Black images and the politics of beauty

Black images and the politics of beauty

When Ebony magazine debuted in 1945, it drew readers with a photo of Hollywood star Lena Horne. It’s no surprise that a popular artist was featured in a magazine that publisher and founder John H. Johnson said was intended to showcase “the full spectrum of black life.” But this picture of Horne was more than it seemed. That, and the concurrent rise of black-owned beauty businesses, was all part of a challenge to traditional standards of attractiveness.

Before World War II, historian Malia McAndrew points out that “American popular culture, including newspapers, radio, and movies, routinely portrayed beauty as necessarily white.” When there were representations of black women, they were “presented […] as an unattractive hypersexual or domestic “ Mammy ” “ Jezebel ”. Horne’s beauty, on the other hand, reclaimed the image of black women – a process that also included modeling and glamor schools that made it their mission, as McAndrew writes: “Changing the stereotypical mass portrayal of women black ”.

“You have to change images before you can change acts and institutions.”

By the late 1940s, several black-owned modeling agencies and glamor schools had opened, each, as McAndrew writes, “Help[ing] to sell a new black ideal. These companies believed image was the key to uplifting. Ebony saw this link as well, writing in her inaugural editorial: “You’ve …


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