Black reality TV stars have a uniform. After watching shows like ‘Basketball Wives’ and ‘The Real Housewives of Atlanta’ (and boycotting ‘Love & Hip Hop Atlanta’ after my last brain cell vanished into thin air at a VH-1 pre-screening in Atlanta), every surgically-enhanced butt, silky weave and curve-hugging dress started to meld together. Over cocktails with friends and a little dish about our latest annoyances, it hit me—these women are purposely made to look like Black Barbies. The iconic doll is a one trick pony with long plastic hair, a teeny weeny dress, loud makeup, and gang of artificial friends.
There’s been much commentary on Black America’s love and hate relationship with these scandalous shows, and this carbon copy aesthetic helps the naysayer’s argument that this kind of programming encourages everything but real perceptions of Black women in America. Hyper-sexualized attire has become commonplace—like the goods-flaunting ensembles worn by Evelyn Lozada on ‘Basketball Wives Miami’—who proudly totes her breast implants. Consider the images on 'Love and Hip Hop Atlanta'. K. Michelle, who, along with her cast mates, rock revealing bustiers and looks that leave absolutely nothing to the imagination. Whether you’re on 'Team Reality TV Doesn’t Define Me' or 'Team I’m a Lifelong Reality Fan', we can’t collectively ignore the messages that young Black women and girls are receiving.
Yes, the young'ns are watching. A partner and I spoke at a recent summer camp for teen girls organized by Chilli of TLC. These bubbly young women ranged from ages 13 to 17. They were bright, hilarious and could run every single detail of any reality TV series on air. After watching religiously, girls can’t help but notice the way these shows blatantly sell sex, but I also wondered if something more sinister is at play—these characters’ stifled style is further discouraging individuality, and healthy images.
Let’s look at the most highly anticipated event each season—the almighty, and obligatory reunion special. Regardless of the show or network, cast-members look identical and the doll-like molds are at their most exaggerated. No tolerance for anything less than revealing, I can’t tell one lengthy pair of lashes from another or one Rapunzel mane from the next. This manufactured brand of “new Black beauty,” injected with gallons of drama, is, if anything, a very foreign contradiction to the 'realistic' lifestyle it claims to represent. Fortunately, the formulaic trend isn't perpetuated on reality shows like 'Tia and Tamera', 'Mary Mary' and 'Empire Girls'.
I’m rapidly approaching 30—the age where they say you finally see the light—and though my beauty is not at all influenced by these shows, I worry about the high schoolers who have yet to find their personal style. They should know that their bodies are not to be put on display for the masses so casually. They should also know that sexy is but one offering and there are a host of other style identities for African American women.
Is change the answer? Always. But, in the meantime, in the name of our girls, we could stand to challenge our apathetic attitudes about what we deem to be 'mere entertainment.'