Amber Rose certainly has a way with words. She was crowned clapback queen when she sparred against the Kardashians, and Kanye, on Twitter in 2015 — proving that the pen is mightier than the sword. But her words have also gotten her into a bit of trouble. As of today, the influencer is in hot water for comments she made about her experiences as a pretty girl growing up in South Philly. She is being dragged on Twitter for calling other women from her hometown ugly and prioritizing her own mixed-race heritage — and the lighter skin that comes with it — in her assessment of beauty. But I think Muva’s comments are being taken out of context.
On a recent episode of the Drink Champs podcast, Rose was asked what it was like growing up in Philly. One of her observations revolved around how her appearance shaped her life. She started, “I don't know how I can say this without sounding fucked up, but a lot of the people where I'm from aren't traditionally attractive people.” She continued, “To grow up in such an area and be blessed with beauty, it was very difficult for me.” I can’t vouch for Rose’s personal experiences. But I can’t say she’s wrong about her assessment, even if it is a bitter pill to swallow.
It matters that Rose said the people around her aren’t “traditionally attractive.” Traditional beauty is the kind that is cosigned by society. Institutions like the media validate this narrow view of who looks good. And many people reinforce that standard in their communities and families. Under this rhetoric, Black and brown girls are not traditionally attractive. Poor girls are not traditionally attractive. And unfortunately, the narrative about traditional beauty has been internalized by too many people in the communities impacted by it the most. I know this because I am a fat, brown-skinned Black girl from a neighborhood full of other brown-skinned people. Colorism is a reality that many people of color have experienced. Women who are biracial, not Black, or even lighter stand out and are placed on a pedestal as more valuable.
I’m not "traditionally" attractive. Chances are, you aren’t either. We know it, and Amber knows it. It’s a fucked-up system that has worked to Rose’s advantage in the long term. She has launched a successful career because of it. I don’t intend to give her a pass on that. Her fatal mistake in the interview was not addressing this privilege in her comments.
But I don’t think her awareness of our cultural beauty metrics — and her place in them — means that she thinks other people are ugly. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, here is what I think Amber Rose meant: As a teenager she was treated differently than the rest of her peers — who I’m going to assume were mostly Black and Brown — because people around her saw her as “prettier.” She has talked publicly about being bullied as a kid. She probably experienced street harassment like so many women — both within and outside of traditional attractiveness — do. Or she could have simply hated the attention. Being pretty is a privilege. Looking different than the rest of your peers as a young person who wants to fit in, is not. Those two realities can exist within the same person.
My biggest critique of Amber Rose is that she often fails to articulate some of the complicated ideas she has — when it comes to colorism in Black and brown communities, it’s very complicated — especially now that she’s putting herself at the forefront of the feminist movement. I’m not implying that Rose isn’t intelligent or capable of making deep dives into cultural issues. I just think she has only scratched the surface of being ‘woke,’ and that there is more work to be done. She could definitely benefit from a few hours of nuanced TED Talks or YouTube videos on the issues she speaks about. But for the most part, I think her intentions are good. I don’t think this incident was any exception, even if it came out wrong.