Shades of Difference

Looking at the beauty culture and its treatment of African American women helps to even further decipher the manipulative effects of the new mass media, packaging, and distribution. For African Americans commercialized beauty was not only playing on the aesthetic, social, and psychological fears of women, it also helped to sell and enforce the racist agenda of the time. Cosmetics were never far removed from the fact of white supremacy, racial progress, and emulation.

In the beginning, cosmetics for black women meant skin bleachers and trying to acheive a mainstream white ideal of beauty. However, this attempt to "whiten" the African American population was fiercely debated in the black communities. By conforming to some unreachable standard, skin bleachers and hair straightners were just larger keys to white power and domination. Because these women were not celebrated as individuals, they had the more complicated task of trying to hammer out their own beauty ideology.

By the 1930s and 1940s, the beauty industry acheived this balance. Cosmetics evolved into a celebration of African heritage while countering the existing Jim-Crow stereotypes with a clean and respectable appearance. Most beauty companies tended to link black products to casting off the chains of slavery for a neat and responsible appearance. The Madam C.J. Walker Company offered an assessment of African American history from the Emancipation with, "In 64 short years our people have cast aside the shackles of slavery - have risen to the heights of social and commercial supremacy with pride of race, applied industry, and bettered appearance" (Peiss 204). Because African American women did hold such a prestigous and powerful position within their communities, beauty could be a vehicle to further the advancement of their race. Buying into the beauty culture also meant uplifting the black race by refuting the commonly held stereo-types of the time.

While the underlying manipulation established by a deceitful mass marketing still ran strong, African Americans found their own ways to mold a different standards. Although, they could not personalize this ideology through seperation from the white ideal, black women were able to forward an image that did celebrate their identity and strong place within the African American community.