The creativity of author, designer and publisher Ben Arogundade
Celebrity Beauty: Are Angelina Jolie’s Big Lips Only Considered Beautiful Because She’s White?
HOLLYWOOD ACTRESS ANGELINA Jolie's big lips are universally celebrated as beautiful - but for centuries, black people have been encouraged to feel ashamed of theirs. By Ben Arogundade. Sept. 20, 2019.
ANGELINA JOLIE - BIG LIPS BEAUTIFUL? While white celebrities such as Mick Jagger, Liv Tyler and Angelina Jolie are celebrated for having big lips, black film stars such as Viola Davis or Kerry Washington, star of 'Django Unchained' and 'Scandal', are seldom eulogised for possessing the very same features.
BIG LIPS ARE BEAUTIFUL. The size zero mouth is out of fashion. Women today want fleshy, muscular mouths. Hollywood film star Angelina Jolie has become the unassuming the poster girl for the aesthetic allure of big lips. Hers are the generously upholstered type that most women seem to want, and that most men want to kiss. But — would the actress's famous mouth be the subject of such intense global adoration if she were black? Indeed, there are scores of black celebrities with equally well-endowed lips — such as actresses Viola Davis and Kerry Washington (star of the film Django Unchained and TV series, 'Scandal'), but they are seldom celebrated in anything like the same way. The latest search news figures from Google illustrate the discrepancy between Angelina's voluptuous mouth and those of black celebrities. The search giant, which records and publishes all its Internet queries each month, registers 6,600 monthly searches for the term, “Angelina Jolie lips”, but only 400 for the term, “Kerry Washington lips”. Even making adjustments for the fact that Angelina is a bigger star, the discrepancy between them is still marked.
BIG LIPS BAD
The reasons for the differences in perception go back a long way in history. For centuries, black people within European culture have been made to feel that their fuller lips — indeed their beauty values as a whole — were inferior. As early as the 1730s, Francis Moore, a British traveller touring the Gambia, along Africa’s west coast, expressed disdain in his journals at the “thick Lips and broad Nostrils” which Africans “reckon;d the Beauties of the Country.” In the early 1800s, Swiss anatomist Georges Cuvier contended that “The projection of the lower parts of the [African] face, and the thick lips, evidently approximate it to the monkey tribe.” Further, in 1874 Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso published L’homme criminel, in which he contended that the lips of rapists and murderers were “fleshy, swollen and protruding, as in Negroes.” Simultaneously, derogatory references to the big lips of black people have been a recurring motif, both within minstrel culture and within popular literature such as William Shakespeare's 'Othello'.
The overriding effects of centuries of such derision resulted in a deeply ingrained inferiority complex within blacks across America and Europe. They were immersed in a culture that dictated that light skin was better than dark, straight hair was better than curly, and that big lips were ugly.
BLACKS BELIEVE THE HYPE
This had two primary effects: the first was that inevitably, blacks actually began to believe that their features were unattractive. In 1967 The New York Times carried a report on the University of California’s black campus revolts, quoting a member of the African American Students Union who talked of the aesthetic shame of his past. “In high school I used to hold my big lip in,” he lamented.
Even TV celebrity Oprah Winfrey confessed that in her younger years, she too was afflicted; “I never thought that I was pretty because I thought you had to be light-skinned, have a pointed nose and thin lips in order to be pretty,” she stated. “So I decided to be smart instead.”
The second consequence was that blacks themselves began to perpetrate the idea that their big lips were unattractive. Many blacks around the world tell similar anecdotes of their school years in which they were teased by other black children for having big lips. The lips that today are celebrated within Angelina Jolie’s face, were a sign of being African, and being African meant being ugly within the context of the prevailing culture’s beauty values.
CELEBRITY MOUTH NAME-CALLING
In 1987, African American actor and comedian, Eddie Murphy, took this schoolyard name calling to the next level when he poked fun at the size of African American TV actor Jimmie Walker’s lips in his comedy stand up film, Raw.
Just a few years earlier, in her 1979 book, How To Be A Top Model, African American supermodel Naomi Sims offered tips on how to use make up to make a broad nose seem narrower, and to diminish the size of a black models big lips. These were not her recommendations, but were merely the professional requirements for the job of modelling at the time.
BLACK MOUTH PIECE
Aesthetic low self-esteem amongst blacks was challenged for the first time during the American Civil Rights Movement, when African American activists such as Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael argued against the dogmas of black aesthetic inferiority. “Can you begin to get the guts to develop criteria of beauty for black people?” said Carmichael. “Your nose is boss, your lips are thick, you are black and you are beautiful.”
‘Black is beautiful’ carried a powerful and redemptive message. Up to that point in Western history, white was beautiful. Blacks had accepted their fate as the uglier race, and so this new proclamation came as both a bolt of lightning and a declaration of independence.
JAGGER’S BIG LIPS
At the same time, beginning in the 1960s, a startling twist was taking place. As blacks struggled to accept the aesthetic of their own lips, whites began to appreciate the actual beauty in them. Suddenly, after centuries of derision, full lips were in fashion. Feminist activist and author Gloria Steinem, in Beach Book (1963), confessed to sucking against the heel of her hand in her younger days, because she thought it would make her thin lips fuller. Simultaneously, the Sixties saw Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones being celebrated for having big lips.
What was happening culturally was that big lips were suddenly considered beautiful — but only within the context of a white face.
BLACK ANGELINA'S BIG LIPS
This was because big lips on a white person were considered to be aesthetically unusual, and so therefore they stood out — just as TV personality Tyra Banks stands out today for being a black woman with green eyes instead of brown. The beauty perception lies within the contextual oddity that occurs when one racial signature is “applied” to another person who would not typically have it. In my book Black Beauty, I call this concept aesthetic transfer. The beauty of Angelina Jolie’s face and big lips mesmerizes because it is hybrid of what are considered to be black and white aesthetic signatures.
The same is true of Jagger. In fact, when music star Tina Turner first laid eyes on the rubber-lipped rock star in the mid-1960s, she was not sure what his ethnicity he was. “I saw this very white-faced boy, with big lips,” she recalled in Vanity Fair, “and I had never seen a white person with lips that big. I didn’t know what race he was.”
The idea that Jagger’s and Angelina Jolie’s big lips are considered beautiful because they are white is borne out by the manner in which they have been written up by the press. Here they are viewed differently from their black counterparts. In the Sixties for example, musician Jimi Hendrix, who was on the scene at the same time as Jagger, and possessed lips of similar dimensions, was never written up as flatteringly as the Rolling Stones front man. Today, journalists have invented their own exclusive phrases to describe their fuller mouths of white celebrities — “pillow-lipped”, and “bee-stung”, being the most popular. These adjectives generally do not extend to Kerry Washington or her fellow black film or music stars.
BLACK WHITE SWITCH
For centuries, blacks have ingested the idea that white beauty values (straight hair, paler skin, thin lips) are pretty. More recently, whites have absorbed the opposite notion that black beauty values (brown skin, full lips) are pretty. The last 50 years has seen each group steadily moving toward each other’s beauty values, and with a mutual appreciation for their respective qualities. These days, a black woman can have blonde hair and pale skin, while a white woman can have big lips and brown skin. Both groups are feverishly bartering and trading on each other’s ethnic and aesthetic signatures.
Celebrity make-up artist Bobbi Brown puts it another way: “When I make-up a black woman I often get the complaint, ‘My lips look so full!’” she said. “I feel like saying, ‘Well, those are your lips, and they are beautiful!’ I think that most black women have incredible lips, and my instinct as a make-up artist is to highlight them. It’s ironic that white women run to get silicone injections to plump up their lips, and black women seek to minimise the size of theirs.”
MOUTH FULL: Big lips within white faces remains a potent beauty signature. The mouths of celebrities such as model Rosie Huntington-Whitely and actress Liv Tyler are often described as “pillow-lipped” or “bee-stung”, while the big lips of black celebrities such as Viola Davis and Kerry Washington (pictured) seldom receive the same accolades.
*CELEBRITIES WITH BIG LIPS - ACCORDING TO GOOGLE SEARCH
The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “Kerry Washington lips” each month.
The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “Angelina Jolie lips” each month.
The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “Mick Jagger lips” each month.
The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “Jay-Z lips” each month.
*All figures for “Celebrities With Big Lips - According to Google Search”, supplied by Google. Stats include global totals for laptop and desktop computers and mobile devices.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: ANGELINA JOLIE IN BBC TV INTERVIEW
More About Celebrity Beauty
Which actress has the world’s most Googled eyes?
What do 30,000 fans want to know about Beyoncé’s eyes?
© Arogundade, London Town 2023: Registered Office: 85 Great Portland Street, First Floor, London W1W 7LT