Kiri Davis is an African American film maker who won an award for her documentary “A Girl like Me”.  The film focuses on issues of hair, color, and beauty among African American woman.

The whole documentary sheds light on important issues, but the most striking moment takes place in the middle of the short documentary, where Kiri Davis recreates the famous “Doll Test” that was done in the 1950s.  Children have a white doll and black doll in front of them.  They are asked which one they prefer, why, and what they believe are the characteristics of the dolls.  Davis conducted her experiment with all black children.  Fifteen out of the twenty-one preferred the white doll.

The most moving part of the experiment is when the young girl is asked which doll is “bad”, she quickly picks up the black doll without hesitation.  When asked why that doll is bad, she responds by saying, “Because she is black”.  She is then asked which doll looks the most like her. She hesitates, shifting her eyes back and forth from each doll.  She doesn’t want to pick the black one (just having stated that it is bad), yet she understands she looks nothing like the white doll.  After a moment of delay, she shoves the black doll towards the front of the table, not picking it up and looking somewhat sullen with the choice she had to make.

In our culture, a woman’s beauty is very one dimensional.  Our bodies, skin color, hair, and femininity are expected to fit a preset mold that we have no control over.  Whether it takes surgery, products, or eating disorders, the pressure is definitely on to get the job done.

The young black girl feels the doll that looks most like her is “bad” doll because it is black.  At the age of 5 or 6, it’s hard to watch clip of the little girl without thinking the damage is done.  It reflects more than her feelings toward a regular dark skinned doll, but a reflection of an internalized racism that will most likely manifest itself in a number of ways, as the little girl grows into a young woman.

I think about high school drop out rates, poverty, and an overall lack of hope in communities of color…  It’s easy to blame individuals, but this documentary reminds me that it is more important to look at the institutions that create a mentality of an expected fate of failure amongst people of color.

It is important as women to recognize these unrealistic and racist standards of beauty so that we can make a conscious effort to love ourselves unconditionally as we are.  Also, to spread a message of individually beauty, not  thiscookie-cutter beauty that stands on an out of reach pedestal.

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen, nor touched … but are felt in the heart.”

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