Mica Paris seems to think so. In an article she wrote for Mail Online, the singer whose weight woes have been well documented in the past discusses her yo-yo dieting, the findings of a Washington Post survey on ethnicity and body image and her Caribbean background and how this has impacted on her understanding of beauty which she finds similar to other black women’s.
While we congratulate Mica on making peace with her weight and her healthy body image, we can’t help but question some of the sweeping statements she makes throughout her article on white women and their approach to beauty and fitness, some, if the roles were reversed and the article was written by a white woman, would be considered as ignorant, if not downright racist.
Yes, Mica uses factual evidence to kick off her argument quoting the findings of a survey by Washington Post that two-thirds of overweight black women said they had high self-esteem, compared to only 41 per cent of thin or average-sized white women. However, much of the rest of her article is based on her personal views on the way black women are built and the way white women view beauty.
Cue more sweeping generalisations – “Look around, and you won’t see many skinny black women. We’re likely to be built generously and we’re not ashamed to celebrate our curves,” Mica claims as I wonder if she has heard of Iman, or Liya Kebede or even models aside, the slimline Kenyan long-distance runner Linet Masai, the leggy and muscular, yet lean mean singing machine that is Kelly Rowland who has always been the real gem for men who like their ladies on the slimmer side as opposed to the bootylicious Beyonce… or women like myself who are not of black ethnicity but are blessed/cursed (depending on your viewpoint with the “bottoms and well-developed quads” (ok I admit, no boobs to speak of!) she considers the monopoly of black women.
“White women focus too much on what nature has given them, while black women have a ‘deeper’ appreciation of beauty,” states Mica, another puzzling generalisation considering the numbers of women who invest a large portion of their income on weaves (Mica included if the supporting image is anything to go by) – some black women’s answer to some white women’s love of extensions – and sadly in most parts of the world still – bleaching creams – some black women’s poison along the lines of some white women’s tanorexia (Note the use of ‘some’ in my statements, please, before you accuse me of generalising Mica-style.)
Mica goes on to argue “Like most black women, style and grooming also play a huge part in my self-image. We develop our own ideas about what it means to look good, rather than relying on magazines and television shows to tell us, as, apparently, white women tend to do.” As well-meaning and naive an observation as this may be, I somehow fail to see how Mica cannot remind herself that for every woman out there that is treating her Cosmo, Marie Claire or Glamour as her beauty gospel, there is black woman who is doing just the same with any of these magazines or their black counterparts, Black Hair, Black Hair and Beauty, FAB, New African Woman... It is really short-sighted – in the age of not only numerous fashion and beauty magazines but also thousands of online beauty blogs which cater to women of all ethnicities that a certain race of women is more influenced by media than another.
A heartfelt tribute to the glamorous women of her family Mica clearly looks up to for their confidence, sense of style and glamour leads to yet more generalisations, this time thankfully supported by the findings of the aforementioned survey than Mica’s own observations and anecdotes – that grooming “remains a priority for black women, with 28 per cent saying that being physically attractive is ‘very important,’ compared to 11 per cent of white women.” Here the former What Not to Wear co-presenter draws on her experience from the show where she was shocked to see “so many women — all white — who had given up on themselves.”
While Mica may think the cross section of women in their forties handpicked for the show because they ‘make good TV’ may be a representation of a whole race of women, in reality these women are selected exactly for the very reason that they have let themselves go, they wear ill-fitting bras, they haven’t had a manicure in years, and they may have forgotten what the interior of a hair salon looks like – the very woman in need of a What Not to Wear makeover – if you could call it that – not a mirror to a whole race of women. Once again such sweeping statements blur the bigger picture, that for every ill-groomed white woman in her mid-forties there is a fab fifty-year-old dressed up to the nines, still rocking her 6-inch heels. And for every ill-groomed white woman who has forgotten the look of a brush, there is a black woman sporting what frighteningly resembles a dead animal on her head.
And yet it doesn’t all end there as Mica delivers the final blow in the last paragraph with a very patronising “So I tell my white girlfriends: ‘Don’t obsess over size zero — invest time in yourself instead. Choose the right outfit. Do your hair and make-up. Treat yourself to a pedicure. Then your self-esteem will soar — and everything else will follow.” Really? Please imagine if Mica Paris was a white woman uttering these words about her black friends… We would be so quick to label her ignorant at best, racist at worst, ‘neo-colonial’ (in the spirit of the times) somewhere in between; is such a statement more acceptable coming from a black woman writing about her white peers in the name of body confidence?by