“I’ve drawn a conclusion; it’s all an illusion, confusion’s the name of the game. A misconception, a vast deception.” âIndia.Arie
The lack of diversity among women in R&B and Hip Hop can largely be attributed to the changing relationship between an artist’s talent and their image, specifically their physical appearance. The hierarchical positions of these traits switched places; instead of talent taking precedence over “beauty,” the attractiveness of female artists became the deciding factor in whether or not they would be accepted by the masses or even their very own communities.
Ruling that female artists must be beautiful leads to a legitimate line of questions. Who is defining this term that is so carelessly tossed about? What is considered pretty or attractive and how can there only be one definition? Though these questions may seem like they entail complicated responses, the sad truth is they do not. The answer is quite simple: a beautiful woman, by societal standards, posses Eurocentric physical features and a skin tone that is a close match. But this idea of beauty is absolutely not new; the same destructive and deceitful definition has been pushed onto women of all colors, shapes, and sizes throughout American history.
Thus, for the most part, music shuns women who do not embody this definition of beauty. The female artists who are excluded because of their outward appearances and not because of their lack of talent, are forced to either continue on with unrecognizable success or to conform (or at least attempt to do so) to the standards set before them. This is the reason for the seemingly digitally reduced waistline of Jennifer Hudson’s album cover. It is the reason for the many slender, sporty, and mysterious duplicates. It is the reason behind the young singers who are “attractive,” but seem to lack the talent to actually sing. Even artists who “fit” the illusionary standard of beauty must deal with the constant need to smooth off their edges to become something or someone else. This is the reason for the advertisement Beyonce appeared in with her skin (supposedly) lightened more than a few shades.
There is more to the story. These women cannot simply just be attractive; they must be sexually attractive and enticing. Why? Because it is assumed, and rightfully so, that “sex sells.” This mantra (and those who believe it) is widely to blame for the sex infused lyrics and images of both men and women in today’s music. But to play devil’s advocate, what is so wrong with women portraying themselves in this manner?
The answer is, again, simple. While these types of lyrics and images hardly appear to have a negative impact on the male who is saying and portraying them, the same cannot be said for his female counterpart. Many female artists who choose to go the sex talk and walk route are inevitably reduced to solely being objects of sexual desire. There is nothing more or less to her, which is, in essence, perfectly fine. But a bigger problem lies in the inaccurate, yet widely practiced misconception that a particular culture is only as “good” as its women. Meaning, women who present themselves as highly sexual in their music and overall image have become a grossly wrong representation of all women involved in or supporting R&B and Hip Hop.
In the words of Ms. Arie, “something’s gotta change.” —— By: Bethany N.