She’s Gotta Have It and the unrealistic beauty standards set for black women

Hey guys! How you doing? What’s new? How’s your week been?

So, I wanted to talk about the unrealistic beauty standards set for black women explored in the latest series of She’s Gotta Have It, why this matters, and why it needs to change…

My first interaction with She’s Gotta Have It (SGHI), was when I received a notification from Netflix about the new series dropping that day.

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Not knowing that SGHI was already a cult classic made by the infamous director Spike Lee and addressed the themes of polyamorous relationships, sexual autonomy and the African-American struggle. The latest series of SGHI, however, had an obviously contemporary feel, with injections of the latest colloquialisms and challenges in the black community such as gentrification in predominantly black areas.

I loved meeting Nola Darling and falling in love with her quirkiness and refusal to be put in a box. She was an absolute courageous mess, but confident with it, something I could relate to.

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But what really stood out to me was the unrealistic beauty standards that black women  are constantly held up to, and the effects this has on our self-esteem and wellbeing.

Enter Shamekka.

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Shamekka Epps, is Nola’s fiery and beautiful girlfriend, with a great personality to match. She had a sharp tongue and the desire to do more for herself and make use of her opportunities.

Yet, she couldn’t.  Shamekka wasn’t allowed to be the flamboyant dancer she wanted to be at the strip club she worked at because she didn’t have the ‘ass-sets’ to match. She was side-lined for her more curvaceous sisters and told to forget about her dream.

Now as a flat ass sister myself, this hit home – hard. I’ve always been the less shapely of my friends. Though it never bothered me at first, it wasn’t until I joined university, that I became acutely aware of the beauty standards I had to live up to as a black woman.

Black women are known for having amazing figures that doesn’t seem like mother nature could’ve possibly moulded, particularly the big booty. Though, we haven’t always been appreciated for it. It was only when the ‘era of the booty’  began in 2014 and took over the world, that the stereotypical black woman shape became the ‘it’ figure.

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Encouraged by celebrities like Nicki Minaj, Cardi B and Black Chyna who have undertaken surgery to mimic the infamous backside, very much in the excessiveness. It became their defining feature and has influenced many other black women to do the same thing.

They, feeling as if they don’t quite live up to the ideal of the black woman’s figure, felt the need to carry out these procedures to fit into a standard newly made for them. And more often that not, these bum augmentation surgeries are not carried out safely.

An article in Allure has found, the stories of Wykesha Reid, Ranika Hall and Symone Marie Jones, who all lost their lives undergoing unlicensed, black market bum surgeries, qualifies “the increased frequency of black women being harmed in back-alley cosmetic surgeries may be caused by something even more troubling: The extreme societal pressure put on black women to have an hourglass figure.”

With official statistics also showing, according to the 2016 National Plastic Surgery Statistics issued by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), the number of legal butt lifts performed in the U.S. has gone up 213 percent since 2000, with an 18 percent increase just over the past year.

Shamekka’s story echoes these findings and stories with her butt augmentation being carried out in a dingy hotel room, by a woman who was clearly unlicensed and lacked any kind of hygiene standard. However, Shamekka did what many black women felt they had to do, in spite of reg flags, to move forward in a world that has always fetishised their bodies (see Saartjie Baartman.)

She pumped her booty to a grotesque size, becoming obsessed with it getting bigger and bigger. However, her high was short lived when during her big debut dance her implants burst during an unfortunate fall off the stage.

It had me like:

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Sounds comical I know. But it was the sheer freakishness of it that reinforced how wild this craze has become. The burst somewhat representing the sordid end these beauty quests usually come to.

Still, it is black women who are suffering the horrific health consequences fulfilling these beauty ideals that were never meant to exist in the first place. Not to mention every other unfortunate euro-centric beauty standards that have damaged many a psyche.

Rather beauty standards, if they should exist at all, should seek to empower women and make them feel comfortable in their own skin. They should never be a means to degrade women for what they do or don’t have. And black women, in particular, being the butt of every beauty joke, deserve to be accepted for whatever they look like, irregardless of whether it is typically attributed to them or not.

“I wonder what it would be if each of us expanded our idea and our definition of what beauty is. The hope and the goal is that each of us find it within. That’s what I wish for everybody. That’s what I want for myself.” – Tracee Ellis Ross

Shamekka, spent a while in hospital recovering, picking up her life from the ruins. She lay her dancer dream to bed and sought other opportunities. Though, you could sense the characters’ disappointment in having to do this, and would rather have been the big booty dancer, with others staring in awe. The desire to be ‘other’ was already deeply embedded within her, and would take some emotional unpacking for this to change.

It had me asking questions; did Shamekka ever learn to love herself? Was she able to teach her child self love? What physical scars did the trauma leave on her body (though I could imagine)?

Her story is ultimately sad, but not unusual and this isn’t right. I’m glad, though, that Spike Lee included this contemporary attack on black women’s self esteem, but wish he had allowed it more screen time.

SGHI, was an interesting series, but I think Lee missed a trick with Shamekka. Yes Nola Darling embodied some parts of the modern black woman, the autonomy over her life was pleasing to see. But the real embodiment, in my opinion was Shamekka. She depicted the struggle, the stress and the dire consequences of trying to fit in spaces that did not serve black women.

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