Originally published in Redbrick (redbrickpaper.co.uk)
When it comes to beauty, it’s easy to say there are imposed truths that are expected to be accepted universally. It’s no secret that the people we see on magazine covers and in films do not offer a fair representation of the races in the world.
Academically speaking, we would call these standards of beauty ‘Eurocentric’ (a point of view that suggests the superiority of European culture, says Wiki.)
It would seem that the media believe there are certain physical attributes that make a person more beautiful – and these are all characteristics of white people. Certain body proportions, particular hair types, tall frames, certain face shapes, lip shapes…the list is endless. Examples of these standards are stacking higher and higher.
‘Good Hair’ is a protest in documentary form, led by comedian Chris Rock. He, on behalf of his young daughters (“Why don’t I have good hair, Daddy?” Lola Simone Rock, 7), investigates the lengths many black women go to in order to ‘relax’ their natural hair. “It’s not good hair!”, one woman said of the afro-texture, and we can watch the industrial sized tubs of chemical relaxer strip the hair of its natural protein in order to create straighter styles. More than once the idea of Caucasian (or Asian, as is used in most of the weaves) hair being more desirable is mentioned.
‘Bleach, Nip, Tuck: The White Beauty Myth’ is a much more explicit and invasive illustration that confronts the ideas of ‘White beauty’. A young girl cries as she tries to explain why her Mother, of Indian heritage, does not need paler skin. Her Mother is currently on a mission to find the best (illegal) bleaching creams so that she does not get teased for her darker, “less attractive” skin.
Is it true that we are bombarded with images of idealistic ‘white beauty’? There was a recent controversy concerning Elle US, who were accused of lightening Gabby Sidibe’s skin on the cover of their 25th anniversary issue. They commented that she was touched up no more, no less than their other cover stars – but it’s easy to see why questions of her complexion were raised when a regular image of Gabby is held up as comparison.
If these staggering ideas are imposed on us, as suggested, how can we develop our own individual ideas of beauty, or use the cultural features we were born with as true yardsticks for physical appearance? Individuality, particularly physical features that were given to us by our ancestors, needs to be celebrated. Some corporations, such as Miss Ghana UK, should be highlighted as examples of recognizing and embracing beauty that is not often seen in the media. Their application form exclaims: “Completing this application form will be the beginning of a life changing journey that will expose you to the riches of our culture. We hope this will be one of the most memorable experiences of your life!”
It’s time people were allowed to feel comfortable in their own skin.