Rachel rose into the media spotlight after testifying in the trial of Trayvon Martin, the 17 year-old Florida resident who was gunned down by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. Rachel’s testimony was central to the prosecution’s case, as she is the last known person to have spoken to Martin. While on the witness stand, 19-year-old Jeantel was heavily scrutinized by the defense and in the court of public opinion for her broken speech (English is her second language), attitude and appearance.
While giving Rachel a makeover is nice, it’s a band-aid to the bigger wound that is still healing in her life. Take a look at the video of the behind the scenes of Rachel’s makeover. It showcases a smiling Jeantel, as she talks over her hair with the stylists and editors of the publications and she’s then shown sitting the in the salon chair, getting her Malaysian curly tresses blown out bone-straight, complete with exposed braids–the weave’s foundation. The video itself is almost a satirical display, showcasing what Black woman typically doesn’t want you to see–the inner workings of her mysterious longer-that-really-is hair.
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This makeover, courtesy of Ebony and theGrio opens up a conversation of the publications’ cosign with society about body image, as well as age-old Black ideals of public appearance and misses the mark by offering Rachel superficial and temporary fixes.
While Tom Joyner offered Rachel a college scholarship and counseling to deal with the loss of Trayvon, these two major publications thought a makeover would change Rachel. And it did, but only on the outside and not permanently. A couple hundred dollars worth of premium hair, another couple hundred on a celebrity hairstylist’s install of said hair, a couple thousand on a rack full of clothes that Rachel’s expected to wear to her 8 a.m. Biology class, complete with pointy toe heels and a couple of strokes of the make-up brush to make sure Rachel’s looks were beautified enough for a photo in Ebony’s Power 100 Issue--sounds like a deal, but it’s not. Instead of updating us on Rachel’s well-being since she took the stand as the star witness on a case that had us all frozen, Ebony and theGrio has offered us an image of Rachel they think we’d like to see better.
According to theGrio, “Rachel will need fabulous, sensible ensembles for the expanded possibilities ahead.” I can’t help but feel that this is just so shallow. “Rachel’s glam team gave her the works — new hair extensions, a manicure, and stellar make-up. The beauty artists worked diligently while keeping her underlying style her own.” But what happens when the extensions need to come out, the make-up washes off and the manicure gets chipped and Rachel can’t keep up with her new glamorous look?
This is the almost the same debate that opened up when golden girl, Gabby Douglas won gold medals in both the individual and team all-around competitions in the 2012 Summer Olympics and almost everyone criticized her hair–which was pulled back just like her teammates. And a different major Black women’s magazine got a hold of her, sewed long tresses into her own criticized hair and gave her a makeover. Society always wants Black girls to look like what they’re comfortable with, therefore altering their image to make it “better” and more digestible for an audience, but never tackling the deeper issue of why that image needs to be made over in the first place.
Ebony reinforced what society thought about Rachel Jeantel. When we watched her give her testimony in one of the biggest trials of the year this past summer, it disgusted me that instead showing her the support she needed, the world wanted to tear her apart. Not only did the public shun her and ridicule her image–calling her Jabba The Hutt and making up all kinds of fat jokes that played out on social media in memes and retweets; Rachel’s credibility was also challenged by the jury either because of her diction, her demeanor on the stand or her lack of knowledge of current events because she didn’t watch the news.
Instead of a monumental moment in the trial, Rachel–the star witness–became the butt of a joke society would have rather pointed and laughed at than take a serious moment and acknowledge that she is a part of America that they’d rather pretend not existed. Rachel was and is brave and I’ve become endeared to the soft-spoken teen, despite the cruel jokes Twitter’s biggest keyboard thugs wanted to spew. I remember when Rachel was visibly upset and responded to Defense attorney Don West’s suggestion that Trayvon attacked George Zimmerman and she reacted, saying, “That’s retarded, sir.” What the world seemed to have forgotten was that Rachel’s a teenager and being on the stand in the court of law is a challenge for anyone, but what if your testimony determined whether or not a man who was responsible for killing someone you loved walked free or served time?
Now that some time has passed and Rachel’s beginning to move on from her sad induction into being a public figure, Ebony and theGrio’s makeover only wraps Rachel in a pretty package that won’t last. Rachel was very excited about her new look, though. “I’m blessed. That’s the truth,” Rachel said of the makeover and her ongoing evolution. “Everybody wants to be in my shoes right now. But for me, I’m taking this opportunity, and I’m hitting it hard.”
Appearance for women, especially those of color, has always been a hot button topic. Whether it be Black women wearing their natural hair in the workplace, Blue Ivy rocking her baby curls freely or ambitious and stylish women entrepreneurs rocking their highest stilettos at a tech conference, we’re always judged with a harsher standard that men. Steve Jobs wore a mock turtleneck and mom jeans throughout most of his career and no one said boo. Mark Zuckerberg goes to billion dollar meetings in a hoodie and jeans and I know that he’s one the creators of Facebook; but if he were a woman, there’d be countless blogs and hashtags dedicated to critiquing her fashion choices, or lack thereof.
I know that a woman’s self-esteem is a direct reflection in how she feels about herself, and when we look good, we feel even better. So a makeover isn’t what I am mad at, in fact, more power to them for making Rachel feel beautiful. But no one has ever offered Zuckerberg a makeover, and he could afford to keep it up way longer than Rachel could.
These glamorous shots of Rachel appear in the December/January Power 100 issue of Ebony magazine and it’s actually a beautiful display of Rachel’s unconventional beauty and maturity towards being a young woman. Ebony has always thought Rachel was “gorgeous,” but maybe they also thought giving her a makeover would make her forget about all the negative criticisms she faced during one of the most important moments of her young life.
What about speech classes, since Rachel’s speech was a major issue for her critics? What about teaching her cursive, since she admitted that she can’t read it? What about a mentor for her upcoming entrance into college? Ebony magazine and theGrio are both respected publications that could offer Rachel an internship as a means of nurturing the young woman through college and career prep, thus expanding her growth, instead of giving her a temporary solution to society’s problem with her.
Do you think Rachel needed a makeover? Let’s chat @Rhapsodani.
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