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When asked about their attractiveness, African American women were three times as likely as Caucasian women to rate themselves as "hot," reports The Allure New American Beauty Survey, which polled 2,000 men and women across the country.
On the face of it, you might find this surprising. Black women have the highest rate of obesity of any group in the United States, reports the Office of Minority Health at the US Department of Health and Human Services. And the American beauty ideal, celebrated coast to coast in every magazine, TV show, and advertisement we see, is decidedly not of color, from her silky Blake Lively tresses to her Zooey Deschanel blue eyes. Which is not to say beautiful black women never get represented -- Beyonce, Halle Berry, Jennifer Hudson, and Iman all seem to be doing just fine, thanks -- but check the cover models on any given newsstand or the cast of your average runway show and you'll see that we've got a long way to go before true diversity is achieved.
So black women are more likely to struggle with their weight and grow up never seeing themselves in representations of beauty (or worse! hearing racist arguments in favor of "European" features, like the inflammatory drivel Satoshi Kanazawa published in Psychology Today earlier this year). Yet despite all of that, they know they've got it going on. How is this possible?
Perhaps it's because when the rules don't apply to you, you gain perspective; you can see how stupid those rules really are, and feel free to go about finding your own definition for beauty. And that goes for all the other ethnicities that are not represented in today's media. This is really a lesson for anyone who doesn't fit that idea of beauty, whatever the reason; my friend Ragen Chastein of Dances With Fat has told me that's part of how she's able to love her 284-pound body in a world that asks women to take up as little space as possible -- she knows she's completely outside the cultural beauty norm, so she gets to define beauty on her own terms instead.
In contrast, anybody who comes closer to meeting society's definition of beauty (many white women, naturally thin women, Blake Lively herself) is going to have a much harder time figuring out where her personal ideas about beauty end and society's rules begin. You're constantly aware that if you just lost ten pounds or bothered to blow out your hair every day, you could look the way we're all told we're supposed to want to look. And that makes it harder to focus on how great you already look -- because all you see are those tiny flaws keeping you from perfection.
While we need to keep pushing for a broader definition of beauty so that women of all shapes and races are more equally represented in media and on runways. There is a silver lining in the way our culture marginalizes anyone who doesn't match our rigid beauty ideal, it's that by not matching up, you have the option to step outside it. And when we do that, we get to see ourselves as we are -- instead of only seeing everything that we aren't.