Cover image for Ain't I a beauty queen? : black women, beauty, and the politics of race
Ain't I a beauty queen? : black women, beauty, and the politics of race
Craig, Maxine Leeds.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
viii, 198 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1410 Lexile.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HQ1220.U5 C73 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
HQ1220.U5 C73 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ

On Order



"Black is Beautiful!" The words were the exuberant rallying cry of a generation of black women who threw away their straightening combs and adopted a proud new style they called the Afro. The Afro, as worn most famously by Angela Davis, became a veritable icon of the Sixties.

Although the new beauty standards seemed to arise overnight, they actually had deep roots within black communities. Tracing her story to 1891, when a black newspaper launched a contest to find the most beautiful woman of the race, Maxine Leeds Craig documents how black women have negotiated the intersection of race, class, politics, and personal appearance in their lives. Craig takes the reader from beauty parlors in the 1940s to late night political meetings in the 1960s to demonstrate the powerful influence of social movements on the experience of daily life. With sources ranging from oral histories of Civil Rights and Black Power Movement activists and men and women who stood on the sidelines to black popular magazines and the black movement press, Ain't I a Beauty Queen? will fascinate those interested in beauty culture, gender, class, and the dynamics of race and social movements.

Author Notes

Maxine Leeds Craig is Assistant Professor of Sociology and director of the graduate program in Sociology at California State University, Hayward.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

In this partly historical, partly sociological study of notions of black female beauty in the 20th-century US, Craig (California State Univ., Hayward) writes, "When and where there is repression, what a woman does when she gets dressed in the morning may be considered political." Focusing especially on the effect of the Civil Rights Movement on clothing and hair styles among African American women (the rise of the natural, the valorization of dark skin tones that previously were denigrated, and the use of clothing colors that signified "African," for example), Craig places her topic within the framework of Pierre Bourdieu's sociological theories on cultural capital and James Scott's anthropological explorations of transcripts of resistance. The broad outline of the changing beauty standards Craig traces are relatively familiar, from the extreme "color-ism" of the earlier 20th century to the "black is beautiful" revolution of the 1960s. But Craig's analysis leads to an important concluding chapter that "cautions against optimism about the effectiveness of cultural politics." Culture sustained racial pride, she suggests, but also allowed for "continued domination," as corporate capitalism swallowed up what once were bold statements of resistance and agency. For advanced undergraduate collections. P. Harvey University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

Table of Contents

1 Ridicule and Celebration: Black Women as Symbols in the Rearticulation of Racep. 3
2 Contexts for the Emergence of "Black Is Beautiful,"p. 23
3 Ain't I a Beauty Queen? Representing the Ideal Black Womanp. 45
4 Standing (in Heels) for My Peoplep. 65
5 How Black Became Popular: Social Movements and Racial Rearticulationp. 78
6 Yvonne's Wig: Gender and the Racialized Bodyp. 109
7 Pride and Shame: Black Women as Symbols of the "Middle Class,"p. 129
8 The Appearance of Unityp. 143
9 An Ongoing Dialoguep. 161
Notesp. 171
Selected Bibliographyp. 187
Indexp. 195