Barbies, Preciouses, and Beauty Standards – Part I

Some ten years removed from high school , I look to my younger family members to keep abreast of what’s hip and happening.  With a full-time job, social activities, school, and a business to run, its difficult for me to stay apprised of the latest fashion,  hip-hop songs, viral YouTube dances (Pants on the Ground) and  for that matter slang.  So we dish on everything from the ascendancy of Lady GaGa to the chicness of painting your fingernails alternating colors.  However, one recent conversation with the girls left me disappointment.  We discussed the film Precious and the conversation somehow moved to up and coming rapper Nicki Manaj. 

Nicki Manaj , a talent valued for her womanly assets as much as she is her lyrical prowess, refers to her self as a  Harajuku Barbie.  She has the ice to prove it.  Literally, a giant diamond necklace that reads Barbie.  Hip-Hop’s exploitive consumerism aside, apparently it has become en vogue for so-called attractive women to be referred to has “Barbies” and there less aesthetic counterparts to be referred to as “Preciouses”.  The later term refers to the main character in the Daniel Lee film, who is morbidly obese, extremely dark-skinned, and perhaps a perfect physical contrast to the Barbie Doll–America’s sweetheart.

I find this to be a very sad commentary on how black people have been sold a bill of goods when it comes to internalizing the value of dominant beauty narratives in the culture.  It is a sad day, when the remarkable talent of  Oscar-Nominanted actress Gabourey Sidibe has eschewed by some young people, who have instead refashioned an old narrative, replacing Hattie McDaniel’s Mammie with the modern day Precious.   The caricatures, as received by those using these ugly terms is the same, a wholly desexualized archetype of black womanhood in its least acceptable form.  However, I believe Daniel’s Precious is far more complex character than the one-dimensional Mammie. To reduce Precious to her physical appearance is to ignore her struggle, which is really symbolic of the struggle of all black women to one extent or another: learning how to love ourselves in a culture that has historically devalued our contributions, talents, capability, and–yes– physical beauty in its varied and unique forms.


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