After 33 seasons over the course of 15 years, ABC has finally decided the world is ready to meet its first black Bachelorette contestant. News broke earlier in the day on Feb. 13 that Rachel Lindsay would be The Bachelorette's first black woman lead contestant, and it's about damn time. Confirmed later Monday evening on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, host Chris Harrison dubbed the reveal the "most dramatic" one yet. Rachel is a smart, talented, and beautiful 31-year-old attorney from Texas who has officially made history on the long-standing show as its first ever person of color to ever be its Bachelor or Bachelorette. Throughout its tenure on TV, and despite its overwhelming popularity, both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette have openly lacked diversity, primarily focusing on white men and white women finding love. Even though many scoff at the show as "just a dating show" with no real implications for the the day-to-day lives of black women in this country and our strife, I think ABC casting a black woman as The Bachelorette is making a statement about the definition of beauty, relationships, and where black women fit in all of it all — especially on primetime TV.
If you don't watch (and frankly, even if you do), The Bachelorette is essentially a modern game show that places a woman — one who, until last night, fits neatly into the acceptable American beauty standard — at the center of the attention of 30 available, desirable men. Since the show's first season, The Bachelorette has always served as the pinnacle of feminine beauty. Women on the show are beautiful and worthy of lifetime commitment — so long as they are white, or so it seemed. By not casting a woman of color as its lead (whether on purpose, for ratings, or from a lack of inclusive oversight), the show has — inadvertently — reinforced the wrong message that though they are attractive and worthy of airtime through a few one-on-one dates, black women do not fit into those categories, and beyond that, black women do not deserve the chance to be The One other people desperately want to love.
The lack of representation of people of color as Bachelors and Bachelorettes on the show upholds the race-driven ideology — whether blatantly or inferred — that black women and black men are not beautiful, desirable, or worthy of lifetime commitment.
I spent countless days wishing my hair was straighter, my skin was lighter, and my lips were thinner. I distinctly remember the choice to have lip reduction surgery when I was old enough to pay for it. My own standard of beauty for what I thought made me beautiful was heavily shaped by what I saw on television, in the media, in advertisements — and none of those images portrayed a black woman.
For decades, the beauty of black women in this country has been a point of contention and debate — and ironically, those conversations have taken place most often without any inclusion from those in the black community. From the way our hair kinks to the shape of our lips, the nuanced features that make us as people beautiful are also the exact features we're torn down for. Black women are told to straighten our hair, to look more white, to be less angry, to fit in more, to assimilate ourselves into the fissures of the white experience.
Last February, Aamito Lagum, the black model featured on MAC Cosmetics' Instagram page was ripped to shreds, trolled, and torn down for the size of her lips. Racist comments spewed hate all over the social media page until MAC eventually removed the photo. As a young girl growing into my skin, color, and womanhood, I spent countless days wishing my hair was straighter, my skin was lighter, and my lips were thinner. I distinctly remember the choice to have lip reduction surgery when I was old enough to pay for it. My own standard of beauty for what I thought made me beautiful was heavily shaped by what I saw on television, in the media, in advertisements — and none of those images portrayed a black woman.
Love is love is love is love, and it doesn't matter what color you are.
Though The Bachelorette's appointment of a successful, career-oriented, smart, and beautiful black woman as the core of its upcoming season does not serve as the end all, be all of diversity, it does mark a long overdue shift that signifies we're on the road to doing and being better. In a statement by Robert Mills, the Senior VP of Alternative Series, Specials, and Late-Night Programming for ABC entertainment, said:
We’re thrilled to have Rachel Lindsay as our next Bachelorette. This coveted role is always reserved for a fan-favorite from the previous season, and Rachel is no exception and has been the fans’ choice since she exited the limo. She is an accomplished, confident and beautiful woman who knows what she wants in life. We all look forward to joining her on the joyous journey as she looks for that one special man.
Rachel is an everyday black woman who, in a few short months, will take over our TVs and be the woman in the spotlight. Every man on the show will be vying for her attention. It will be all Rachel, all the time. And though I'm sure she already realizes it (as does ABC), Rachel is once again helping change and shift the standard for where black women and our beauty belong in mainstream media. We are not a monolith built upon negative stereotypes and our beauty is not negotiable. A woman like Rachel has every right to hunt for love the way white men and women have over the course of 33 seasons. We don't deserve to be ushered to the sidelines of an experience that transcends all races, all creeds, all beauty, all beliefs. Love is love is love is love, and it doesn't matter what color you are.
This cycle of The Bachelorette will continue to change the stale, outdated, and out-of-touch beauty standards that limit non-white people in this country, and I can't wait to cheer Rachel on as she looks for love.