Black Women, Their Image, and Christian Consumption

I’ve been trying to get my mind around this idea for a series of posts for a while now. It’s difficult to find words to express what troubles my heart. So let me begin with some simple statements of fact and then work out from there.

First, women are beautiful creatures. All women. Including black women. Women are masterpieces formed by the Creator’s creative hands, gifted with incredible intelligence—intellectual and emotional. They’re called into a glorious purpose—to subdue the earth and fill it with God’s glory. The beauty of women reaches far deeper than their bodies, faces and what they do with their hair.

Yet, second, many women wrestle most of their adult lives with constant comparisons, sizing up, ranking, insecurity and angst. All types of women have this struggle — including black women. Black women feel the ache of comparison in some unique ways. The “nude” make-up doesn’t match their natural skin tone. The blue jeans aren’t cut for their hips. The magazine or the film doesn’t often feature those eyes, lips and nose. Black women live out their beauty in a world that has historically denied them that claim. It’s been a long and protracted war, first for full humanity against white forces that reduced them to work horse or illicit sex object status, then for full appreciation against black forces that denied equal worth and protection inside the community. Black women have claimed their own beauty and dignity in a world of relentless assault and denial.

And in many respects, they’ve won. But what do you do when you’ve succeeded in redefining black womanhood in terms that are every bit as wide-ranging, regal and full of potential and accomplishment as womanhood in any other ethnic terms?

Do you use this newfound, hard-earned status to reinforce images and tropes that long held you down? Do you do that as a demonstration of “autonomy” and “empowerment”?

Or, do you weaponize black femininity? Do you turn beauty and body into an “asset” used to exploit the beauty and body itself along with the many watchers and consumers of your beauty?

I want to affirm the beauty of my mothers, sisters and daughters in its full array and diversity. I want to stand with them, behind them and sometimes in front of them in order to support and champion the quest for an uncompromised appreciation of their humanity and dignity. I want to be there when their contribution to the beauty of womanhood is embraced and when it’s challenged.

Yet, it seems to me we also have to ask ourselves “What image of black women are we being sold?” and “What image are we either happily or ignorantly consuming?” Particularly as Christians, we need to give renewed thought to the varieties of black female images and the message we’re sending to our mothers, sisters and daughters.

To think about this some more, join us on the porch as we think about Biblical womanhood and the image of African-American women in popular media. Tomorrow, the sistas Jamie, Kristie and Trillia Newbell take the porch to talk about Biblical womanhood. Wednesday, we’ll think about Kerry Washington’s portrayal of African-American womanhood through the character “Olivia Pope” in the popular television show “Scandal.” Then, Lord willing, we’ll take a look at “Queen B,” Beyonce and the questions she raises about womanhood in her last release. Oh, and I think somewhere along the way Tony, Lou and I talk about expositional preaching. We are preachers after all. Gotta get that in.

This is the first post in a series on Biblical Womanhood. Photograph taken by Le To via flickr Creative Commons. 

Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile serves as a pastor of Anacostia River Church (Washington DC). He is the happy husband of Kristie and the adoring father of two daughters and one son. Holler at him on Twitter: @ThabitiAnyabwil

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