Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Of Models & Monsters

One of the most prominent student groups on our campus is a modeling organization run by black women. The young sisters regularly coordinate events and activities and have more than 50 active members, a rarity among student organizations. I serve as the group's advisor, so I'm inclined to offer suggestions and intervene on guidance when necessary, though  admittedly the group's leadership manages to hold it down with minimal input from.

One of the most notable additions to our website over the last few months has been contributing writer TherĂ­ A. Pickens, a literary scholar who writes about the intersections between black studies and disability studies. Lately, she's written pieces here and there about monsters, which have prompted me to give more thought to artists constructing scary creatures or taking on the personas of menacing characters.

The interest in beauty among the undergraduate models and the focus on monster metaphors in Pickens's writings create opportunities for thinking about the convergence of aesthetics, body image, race, gender, fabricated identities, adornment, and more. Of course, models and monsters also diverge in notable ways. 

Given the long history and extensive worries about negative misrepresentations of black people and in this case black women, the beauty and positive image interests among African American undergraduates is hardly surprising. In addition, the high praise bestowed on Beyonce, Michelle Obama, Viola Davis, Venus and Serena Williams, and others in popular culture would lead young women to think even more about the value of apparent attractive women. For quite some time, African American communities, by the way, have invested considerable time and resources into upholding pretty and respectable black women.

Pickens takes us in a different direction. "Monsters are radical," she writes, for "they force us to confront our deepest fears about race, gender, and sexuality." From this perspective, there's no wonder why African American communities, among others, invest so much in beauty. To do otherwise would be horrifying.

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