Black women in media are embracing their curls, Afros, braids, and natural beauty on the red carpet and on TV. There is a long history of black hair and whether it is “acceptable” and “appropriate” under society’s beauty standards. It is evident now that those barriers are slowly being knocked down. This idea of what is and what is not acceptable in black beauty has left women feeling underrepresented in the media. Recognizing this is important for the growth of the black community.
What we see on media outlets greatly influences the way we interpret beauty, style and different perspectives. The lack of black women in the media makes it hard for other black women to relate and understand our own identities.
Growing up as a 90s kid, one of the television shows that I could relate to was That’s So Raven, it featured a black family and lifestyle. As a black girl, seeing a black main character was important to understanding my relevance in society and in the media as a young girl. I felt somewhat connected to the show and grew up understanding that there are girls like me out there that share part of my identity. I saw Raven change hairstyles and outfits all the time and that gave me cool ideas that I could possibly do with my hair and wardrobe. It is important for young girls to have this kind of representation in the media to boost self-confidence. When kids are young, they primarily learn by ‘monkey see monkey do’, and I wanted to be just like Raven. Kids try to understand their identities and beauty at a young age by copying what they see. If they don’t see people they identify with, its hard for them to find themselves.
It is not only important to have the representation of black girls on TV but also make sure they are acting in principal roles. The perception of black women, as a whole, can change by simply putting a black woman in a leading role.
I wish I saw more black women with natural hair in leading roles on TV . Although I had That’s So Raven, growing up there was a great gap between middle school and college where natural hair was not being represented. I am glad to see a recent rise in its representation on TV.
On prime time TV, more leading black women are in series that are reaching wide audiences. We see Kerry Washington in Scandal, Gabrielle Union in Being Mary Jane, Taraji P. Henson in Empire, and many more. These black women are in the forefront because individuals, who are behind-the-scenes, gave them the opportunity to be there.
Now, a popular TV trend is #TGIT, Thursdays on ABC, where three shows running back to back are produced by Shonda Rhimes, an African American woman who has greatly increased black influence on TV.
Actress Viola Davis recently won a historic Emmy making her the first African American woman to win Best Actress in a Drama. She stars in Rhimes’ show How To Get Away With Murder and has an amazing scene that changed the way I thought about the representation of black women on TV. In her legendary scene she removes her wig and makeup displaying her natural hair and natural beauty and completely changed my perspective on women in the media.
It was a real moment in TV where black beauty was truly defined in ways that it hasn’t been defined before. It was shown in its purest form and it was completely beautiful and courageous and a breakthrough in TV for black women.
It is important for these kinds of scenes to be shown on TV so black women may feel represented. The people we see in the media are trendsetters. When we have black producers and writers, we have more black actresses and representation in the media. Black writers create opportunity for black actors to achieve black greatness and black role models that inspire the generation of young black viewers.