Integrating Beauty Standards

This is a really fascinating interview with the first black Playboy Playmate, Jennifer Jackson. She talks about raising biracial children, working at the Playboy Club, modeling, and shifting into social work. 


But because I'm a professional navel-gazer, this caught me:

How would you describe the attention that you received from guys once you began working at the club? 

The thing about that is, I never thought I was that pretty. Chicago had a lot of beautiful women, and for me to say that I was pretty? I was just there. There were so many other girls who were so much prettier than me. It's just that a white man's beauty is different from a black man's beauty. I was tall and leggy -- white men like that. Black men, on the other hand, liked the girls who were short and had what they called a "brick house body."

 I didn't get any attention from the brothers. They liked the little women who were short and shapely. So there was a different standard of beauty.

Some years ago, when my circle of friends began to, erm, diversify, it became clear, in the strangest ways, that we were really coming from different places. We didn't drink the same beer, we didn't have the same concept of "house party," and we had really different ideas about beauty.

I would say that, at that point, I came from the same place Jackson describes here. I'd also say that the young women I was raised around had similar (though not synonymous) views. We joke about light-skin brothers making a come-back, but by the time I got into high school, the standard really was Omar Epps, Tupac, Mekhi Phifer, and Pete Rock. With diversity came, for me, a broader sense of beauty. I've often wondered how I would have been had I stayed home, had I chosen to live in polarized world where I grew up.

But I came of age in the '90s. The last era of segregation was still with us. I'm not saying that this is the era of Everything Sunny All The Time Always. But there were no women with natural hair doing commercials when I was kid. Naomi Campbell was revolutionary. No one thought Alek Wek could be a supermodel. I wonder how it is to be young--and by young I mean in your early teens--and black in a world like this.

As always, with topics like this, please think before you post. Just take a second. 


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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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