Of #prisonbae and Beauty Ideals

So, #prisonbae is now a certifiable meme and while I am not too surprised, I was annoyed that so much of the rhetoric around this unfolding meme and Jeremy Meeks’ perceived attractiveness got leveled onto the shoulders of superficial women of the interwebz everywhere. Of course. Because we love driving the machine that upholds unrealistic and problematic beauty ideals and we do this by imagining giving cute guys with arrest records a shot at getting with us. It was all: look at these women! Look how thirsty they are! Most of the commentary on my social media feeds looked like this with few people actually taking to task the constructs of beauty that we get inundated with or anyone really grappling with the ways in which these ideas particularly impact, specifically here, hetero women. No, women are just beyond thirsty, when the reality is no one — and I mean no one — adversely suffers from the effects of beauty culture and its endless demands like women. If there’s someone who understands the lookism of society and the leverage it pays out: a woman does. Fat women and black women (of all sizes) know it even more.

Likewise, female-of-center, cisgender women and trans*women — whose “woman-ness” often gets mitigated against how well they can adhere to “traditional” (and often Eurocentric) notions of feminine beauty know this. It’s insidious and difficult to just be able to live fully, as you are. People can make it shitty for you and we can make it shitty for ourselves based on beliefs about looks and being attractive, or not. The extent to which most of the hetero women who “liked” Meeks’ pic understand that an attractive man — recently arrested or not, represents a standard of beauty that affords him privileges, is probably a given. To live in the world, wherever we are, inhabiting a female body, means that we also grow to know this well. Women are held to unrealistic standards of beauty on a societal level and personal level that most hetero men will never have  to deal with, quite in the same ways.

So I couldn’t give a judgmental damn about women thinking that Meeks is attractive. What would you do, if you worked at the front desk somewhere and he walked it near late to drop off/send in something? Would you give him a bligh? I probably would, especially if he asked nicely with some charm. Lots of people would too. The same people who are out on social media calling people misguided etc. and preaching respectability standards to women. Have some standards; he’s a felon. And what? Perceived attractiveness is one of the attributes in this world that keeps on paying out for some people, in small ways and big ways. And we all know this. Why else are so many of us bleaching ourselves into walking jumbies? Why are celebs product pitching?

As a black woman who knows what it’s like to experience unconventional conventions of attraction that run the gamut (to say the least), I also know that for my conventionally beautiful & pretty friends — we experience the world in very different ways. I can feel it walking into places with them, from the mundane to the not so mundane. The ways folks’ faces light up when they appraise them, the numerous offers extended — of love, fidelity, short-cuts to goals and romance etc. The undercurrents of value and worthiness that sometimes get passed out in very direct (if sometimes unconscious) ways. It’s not their fault and it’s not an issue of fault but ah so it does go sometimes.  What are you doing to check your perceptions of beauty/desirability? It’s work we have to engage in actively like any other form of decolonizing work. (And tell your dark-skinned black babies how beautiful they are too, please, because it’s hard out here to hold on to healthy ideas of ourselves as beautiful sometimes.)

As Safiya wonderfully observed on Facebook of the furor surrounding Meeks: “Had he the beautiful black skin of Djimon Hounsou, the nose and lips of Jay Z and the body of Dave Chappelle, he would be just another bad ass nigg@ who deserves 10 to life. Calm all dat mess down. Just sayin’.” Also true. Coming from a West Indian culture that has a whole construct for the Red Man (with Meeks’ image clearly being a prototype) and what that means for attractiveness and desirability, none of this, again, is surprising. I suspect that most of the folks mitigating attractiveness only against his arrest record would undoubtedly see him as attractive anyway, sans the arrest. After all, the vast majority of us are bombarded with and subscribe to the Eurocentric ideas of beauty and attractiveness that we are fed.

And the ones who unduly shoulder the effects of this burden often, are us women. Like Siji Jabbar said, “Men are more likely to be considered valuable when they have wealth, education and other forms of human capital, while women are considered valuable when they are physically attractive, even if they lack other capital.” And because of heterocapitalist patriarchy, not only are hetero women allegedly in competition with other women for scarce resources (re: a good and attractive man) but they must incessantly spend money to maintain the “beauty” that ensures that this can happen. Simultaneously, white supremacy dictates which women are considered most attractive and leverages them against other women who are scrambling to attain this status. Or, not giving a fuck. Whichever.

So yeah, a bunch of women (and men undoubtedly) thought Meeks was attractive. But if you didn’t think he was attractive and are not doing anything to dismantle pervasive Eurocentric beauty ideals in your own life choices — then your point is moot. If you are harshly judging his climb to viral meme-hood and the women who helped get him there, but you only date red men or  light-skinned women and folks with “soft,” “good” hair, then you’re feeding the beast. If you are not helping black & brown youth develop healthy self-esteem in whatever small ways you can, you are also part of problem and well, Meeks? His visage is just representative of other issues we have to deal with.   


Image via Tumblr.

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One Response to “Of #prisonbae and Beauty Ideals”

  1. theunsualbeauty Says:

    I do believe his green eyes and light skin affects our belief he is attractive.

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