Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, discusses how images fueled by consumerism are used against women. Wolf points out that the beauty myth becomes harsher after times of political gain for women, thus distracting us from the cause of equality. As Ecclesiastes 1:9 states, "There is nothing new under the sun," for in Song of Songs (a.k.a. Song of Solomon) 1:5-6, we can hear the protest of a woman who does not fit into her society's beauty myth:
I am black but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, Like the tents of Kedar, Like the curtains of Solomon. Do not stare at me because I am swarthy, For the sun has burned me. My mother's sons were angry with me; they made me caretaker of the vineyards, But I have not taken care of my own vineyard.
The unnamed love interest in this biblical text does not fold under the beauty myth but stands up to it, affirming not only her beauty but her humanity. Colorism is one form of the beauty myth that is a common reality for women around the world; Dalits in India, the color caste system in African-American rap videos, and African women using deadly skin bleaching creams are just a few examples of this social ill.
This video was created by Kari Morris and Onleilove Alston, based on scriptures from Song of Songs 1:5-6; 5:7; 8:6b, and music -- "'Til We Reach That Day" -- taken from the original cast album of Ragtime. In this video, Kari and I wanted to feature women who may stand outside of the beauty myth yet convey a beauty that surpasses society's norms. We also wanted to show the beauty of women doing justice, because "charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting but a woman who fears the Lord shall be praised" (Proverbs 31:30). One way we can fear or reverence God is by being agents of justice in the world, which highlights a true beauty that is not temporal but eternal in value.
As we seek to be women of faith and justice, how can we debunk the beauty myth in our own lives and communities? How can men be allies in this effort?
Onleilove Alston is a student at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University School of Social Work. She organizes with NY Faith & Justice and the Poverty Initiative. During the summer of 2008 she served at Sojourners as a Beatitudes Society Fellow. You can visit her blog Esther's Call.