I was recently looking over Amandla Sternberg’s tumblr page, because I wanted to learn a little more about her after her name keeps popping up in my facebook newsfeed thingy. For those of you who don’t know, she played Rue in the Hunger Games a couple years ago. For those of you who don’t know what the Hunger Games is, feel free to Google that. For those of you who don’t know what Google is, you need more help than I can possibly give and also how did you even get here.
Anyway, Amandla Sternberg is all about empowering people of color, and especially women. She wants black women, especially, to be perceived as beautiful in the media without being fetishized. Her blog is wonderful and eloquent and full of beautiful pictures of beautiful people.
Race is a touchy subject no matter where you go, because humans are sometimes, and sadly, very stupid and we cling to our vestigial need for the in-group. Western media has mainstreamed the idea of “white beauty,” where Caucasian women are the epitome of ideal beauty. This hurts women of all races.
First, and most importantly, women of color are damaged because they must grow up in a society that views them as less-than.
Not even touching the more deeply significant and pervasive plight of institutionalized racism that treats huge portions of the population as inferior based on a phenotypic difference. Not even looking at the society that strives to keep people in cycles of poverty, segregation, and poor education. Not talking about the media that criminalizes innocent people – or at least criminalizes people that would have been given the benefit of the doubt had they been white.
Not only are little girls growing up dealing with all of that (up there) mess, even their very faces aren’t good enough. It’s bad enough that women in general are treated as sex objects; worse for women of color who are implicitly (sometimes explicitly) told that they aren’t beautiful unless they’re being sexualized, who are so rarely depicted as scientists, princesses, politicians, doctors, superheroes, horticulturalists, engineers, ballerinas, whatever.
Keep in mind that Amandla Sternberg was a little girl when she played a twelve-year-old black (African-American, if that’s your preference) girl who is murdered brutally – and yes, the character is explicitly described in the book as having dark skin. And when people “found out” that Rue was black, the racist idiots stormed Twitter to complain that the character’s death “wasn’t as sad because Rue was black.”
Imagine being a child and having people go on and on about how “your” death isn’t as sad as it would be if you were white. Saying you’re less-than because of the color of your skin. That’s fucked up.
Everyone is hurt by the misconception that beauty is found in only a narrow range of the human race. As a white woman who doesn’t really fit in with what the media tells us is beautiful, my self-esteem has also been hurt by these standards. The women of all colors who starve themselves, who poison their bodies, who undergo dangerous and unnecessary medical procedures, to fit in with what we are raised to believe is the only definition of beauty, are hurt. I won’t try to argue that my minor damage is anything equivocal to pervasive racism, but I make the point because some people are selfish enough to only care about things that directly affect them.
Women are indoctrinated with the belief that being beautiful outside is the ultimate goal. This is wrong. But it’s also wrong to inundate the media with images of one type of beauty only. Everyone would benefit from depictions of beauty as varied as humanity. Everyone benefits from treating people as people and not as objects.
All of that aside, Amandla Sternberg is a stunning girl. She’s beautiful, with dark skin and curly hair, but more importantly, she’s truly beautiful inside. She isn’t hateful to anyone, she only wants to show the world that people of color are beautiful in so many ways, and strong, and smart, and talented. This girl is all of those things, and cares about much more substantial things than I did at that age (good for her!!). Her tumblr, here, is very interesting to read.
Girls, remember that you are gorgeous and that beauty comes from within. Be someone who cares about others! Be someone who takes pride in her actions, her words, her work and accomplishments. Be someone who fights for what’s right. Be someone who isn’t afraid to get dirty to get work done. Be someone who laughs until she cries, or cries until she laughs, who gets angry at injustice and loves freely. Be someone who apologizes when she is wrong, and who forgives when she is right. Be proud of who you are, of your face, because if you are healthy then your body is wonderful as it is. If you want to change something, do so because it enhances who you are, not because you think it will make anyone else like you more. Take no shit, hold no prisoners, bear no grudges.
Gorgeous girls, remember that the world is going to try to tear you down. Stand strong and tall, like so many people have done before you, so that those who come after you will take heart from your courage. If you can do that, or try to do that, then your beauty will shine from the inside out. The world will someday begin to see us for the gorgeous girls that we are rather than what they tell us we should be.
The world is less than beautiful, but you are not.