Ain't I a Beauty Queen? Black Women, Beauty, and the Politics of Race

Ain't I a Beauty Queen? Black Women, Beauty, and the Politics of Race

Ain't I a Beauty Queen? Black Women, Beauty, and the Politics of Race

Ain't I a Beauty Queen? Black Women, Beauty, and the Politics of Race

Synopsis

"Black is Beautiful!" The words were the exuberant rallying cry of a generation of black women who threw away their straightening combs and adopted a proud new style they called the Afro. The Afro, as worn most famously by Angela Davis, became a veritable icon of the Sixties. Although the new beauty standards seemed to arise overnight, they actually had deep roots within black communities. Tracing her story to 1891, when a black newspaper launched a contest to find the most beautiful woman of the race, Maxine Leeds Craig documents how black women have negotiated the intersection of race, class, politics, and personal appearance in their lives. Craig takes the reader from beauty parlors in the 1940s to late night political meetings in the 1960s to demonstrate the powerful influence of social movements on the experience of daily life. With sources ranging from oral histories of Civil Rights and Black Power Movement activists and men and women who stood on the sidelines to black popular magazines and the black movement press, Ain't I a Beauty Queen? will fascinate those interested in beauty culture, gender, class, and the dynamics of race and social movements.

Excerpt

In September 1968, as a panel of beauty experts prepared to select the fortyeighth consecutive white Miss America, two protests were under way. One protest denounced beauty contests. The other was a beauty contest. On the boardwalk in front of Atlantic City's Convention Center roughly one hundred women who identified themselves as members of Women's Liberation dumped bras, girdles, and false eyelashes into a trash can. Several blocks away, at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) staged the first Miss Black America pageant as a “positive protest” against the exclusion of black women from the Miss America title. As the day progressed, a counterprotest and a breakaway action added to the commotion that transformed the 1968 Miss America pageant from a cliché-ridden celebration of American beauty ideals into the symbolic beginning point of a new movement. Provoked by the Women's Liberation protest, three spectators, including a former Miss Green Bay, Wisconsin, stepped forward from the boardwalk crowd to form a counterpicket in the contest's defense, while inside the Convention Center Peggy Dobbins, a Women's Liberation protester, hurled a stench bomb from the audience.

The Women's Liberation protest captured the attention if not the sympathies of the national media. The image of unruly women mocking symbols of American beauty was broadcast widely by the media, and as a result the 1968 Miss America contest protest lives in the nation's memory as the action that announced the arrival of a new women's movement. The press erroneously reported that bras had been burned at the protest, providing the “bra-burner”

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