Grammy winner Pharrell Williams released the album cover for his upcoming project GIRL and not every “girl” was extremely pleased with his “ode to women” visual.
If you have yet to see the cover, it shows Williams and three other women all wearing bathrobes and sunglasses. But, after seeing the new visual, many were left wondering, Where are the Black women?
But, what is pretty evident is that each woman has lighter pale skin with long, fine and/or silky hair (i.e. hair textures that are not kinky and more commonly associated with African Americans).
A lot of people didn’t like this, and that includes men and women.
Author Dream Hampton tweeted:
Couldn’t be more disappointed by @Pharrell’s album cover. I was so looking forward to it too. Just, wow.
I continue to see taupe nation chicks as accessories on his album cover. I wish it were more creative. He certainly is.
And a blogger, who MTV calls a producer/musician, also offered his disappointment in the album cover. He wrote:
The first thing I noticed was that there were no black women (I’m one of those weird people who call mixed race people mixed race instead of black). I have a problem with this because decisions like these are well thought of. He would’ve had a team of people who along with helping him pick the right cover would also highlight ways in which it could be construed and what connotations people would derive from it.
Pharell would have done well to positively add to the ever going argument about the idea of beauty and the representation of black women in the media, to decry this lingering notion that black women are an acquired taste or better yet, some sort of abstract art that only a selected few would possibly ever like. I’m not saying that by including a black woman on the cover then everything will be fine, no. I’m saying Pharrell as well as other big black male stars are in a position to help the cause by the constant inculcation that black women are in fact beautiful.
But I also read many other people’s reactions (many who claimed to be black women) who wondered, What’s the big deal? A lot of women said that Black women are too picky and sensitive; we create an issue out of everything; we are unable to be pleased; and the fact that some were displeased because of an album cover shows how insecure Black women really are.
I had a lot to say about this issue…but then I read Lupita Nyong’o’s acceptance speech at the recent ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon. Although you can (and should) read the full speech, I want to share a few of her words that not only spoke to me but addressed this current situation:
I want to take this opportunity to talk about beauty, black beauty, dark beauty. I received a letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a small part of it with you: “Dear Lupita,” it reads, “I think you’re really lucky to be this black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.”
My heart bled a little when I read those words, I could never have guessed that my first job out of school would be so powerful in and of itself and that it would propel me to be such an image of hope in the same way that the women of The Color Purple were to me.
I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I was the day before.
And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no conservation, she’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then … Alek Wek. A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me, as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But a flower couldn’t help but bloom inside of me, when I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny.
Her eloquent speech was very touching, and I’m sure it resonated with quite a few women—and I am no exception.
I remember the first time someone ever told me that having dark skin was a bad thing, when another Black girl planted that corrupted seed into my mind. I was only in elementary school at the time, but imagine as a little, innocent girl who has gone throughout her young life never questioning who she is or how she looks having the reality of someone tell you that the way you are (and have always been) is “wrong.”
I never knew that being dark skinned was bad, negative, unattractive, unworthy and inferior until someone told me it was. And as I grew, I noticed more and more that so many others (guys and girls) in the Black community—my community—had this same notion.
I thank God that He has since granted me the wisdom to recognize the ignorance behind that type of mindset, to understand beauty’s true definition and to know that my identity is in Christ and Him alone.
But for those women who 1) don’t have this revelation and/or 2) are working to get there (because it isn’t easy), this is where the issue with Pharrell’s album cover lies.
It’s so easy for others to say “Black women complain about everything” when 1) you aren’t a Black woman and/or 2) you have not walked in a Black woman’s shoes—especially one who has darker skin. Women in general have had to make strides for equality (and we still do), and Sistas, we all know that when it comes to Black women that “equal sign” grows dimmer and dimmer.
And the truth is that it’s not so much about not representing Black women as it is the failure to include and embrace dark complexions. Colorism has no racial boundaries.
Our nation’s media constantly projects images to women that it deems beautiful—and most often these images do not have dark skin tones. Hence why folks were so upset when Carol’s Daughter ran that campaign with only lighter-complexioned women as the spokeswomen.
Dark-skinned women are rarely upheld as the standard of beauty; in fact, they are quite often completely left out. Even dark-skinned men like Taye Diggs and rapper Wale have told their stories about experiencing colorism due to their darker complexions.
America rarely embraces dark beauty, and so for a young girl to see women like Lupita receive praise and adoration and be deemed beautiful can resonate with and influence her. There are countless other girls who desire to lighten their skin but seeing Lupita’s rise has helped them think otherwise.
Because of how she was treated, Lupita despised her dark skin. But after seeing Whoopi and Alek Wek and Oprah on her TV screen and in magazines, she felt more confident in that fact that her dark beauty could (and deserved to) be celebrated as well. It helped to see a face like hers.
So, I write all this to say that it’s not so much about Black women being sensitive or complainers; it is about a much deeper issue America has with embracing individuals who have darker complexions.
Pharrell and others are failing to realize that it’s rare for dark-skinned people to see images that reflect their own be praised and represented in the media alongside others’. Yes, Pharrell has included a variety of skin tones in his videos over the years, but I think what was so amiss about this situation (and what made it an issue) was because he himself called this album an ode to women. So, if he’s celebrating ALL women, why not at least try to represent the fact that we do not ALL have light skin and fine hair?
Although it may not be a “big deal” to others, the young girl who wrote Lupita has been encouraged and inspired to embrace who she is because she now has an example. So, any opportunity where someone (especially a brotha, as more and more Black women see them fail to embrace us) can use his/her influence to accurately represent the varying shades of those not only in our community, but in our nation, can and should be utilized.
Because contrary to popular belief, helping someone discover the value and worth within him or herself is a “big deal.”
Service is her passion, writing is her platform, uplifting women and the Black Community is her purpose. Shala Marks is a writer, editor and soon-to-be author. Through her work, Marks aspires to demonstrate “The Craft of Writing, and the Art of Efficacy.” She has a B.A. in journalism from Arizona State University. Connect with her at: http://shalamarks.com/.