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Jiggaboos and Wannabes: An International Phenomenon?

Today I’m posting a comment that indicates that women around the world confront the tension between grooming and identity alteration. One of my mentors and friends, Stacy, recently traveled to India and sent in this comment:

Tina, thanks so much for starting this conversation. Like the other sisters on this email, I have been enjoying and appreciative of the reflections and discussions that you have been mothering on your blog.

The thing that I am struck by is that this issue of altering ourselves to fit societal norms of beauty is not just an issue that African American women face–other women of color are also dealing with this. During my last visit to India, I was struck by how many skin lightening products that I saw advertised–the prominence of these products. I asked Indian women if there were more of these products in recent years–for me, it seemed as if they had proliferated. The messaging had gone from a whisper to a roar–get as white as you can!!!!! Being there and seeing this progression made me think about our own journey in the US? It made me think of Spike Lee’s movie–School Daze and all of the issues in the black community. It made me think of Whoopi’s one woman show when she is walking across the stage with the shirt on her head talking about her long luxurious hair (I used to do that as a kid). It makes me think about the transformation of Jennifer Hudson. I am amazed at her weight loss and I celebrate her move to being more healthy and more present for her family and herself. I am also struck by the clothes and the hair and the imagery of what is beautiful. While our issues around skin color and hair and other manifestations of changing and denying aspects ourselves to be considered more “beautiful” are not so blatant as they were–we are not running around with paper bags overtly subjecting one another to the brown paper bag test, the issues are still there…in the background….every now and then moving from a whisper to a roar.

I hear you Stacy! I saw Whoopi’s stand up routine as well. That was also the one where she did the bit about the girl who sat in bleach trying to whiten her skin. You mentioned Spike Lee’s classic movie School Daze and I was able to find a clip of the amazing dance battle between Wannabes (a derogatory term for lighter skinned or longer haired women) and Jiggaboos (derogatory for darker-skinned and/or shorter haired women) (here’s the YouTube link: The interesting thing is that you will notice that there are some women who are categorized as Jiggaboos when they might be considered lighter skinned and some who are classified as Wannabes when they might be considered darker skinned. Man, this whole categorization process seems quite ARBITRARY!!! When, oh when, are we going to rise above this!? I’m hoping that the soon-to-be-released movie Dark Girls ( will shed some light on this issue (no pun intended!).

I agree with Stacy wholeheartedly that this scene could have very well been about women from Mexico, Brazil, Egypt, South Africa, China, England, the Caribbean, India, Australia, anywhere from all over the world. We are constantly labeling ourselves and others. And again I say (said in my preacher’s voice!), when are we going to get over this!? For those of you with international experience, do you have clips to movies, songs, books, etc. that illustrate these issues? I’d love to see them and share with the readers.

Thanks for being such thoughtful readers!

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How do you withstand negative messages about your beauty?

Over the last week or so, I’ve felt compelled to write about the Internet buzz surrounding racist comments about Black women (see and a fantastic movie by Bill Duke (Duke Media) and D Channsin Berry (Urban Winter Entertainment) called Dark Girls which explores colorism ( These conversations have further illuminated the importance of evaluating how we perceive our beauty and recognizing that the value we affix to hair texture, color, etc. are in part determined by how we think (and sometimes know) others perceive us. So what do you do when there are negative perceptions of you? When people invalidate you? Obviously, I don’t have all of the answers. However, I can say for myself that, as a Christian woman my self-concept has to be tied to who Jesus says I am. When I stray from that, I find myself depressed and worried about the opinions of others, constantly chasing external validation and affirmation. You may not believe in Christ but what do you believe in? What anchors your self-concept? What stable source provides you with guidance to withstand the constant barrage of messages that we are not good enough? Please comment on how you withstand negative messages about your beauty, about your self-worth more generally?

Back when I was a consultant, wearing my hair in locs was empowering and challenging at the same time. I remember a time when I was told that I needed to better reflect the appearance of the client executives who’d engaged our consulting team. Thank God for Jesus (both for anchoring me and preventing me from punching homegirl out)! I was able to say, wait a minute, God made my hair like this, my color like this and God doesn’t make junk! This girl is just straight crazy! Yes, it was still hard to accept that some people don’t think I’m beautiful. However, the more important message that I took away was that I wanted to represent who I am not only for me but for the other people I encountered who were strengthened by my willingness to uncover, reveal and CELEBRATE my natural state.

There are many sites that encourage celebration of natural hair, here are a few:,,,

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Image found at:

Based on your comments, it seems that you all agree that Dark Girls ( is bound to make a big contribution to our ongoing discussion about self-acceptance. My blog primarily focuses on hair and identity but skin color is also a strong identity marker. I love the fact that we are discussing these topics! One thing that was also brought to my attention was the fact that light-skinned Black women also encounter colorism (discrimination based on skin color), being treated as “less Black” in some instances, oftentimes by other Black people. A post from Tamara Harris, one of my high school classmates illustrates this point:

“The Color Game is alive and rearing it’s ugly head in full force! As a product of a “blended family” my skintone/hair texture/etc was, and IS, an issue for some people. My family never even discussed color/race as we are all shades from white to brown. No one was any more special than the next. Everything I know of racism I learned from the black community once I left the comforts of home/family. Growing up it was made clear to me by others that I was “different” and they never missed an opportunity to point it out…and make their assumptions based on my shell without getting to know me. Sadly, the only people that felt the need to treat me differently were people of color…my own so-called people. Unfortunately, for some, it never goes away; the giving and receiving of “color hate” (my own term). I was at work not too long ago having a conversation with a coworker (who is brownskin) and another lady we work with walked by and said hello to my coworker (by name to make it clear who the intended was). I mentioned that the lady had NEVER said so much as hello to me. The response: “That’s cause you aren’t really one of “us”…most people aren’t sure what you are.” (said with laughter and a smile, of course) But, even at my age, it was hurtful because there was more than a little bit of truth in her statement. Perhaps I’ll never fully understand the reason behind the color barrier within the race, but I certainly know what it feels like to be treated differently simply because of the color of your skin.

I also had an Indian woman proclaim that colorism is a HUGE issue in Indian society (see my earlier post where I talk about skin bleaching in India: I’m sure we all have our theories about what led to colorism amongst African-American people: field Negroes versus house Negroes, economic access, social mobility, education, ability to pass versus inability to pass, etc. I love to dig into history to understand the present. However, I am keenly interested in how we can overcome these issues. What do you think? Will we ever be able to overcome colorism and discrimination based on hair texture?

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