ensure that they work damned hard not only to prosper, but just to survive.

For I have found that some (though certainly not all) of those who are of the beauty contest ideal and, even more so, the women who approximate that standard of 'looking good' through the removal of melanin and addition of tresses, etc., are downright cruel to those black women who do not make similar attempts.

Said black women have to work very hard to ensure that they are not under the heel of these women, as well as the men who admire them. Because, unfortunately, there are quite a few black men who will work their entire lives and amass some wealth for the privilege of a beauty contest type or approximation thereof deigning to be on their arm, much less (gasp!) bear their offspring.

Which is not to say that the women who are of the stereotypical beauty contest type do not work hard. On the contrary, the little I know personally, they tend to be damned industrious. But the imitators and lackeys, oh boy.

And when said black women have worked hard, they must be very careful about the men they hook up with. For so many will hang around and benefit from the industry, then take unto themselves a 'browning'. Said 'browning' will have no qualms about stepping in and taking it all. And the society will not condemn her.

Have we not seen it in entertainment before, more than once?

So black ooman, wuk hard and protect yourself - and I am not just talking about condoms.

melville.cooke@gleanerjm.com