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Curly Nikki

Perceptions of Beauty and Diversity in Books

By January 27th, 202115 Comments
Perceptions of Beauty and Diversity in Books

 Susan writes:

Among the many discussions on CN
focused on hair products, styling etc, there have been just as many on
self-image. We discuss the effects (both positive and negative) that
images in movies, music and magazines have had on how we see ourselves. Rarely
have I seen articles on how books have shaped our thinking. And
until today I had not given this much thought either. That is, until I
saw a post by blogger Kate Hart on the “Color Distribution of Young Adult(YA) Book Covers”.
The lack of diversity in beauty magazines is
often talked about. But it turns out that the publishing industry, at
least the YA segment, is also plagued by similar issues. According to
analysis by Kate, 90% of the characters on YA book covers are white,
while 10% featured character of ambiguous race or ethnicity. Minorities
comprised just 3%; broken down as follows: Latina-1.4%, Asian-1.4% and

Of-course we are often told not to judge a book by its cover because
what is in the pages is more important. There is also the argument that
the cover is simply an advertisement
that diversity-in whichever form-can be omitted on the cover but
revealed in the story. Authors such as Sharon Fluke call for the inclusion of a more
diverse set of protagonists, while some advocate for excluding cover
models altogether in favor of graphic covers. Others still, are trying
to break new ground such as Miss Gee whose Kickstarter campaign aims to
raise money to publish coloring books featuring curly haired characters of  darker hues. Childhood and the teenage years are a formative stage. 

How did diversity or lack thereof in the books you read growing up
influence how you see yourself and the world today?


  • Hair Care Beauty says:

    To make sure that you end up making the right decision at the end of the day, you should definitely take some time when choosing a hair loss product.

  • Anonymous says:

    As a child it never crossed my mind, cause I was more into mystery solving books or books that I also watched as cartoons. As I got older I became more aware of the lack of multicultural people on books, but still then I was still into mystery books so the cover either had ghost or mysterious places on the front.

    Brooke B.

  • Jhonna Turner says:

    Of course it would be easy for me to say "No, I wasn't affected by the lack of multi-cultural books." I was raised by a woman who would often drive all over the city to find a doll that looked liked me, rather than going to the local toy store to buy the white doll on sale.

    Being someone who loved the colorful world of imagination and allowed words to bounce from pages to my endless brain of wonder – I suppose I didn't think about the lack of multi-cultural literature when I got my first perm to get rid of all the kinks. Or, I didn’t think about it when I bought sun block so I wouldn't get a tan. Or, maybe, wondering why I didn't look like the Barbie like Beyonce (or at that time Vanessa Williams)the books I read growing up didn't cross my mind. Nowhere in my good sense of thinking, did I think "Humph, I'm doing this because there are no books with positive images of black girls." But in the endless stream of media and the sordid perspectives of beauty, is it possible that while dipping my nose in the endless wonder of reading that I also dipped in the endless lust of white beauty?

    My 7 year old niece and I went to the bookstore to find a book for her young impressionable mind. My niece, a tutu wearing kinda girl, picked up books that mirrored her fantasy: pink, glitter, rainbows, blonde hair, smooth skin, small waist and blue eyes. Yup, my niece picked up every book with girls that she fancied. The only thing, none fancied her brown skin, brown eyes and kinky hair. I told my niece that we are going to pick books with people of color. We looked all over. The best we could find was Dora the Explorer. What was an auntie to do? Buy the book her heart desires or go searching all over the city (like my mother) and buy the book with little princesses like her? I chose the latter. Will my niece ever say "I was never affected by the lack of multi-cultural books"? Possibly. But I will always remember the day we were in the bookstore and we couldn't find a book with a little princess like her.

  • marianela says:

    I have had this conversation with my friends so many times it hurts! The way the media sets the standard for women is ridiculous. I remember when I was growing up and was in love with Disney. The only princess I could relate to was Pocahontas and Jasmin, that was it. Ask for Barbies and baby dolls, I hated not seeing one that was like me. I am of Afro-carribean decent (1/2 Dominican/1/2 Puerto-Rican) and found it very difficult to relate to girls toys so most of the time I played with boys toys. My daughter is now six and has been brain-washed by the Mattel corporation that if she had blonde hair and was not brown she could be as great as Barbie. Yes girls toys have become more diverse but the standard of blonde hair, blue eyes still stands and you know what the saddest thing is, most white women that I know do not fit the physical standard of beauty either. Its all a load of garbage and I think the only way to see progress in our self-image as women of color is to start becoming authors and making our own magazines and setting our own standards of beauty just like we have set the standard for the natural movement.

  • Sophie says:

    Hm, like many people have said here I was a voracious reader as a kid (school and work are cutting into book time now!), but I can't remember thinking about the race of the characters at all. I guess it's partially because if I need an example of tough, awesome, black people I look to my mom and dad, and also because we have a muticultural extended family, so my definition of familiar is expanded. My favorite series was Nancy Drew, and I didn't care if she was black, white, or green… I just wanted to solve mysteries and have a convertible like her!

  • TTsGurlBB says:

    I don't think I even paid attention to the lack of diversity on the cover of books. I tend to ignore the people on the covers of books. Mainly, because I like to create my own image of the characters when I'm reading. It's funny (or sad) that when I would read books with non-black characters, I felt like the story situation didh't apply to me. It was simply just a good read.

  • Anonymous says:

    I went to a majority black elementary school, but lived in an all-white neighborhood. I was fine. Besides the regular book fairs and the monthly reading clubs at school(with the catalogue), we had an African-American specific book fair too. So I always had characters to relate too. There was also Jessie in the Baby-sitters Club as far as uber mainstream children's and YA books. And I loved the Sweet Valley books growing up. The Sweet Valley Twins book series was my jam. The black girl who was the former child star looked just like me LOL! So I was straight. "I" was on the cover too (and yes I totally lied and told folks that the drawing was based off of me!).

  • watkinsabob says:

    Honestly, I dont think i was affected by the lack of diversity in books. But not everyone is the same, so if I have children I would definitely make it a conscious goal to be diverse in their book selections and well as friends and toys!! It all makes a difference!

  • Anonymous says:

    love your hair that way and it looks better than when you do all that "fluffing" It's good when we just go with the flow with our hair and stop with all the excessive/obsessive changing our hair texture! Love that "gifted" outfit too.

  • Anonymous says:

    When I was in the second grade, my teacher pulled me aside one day and told me it was OK for me to draw black people whenever we did coloring. I was drawing little white boys and girls like in all of the books. I was the only black student in the class and there were no black characters in any of the material we read. You would hope things were better now, but apparently not by much.

  • Desireé says:

    I was and still am a voracious reader. Sad to say, the lack of diversity never even occurred to me until I took a course on African-American literature in college. I'd never heard of Zora Neale Hurston until I was over 20 – SHAMEFUL!!! That's ok, because I have made sure to share my love of reading and US with both of my children!!!

  • Dandelion says:

    Pretty much all the books I read when I was a kid had white characters. As a writer myself, I certainly intend to have a diverse cast of characters in my books. As far as the books affecting me, well, the race of the characters didn't matter to me at all. I just liked reading the books.

  • Anonymous says:

    I used to read the Sweet Valley High books back in the early 80's. The twin blonde girls were described as being a perfect size 6.
    Messed with my head and self-image BIG TIME.

    Nicol C.

  • Anonymous says:

    Yes Lord! I was a library fiend back in the 70's! I don't remember seeing too many positive book covers on Black Experience literature in my library.

    I still remember some of the covers, but none of them stick out as joyous, thrilling or romantic. No "spleandor in the grass" for us.

    It seemed most of the covers depicted characters with the backdrop of a graffiti marked wall of some sad looking tenement.

    I guess publishers think it's the kiss of death to put an ethnic face on a book. I enjoyed "I know why the Caged Bird Sings", and "Jubilee, "Sounder", and "If Beale Street Could Talk". But the covers either fit my description above or were as Kate Hart depicted in her study.

    I can't recall any action S-heroes in the Black literature available to me, just stories of sadness, struggle and survival.

    Was it due to the scarcity of thrilling adventure stories written about us? Or was it the library's choice on which books to carry?

  • Anonymous says:

    Yes it has. As a girl who knew I wanted to be a writer at 5 and started reading by the thousands earlier than that the lack of blackness in YA always unnerved me. I thought if I ever wrote a novel,I had to make the characters white because I never thought a black character could go on adventures or save the world like the kids in my novels.

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