BY DEBORAH DOUGLAS
Nobody gains by making females feel ugly, but that doesn't stop a whole beauty industry designed to sell us improvements from trying.
Take Gerren, a 12-year-old model featured in the new documentary "America the Beautiful." She wants to wear mascara and a padded bra to school, but her mother says no; it'll just make boys gawk. Gerren pouts, holding the flesh-colored bra to her face, declaring that her mom is destroying her high school years.
Another girl, Ashley Crisp, 12, insists she's unattractive. She thinks stars like Mya and Monica are "beautiful," but it's lost on her that they look good because stylists fry and dye their hair and cinch them within an inch of their lives.
Women and girls have come a long way toward owning their beauty and body images but still have a way to go, as I learned while screening filmmaker Darryl Roberts' documentary, which debuted Saturday at the Chicago International Film Festival.
"Who benefits from women not feeling beautiful?" Roberts asks.
While Gerren and Ashley still have time to get straightened out, grown women online are taking control of messages about beauty double standards.
I learned this recently from an e-mail I was forwarded about a Glamour magazine editor who declared afros and dreadlocks "shocking" and "political."
Two generations removed from the black power afro, I didn't know anybody still had such primitive views. At the same time we're being urged to be greener, go natural and achieve authenticity, this obtuse woman set virtual tongues wagging with her uninformed "expertise."
What happened was: A young, white editor at Glamour was invited to a brown-bag lunch at Cleary Gottlieb, a New York law firm, to discuss the do's and don'ts of corporate fashion. Instead of informing a supervisor of the invitation, she took it upon herself to attend and offer advice to female lawyers. When slides of black women wearing an afro, then dreadlocks popped up on screen, the unnamed editor denounced the locks as "truly dreadful." She couldn't understand why people feel it's OK to wear "those hairstyles at the office" and that "political" hairstyles have to go, according to Vivia Chen, who wrote about the incident in the American Lawyer magazine.
Black female lawyers at the firm were taken aback, as was Chen, who, as a writer of Asian descent, is tuned in to issues of beauty double standards and ethnicity. "It struck me as being stereotypical and insensitive," Chen told me.
I was just as flabbergasted as all the other professional women who had been copied on my e-mail. Pulitzer-nominated writer and National Public Radio host Desiree Cooper, who wears locks, even called up Glamour editor Cindy Leive. So did I, because I had to hear her explanation for myself.
Alas, Leive is in Uganda, but in a letter to readers she stated: "The idea that a woman cannot be herself and still get ahead at work runs contrary to Glamour's message of empowerment (and, incidentally, to the reality of today's workplace), and I am still outraged that women heard such nonsense."
The young editor's view does not represent Glamour, Leive said. She has apologized and has been dealt with severely.
Unlike some of the women copied on my e-mail, I instantly knew the editor wasn't spouting from the magazine's beauty or feminist canon. But I couldn't help but wonder how she could function in an environment of inclusion and still be so freaking clueless.
After the Dove real women ad campaign and well-preserved, naked old ladies featured in magazine ads, it's hard to believe some girls and women are missing out on some important feminist values. But this time, they're in the minority and are getting called out on it.
Deborah Douglas is a Sun-Times editorial board writer. This column represents her views and not necessarily the views of the board.