Black is Beautiful: Redefining The Concept of Beauty in West Virginia
“I really didn’t think I would win,” Beauty Queen Tamia Hardy said, “ I was really shocked when they called my name.”
Hardy, who was crowned the first African-American Miss West Virginia in 2017, was encouraged to start pageantry by a secretary who worked at the dance studio she practiced at.
“I kept saying ‘I’ll do it next year, I’ll do it next year”, Hardy said.
Despite Miss West Virginia 2017 being Hardy’s first pageant, she ended up taking the crown.
“It was such a magical moment,” Hardy said, “I don’t think I realized what that truly meant.”
While Hardy’s win is a win for Black women in West Virginia and beyond, there was a time when women of color were not even considered eligible for American beauty pageants. In fact, contestants had to be ‘of good health and of the white race’ in order to compete prior to the year 1940.
Even almost a century later, the concept of “beauty” is still greatly affected by Western colonization. Beauty is often filtered through a eurocentric lens, meaning lighter skin, hair and eyes. How well one can fit into these eurocentric standards plays into one’s ‘desirability” in society. Desirability typically translates into social capital, such as support, resources and protection from critique. This social capital can also provide one with actual capital.
The beauty standards set by colonization are maintained through media representation that confirms these qualities are ideal. Charles Town native Christian Moore said the imagery provided by the media challenged her confidence through the years.
“It’s not a surprise that my self-esteem suffered when I was younger and I didn’t feel beautiful,” Moore said, “ I didn’t grow up around people that looked like me, the media perspectives that I was exposed to were almost always white-centered, and when black women especially were brought up, it was always based in negativity.”
The lack of esteem surrounding black features can also manifest into one engaging in harmful behaviors in an attempt to conform to eurocentric beauty standards. These behaviors can include skin bleaching, which may result in cancer and organ damage, and projecting internalized self-hatred onto other’s with the same phenotype.
Since winning her crown in 2017, Hardy said that her viewpoints on beauty have shifted but that this was not necessarily due to the pageant itself.
“Once I started to feel more comfortable wearing styles that were more natural to my background and to my ethnicity and I started to receive some push back on that, that is when I wanted to shift others’ concepts of beauty and fight even more for the definition of beauty and what it meant to me,” Hardy said.
Hardy said that she’s become more comfortable with her natural look and that she enjoys the many style options that accompany textured hair.
“I really do embrace my natural curls and I love my hair,” Hardy said, “ I believe it’s so versatile and so unique and there’s so many different things I can do with it. I feel very regal and even elegant because of my response to the adversity faced as a black woman. It honestly makes me feel like a queen.”
Moore advises black women and girls to surround themselves with as many positive messages about black women and people that you can, especially those that grew up in a mostly white community like she did.
“I personally chose to do so through art,” Moore said, “I began reading books by Black female authors, listening to Black speakers and finding black artists that create, speak and write about us with love. You’ll soon see yourself reflected in their stories and conversations.”
Complimenting Moore’s point, Hardy suggests that Black women and girls define their own concept of beauty.
“Don’t compare yourself to other people, don’t compare yourself to what you see on social media or what society tells you is beautiful,” Hardy said, “You really have to find what makes you feel confident within.”
Photos provided by Tamia Hardy.