Body Image and Hair Politics in African American Culture

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This essay is concerned with issues of identity, body image and the politics of hair within African American culture. It discusses the lived experiences of a number of African American women and is no way generalizable to all African American women. Nonetheless, body image and hair politics are prominent features in African American culture because they have deep historical roots and still feature in present day. Body image is generally understood as a mental image of one’s body as it appears to others (Featherstone 2010). This mental image produces body consciousness, which Samantha Kwan describes as an amplified mindfulness that one’s body does not conform to hegemonic cultural standards (Kwan 2010). In today’s modern context, hegemonic cultural norms are reproduced and widely disseminated by the mass media with the help of new technologies. These new technologies Elliott’s discusses, with some in the form of satellite television and other widely utilized media, give viewers unprecedented opportunities to view and scrutinize their favorite celebrities in close proximity (Elliott 2010).

This proximity to celebrities, according to Elliott, shifts focus from celebrities to celebrity body parts. This new focus increases the use of cosmetic surgery and other tools to mimic what is perceived as attractive (Elliott 2010). Furthermore, Elliott in his work goes on to discuss the notion that, in traditional societies, priests and saints were uplifted based on their personality and ability whereas in today’s Hollywood era, the celebrity is celebrated on account of physical features (Elliott 2010). On the other hand, I do not believe this concept fully applied to African American traditional slave society. This is because, ...

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...minist, Thinking Black

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Elliott, Anthony. (2010). “I Want to Look Like That!”: Cosmetic Surgery and Celebrity Culture,” Cultural Sociology, 5(4): 463-477.

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