This essay is concerned with issues of identity, body image and the politics of hair within African American culture. It discusses the lived experiences of a number of African American women and is no way generalizable to all African American women. Nonetheless, body image and hair politics are prominent features in African American culture because they have deep historical roots and still feature in present day. Body image is generally understood as a mental image of one’s body as it appears to others (Featherstone 2010). This mental image produces body consciousness, which Samantha Kwan describes as an amplified mindfulness that one’s body does not conform to hegemonic cultural standards (Kwan 2010). In today’s modern context, hegemonic cultural norms are reproduced and widely disseminated by the mass media with the help of new technologies. These new technologies Elliott’s discusses, with some in the form of satellite television and other widely utilized media, give viewers unprecedented opportunities to view and scrutinize their favorite celebrities in close proximity (Elliott 2010).
This proximity to celebrities, according to Elliott, shifts focus from celebrities to celebrity body parts. This new focus increases the use of cosmetic surgery and other tools to mimic what is perceived as attractive (Elliott 2010). Furthermore, Elliott in his work goes on to discuss the notion that, in traditional societies, priests and saints were uplifted based on their personality and ability whereas in today’s Hollywood era, the celebrity is celebrated on account of physical features (Elliott 2010). On the other hand, I do not believe this concept fully applied to African American traditional slave society. This is because, as a social group, African Americans were not judged by their personality or intellect but rather by physical features.
The purpose of this essay is to analyze issues of body consciousness in the African American context and how Elliott’s notion of new technologies are not changing how African American women view their bodies but serve to exacerbate notions of inferiority. To begin with, I intend to focus on the contradictory views throughout history of African American hair and how these views came to create intra-racial racism and body consciousness in black communities. Finally, based on the section of history being considered, I will conclude with a discussion on the role these new technologies have in promoting normative standards of beauty and how this plays out in issues of body consciousness for African American women.
The Politics of Hair and Body Consciousness.
Elliott (2010) proposes that new technologies create body consciousness leading to body modifications that were previously absent in traditional culture. I suggest that in the African American context, new technologies exacerbate the perceived need for body modifications especially in relation to hair. The historical significance of hair in the African...