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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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