Eurocentric Beauty Backlash
By Catherine Van Weele
Body image is something that most women struggle with, but women of color are especially vulnerable due to Eurocentric beauty standards that have been embedded into American culture. The media instills a belief that in order to be beautiful, one must have a slim nose, big eyes, a lean fit body, and light skin. Or, in other words, Caucasian.
These ideals are subtly integrated into many aspects of our daily lives. Perhaps, you may have noticed that the ‘ugly’ Snapchat filters are the ones that make your nose wide or eyes small, while the ‘pretty’ filters slim the nose and face altogether as well as lighten the skin. Many have defended Snapchat stating this claim is a stretch, but there are still many people who feel that the Snapchat filters are promoting Eurocentric values.
“I think [eurocentrism] is what people think of beautiful, especially in media. It’s like cute white girl, skinny white girl,” said senior Priana Aquino. “I think a lot of kids perceive themselves as ugly just because they aren’t white.”
Features associated with Caucasian people tend hold a greater tangible value in society as they are often the ones to receive compliments on their physical features.
“It is very common to see someone with blue eyes and be like ‘oh my gosh, your eyes are so pretty’ and that never happens when you have brown eyes,” senior Alanis Galdamez said.
Social media has also become a major influencer of our perceptions of beauty. The rise of digitally editing photographs makes our expectations of beauty even more unattainable. We are constantly bombarded with images proclaiming they represent ideal beauty.
“Especially on Instagram and on the explore page, certain girls who are considered models [or public figures] that have the most followers are mostly white,” Aquino observed. “That may just be something that I’m seeing, but I think that if you are attractive and white, there are more opportunities out there for you.”
So many minor aspects of American life are catered specifically to Eurocentrism. When searching for beauty ideas online, the results are overwhelmingly targeted toward a white audience. If you use Google images and search for ideas for tattoos, makeup, or hairstyles, nearly all the images display white people. Although recently, Pinterest has added a new feature which allows for users to filter results by four different skin tone ranges for beauty ideas. This a major step for media outlets making their products more inclusive.
Makeup companies in particular have been criticized for failing to adequately provide women of color with foundations and concealers that match their skin tone. Several ads and magazines have faced criticism for whitewashing their models by digitally editing the images to lighten the model’s skin color. In the US and other countries, women are encouraged to bleach their skin. This act is not an equivalent to tanning. When white people tan, they are aiming for a glowing appeal, showing they’re outdoorsy or athletic. Women of color feel the need to lighten their skin to feel accepted in a society that looks down on people who have darker skin tones.
“I’ve definitely been proud of my skin color in that I am darker than a lot of my family, but there is definitely a bit of want to have lighter skin,” said Aquino. “ In the media in the Philippines, they’re definitely all lighter-skinned, which I’ve never really seen when walking around the Philippines, so I think that's an extension of Eurocentric beauty standards.”
Women of color may feel self-conscious about more than just the skin tones. Women and people of color are criticized for having big lips, small eyes, and larger body types, among other features.
“My nose is abnormally big in the eyes of society. Specifically with Eurocentric standards, there is one type of nose you can have, one set of eyes you can have and I think it’s stupid,” Aquino said.
The desire to have big eyes is especially prominent in East Asia, where double eyelid surgery is becoming more common. Most notably, as a young reporter for a local news outlet in Dayton, Ohio, Julie Chen was told by her boss that she would never be able to be a news anchor because her monolid eyes made her look ‘disinterested’ and ‘bored’ during interviews.
For the African American community, there is a long history of scrutiny and even discrimination against black women for wearing their natural hair. There is a pressure to have straight, sleek hair to adhere to the Eurocentric standards.
“When I was younger I hated my hair, how long it took to style or how it looks out in its afro. When all you see is straight hair, it’s like what’s wrong with mine, why doesn't mine look like that?” said senior Bernie Michel. “It’s just hard because you want to look like everyone else, but you have to realize it makes you more special, it makes you fun, you can do more with it. That's why I feel representation for black girls is so important, especially when it comes to hair.”
Having a strong presence of diversity within the modeling and makeup industry and other forms of media would reduce the glorification of Eurocentric standards of beauty. However, presenting people of color is not enough. There needs to be diversity behind the scenes, or cultural understandings at the very least. Many models of color recall incidents in which hair stylists were inept in styling black hair or photographers who were not proficient with correctly exposing models of darker skin color, particularly when photographed next to a Caucasian model. By creating a diverse presence behind the camera, women of color enabled to better project their beauty in an authentic manner to the world.
“I think the best way to confront Eurocentric beauty standards’ prominence in media is by continuing to provide opportunities to people of color, to continue to showcase them and include them in roles and spots that should be available to them,” Aquino suggests. “I think the more we incorporate that into media, the more we make it more mainstream and accessible to everyone.”
Despite many recent efforts by the modeling and makeup industry, there is still failure to recognize genuine diversity. Models of color often have Eurocentric features with just darker skin; a white girl dipped in chocolate. More work needs to be done to truly embody diversity within diversity. Women of color have a features unique to them that need to be embraced in the mainstream media.
“I feel like they’re trying to incorporate more women of color into beauty, but I feel like they pick a certain woman of color,” said Michel. “I think it's super important for the beauty community to realize that there’s so many different types of black women, of Asian women, Hispanics; you can’t just pick the Eva Longoria of the Hispanic community because it's not fair to the people who don’t look like Eva Longoria.”
Representation is the solution to eroding these needless Eurocentric standards of beauty and to promote authentic beauty of women of color. It will allow women of color to lovingly embrace their own beauty and set an example to the younger generations of what genuine beauty looks like.