Have Black women always been into tweaking their appearances with plastic surgery?
One Saturday each month, I turn off all my devices — except my iPod — and hunker down in Barnes & Noble for a few hours to flip through my favorite lady mags and tabloids. One of my favorite features is “Just Like Us!” in US Weekly, which takes an amusing look at celebs doing such mundane things as tying their shoes, licking an ice-cream cone, or taking their kids to ballet practice.
That’s what popped into my head when I was watching a segment on 20/20 last week about Black women who get cosmetic procedures. Maybe it was the tone — Look! Black women care about their looks too! — that turned me off. Or it could have been the larger trend the episode represents.
Perhaps in an attempt to make up for torturing Black women for two years with all of those ostracizing "Why Are You Single?” stories, the media’s now trying to extend an olive branch — by awkwardly pointing out the ways in which Black women are just like many other folks. The Washington Post teamed with the Kaiser Family Foundation for its exclusive “Look How Normal Black Women Are” story (or, as one of my favorite writers Akiba Solomon put it over on Color Lines, “Black Women Like to Do Stuff Like Pay Bills and Pray”). And in its own supremely sad way, French Elle tried to show us some love in a bizarrely backwards editorial announcing that Black people en masse had finally joined the ranks of the stylish.
So mainstream media outlets have seemingly called a moratorium on throwing us under the bus... but now they've picked up an odd fascination with peering into our lives, marveling at them the way they do a natural head a' hair. And like my hair, I’d prefer it if they looked, but did not touch.
Back to the details of that 20/20 episode: Black women took center stage for part of the newsmagazine's recent special “The Cutting Edge.” And Barbara Walters seemed excited to learn that Black women, too, are now turning to doctors to lift boobies and booties, shrink waistlines, and pump them with Botox fillers to keep their black un-cracked. The segment noted that Black women are still the slowest-growing group of patients, according to the latest statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, but are becoming more open to it.
Slow-growing? I’ll buy. But the idea that Black women nipping and tucking is a new phenomenon, like the other areas of plastic surgery mentioned on the show — octogenarian boob jobs, for example — seemed forced. Black women are, well, women, and obviously some have been concerned about their looks, and tweaking them, for a long while now. Before Lil’ Kim boldly transformed before our eyes into light-skinned and high-cheekboned, entertainers like Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston, and Janet Jackson had been under the knife. And it’s hard to call plastic surgery new when grande dames like Diahann Carroll have been singing the praises of cosmetic tweaks, like “plastic surgery is a gift from God.”
Frankly, 20/20’s "revelation" is a day late and a dollar short for this modern world, when Tamar Braxton and Nene Leakes openly discuss their nasal procedures without anyone clutching their pearls in shock, and when you can’t turn on a music video without spotting a scantily clad MC with chicken legs and a double-glazed-ham backside. Clearly, many Black women with the means to afford plastic surgery have been tweaking, lifting, and filling for years now. News is supposed to be new, so I find it odd that it took 20/20 so long to catch on.
Is the idea of Black plastic surgery news to you?
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria), in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk