African-Americans, with their traditionally African features, have always had an uneasy coexistence with the European (white) ideal of beauty. According to Angela M. Neal and Midge L. Wilson, "Compared to Black males, Black females have been more profoundly affected by the prejudicial fallout surrounding issues of skin color, facial features, and hair. Such impact can be attributed in large part to the importance of physical attractiveness for all women" (328). For black women, the most easily controlled feature is hair. While contemporary black women sometimes opt for cosmetic surgery or colored contact lenses, hair alteration (i.e., hair-straightening "permanents," hair weaves, braid extensions, Jheri curls, etc.) remains the most popular way to approximate a white female standard of beauty. Neal and Wilson contend that much of the black female's "obsession about skin color and features" has to do with the black woman's attempting to attain a "high desirability stem[ming] from her physical similarity to the white standard of beauty" (328).

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Copyright © 1995, Johns Hopkins University Press. This article first appeared in African American Review 29:4 (1995), 579-592.

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