Unpacking ugly

By By Cara Dye

By Cara Dye

There is nothing shameful about enjoying femininity, said Kim Lau, professor of English and gender studies.

But dangerous ideas about what beauty and femininity mean have been socially constructed in this country.

Beauty is equated with fair skin, blond hair, blue eyes and sexual purity. Women of color on the other hand, are seen as exotic and sexually available, said Lisa Flores, professor of communication and ethnic studies.

“The only thing ugly about the black woman is the narrow, heterosexual, ?American, patriarchal construction of her,” said Lynette Land, professor of educational leadership and policy.

All three women shared their ideas about American definitions of ugly and beautiful for a Women’s Week 2006 panel discussion on March 8 titled, “This Ain’t Ugly.”

Lau said the title of the panel initially confused her.

“It took me quite a long time to figure out what that meant?or what that should mean or could mean,” she said.

Kristi Ryujin, co-chairwoman of Women’s Week and graduate student in education, culture and society, said the panel was organized to address issues that face women of color in a society with typically white ideals of beauty.

Rather than defending what “ain’t ugly,” the women discussed the ugly attitudes of these standards.

Patriarchal attitudes that built these norms and feminist attitudes that seek to restrict femininity are both ugly, Lau said.

These ideas have distorted, disrespected and sexually exploited the black woman-everything that is the opposite of what is right, pure and just, Land said.

“How do we embrace this ugly side?” asked Lau, admitting that she is sometimes flattered to be the exotic beauty. There should be no shame in enjoying being feminine, she said.

“Mama raised me to be a girl,” Flores said, admitting that she likes to “play the game” of femininity that society has constructed.

Natasha Ball, a senior in history, said that she often feels ignored as a woman of color on campus and was inspired by the discussion.

“I’m excited about forums like this because it brings to light that women of color do exist on campus,” she said.