The Beast of Beauty
Updated: Nov 24, 2019
When do you feel most beautiful? What makes you feel that way? What about when you find other people beautiful - what makes up that decision? What aspects of a person go into defining them as beautiful in your mind? What tends to make up most people's idea of beauty are the same set of western white-centered beauty standards where light equals good, dark equals bad, women are expected to be stick thin, and men are required to look like a walking Ken doll with a package that even grandma would be impressed by. The last half century has proved fruitful for diversifying beauty movements such as the "Black is Beautiful" movement and the natural hair movement. It was this topic that caught my attention in an NPR article entitled "Is Beauty in the Eyes of the Colonizer?" The question posed was "'Besides the natural hair movement, what other ways have women of color gone to decolonize their beauty routine?'"
Before we get too far in, white people: yes, you are the colonizer in this situation (and all situations, honestly).
From the NPR article: "That association between beauty and whiteness has proved hard to shake. There's a reason that so many people still think of an 'all-American beauty' as a thin, blonde, blue-eyed white woman. It wasn't until 1940 that the rules were changed to allow women of color to enter the Miss American pageant. Before that, the official rules stated that contestants had to be 'of good health and of the white race.'" I'll take it one step further and just remind everyone that eugenics are a thing and Hitler's idea of an ideal human race was a whole race of blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white men and women. This idea of what it means to be beautiful is a long-standing misnomer in western society while also having influence on the global relationship with beauty.
THIS MAKES ME ANXIOUS BECAUSE...
Do I need to explain it? This makes me anxious because it's just plain fucked up. The most beautiful thing about beauty is that there isn't really one definition. It's a concept that is easily shapeshiftable, or at least it should be. One would say that I fit this traditional view of beauty: blonde hair, fair skin, blue eyes, thin. But even though I fit this mold, there are still scores of things that would keep me from being in this category of ideal beauty ("thin" but beefy because of muscle, blonde hair but not the perpetually desired bleach blonde, etc.). When thinking of how someone like me stacks up to traditional beauty, I'll always fall short, even though I appear to fit this mold. Now, I'm perfectly okay with that, and don't get it twisted, I'm beautiful as hell, but that's by my own definition; which has naturally been shaped by the standards of beauty we have been working from for the last almost 100 years. For our black and brown brothers and sisters, it's a completely different set of issues. Issues that I'm not completely positive I have authority to talk about, so I'll refrain. But please feel free to start a conversation on this post to talk about it!
WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP?
The work required to change all of these made-up standards has to begin and end with YOU. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then it's time for each of us to own our shit and consciously make mental shifts and changes.
Accept that you don't need to change: From the NPR article: "When we're talking about personal beauty, having a beauty routine at all means that you are, consciously or unconsciously, accepting the idea that you need to change. The way your hair falls or the shininess of your skin or the curl of your eyelashes - it will be more beautiful if you spend time and money to make it different." This isn't always something that can be easily done. Accepting that you truly are beautiful just the way you are is a very difficult thing to do, especially living in a society that's governed by these "rules." Write some affirmations on your mirror so that the first thing you see in the morning is Hello, beautiful! or something to that effect; go makeup free for a week just to see how you feel. These tiny little changes can add up to a profound impact.
Be intentional about what products you're using: Since it's Black History Month, I first want to encourage everyone to purchase black-owned beauty products! #reparations Once you've done this, take a look at what kinds of products you are using currently. How are they marketing themselves? Who is represented in their advertisements? Are these products encouraging you to change yourself, or be yourself?
TALK about it: Ingrained systemic beasts like the idea of "beauty" can only be cracked if we all work together. The first step toward dismantling anything is talking about it! We have been made to believe that there is only one way to be beautiful. Now we need to be the ones to change that. Having open, vulnerable conversations with people that are different from you is an excellent place to start.
Let's all continue talking about this. My white perspective on this isn't going to do much to move the needle on the issue. We need all voices. We need all people. We need to work together.