By Raviya Singh
Women of colour have been continually told their features always fall short of society’s Eurocentric expectations, and they have learned to reject themselves for not fitting into society’s restricted and colonial definition of beauty. Amidst this constant onslaught of disparaging messages, and the harmful effects they can have on young girls of colour, empowering them and teaching them self-love is a revolutionary act.
Pre-Colonial vs. Post-Colonial Standards
Beauty standards have always been around because, throughout history, humanity has favoured beauty and privilege, but these standards differ in many ways from current, post-colonial standards of beauty. Whilst studying pre-colonial standards of beauty, it becomes obvious that they were not based on race – since race is a Western concept introduced by the Europeans – most pre-colonial standards were instead based on class and privilege.
Poor farmers and peasants who toiled and worked generally had a darker complexion because they worked under the sun, meanwhile wealthy, royal families did not labour in the sun unlike their impoverished counterparts, and thus had a fairer skin complexion which became a status of class and affluence. Additionally, weight was also an indicator of luxury, and women of a larger size were deemed far more attractive because this signified wealth and economic stability.
Post-colonial standards, however, are comparatively different. While pre-colonial colourism was based solely on social and economic circumstances, the Europeans indoctrinated non-European societies with destructive racial ideologies and concepts. Although colourism was present in Asian and African countries before colonialism, it became far more pervasive as a result of colonialism, and was instead based on the concept of race due to the spread of white supremacist ideology.
The Global Impact
Colonialist attitudes that have been instilled within so many non-European countries have had detrimental effects, and they have harmfully manifested within communities of colour. Consequently, people of colour – especially women of colour – feel compelled to meet and uphold these Eurocentric standards.
A senior at Cardinal Leger S.S, Martina Gordon weighed in on this issue and addressed her own struggles:
“Eurocentric beauty standards have degraded my self-esteem since they’re always being praised and regarded as ‘the ultimate beauty standard.’ Being black, this makes it harder for you to accept your features in a society that is constantly telling you that your features are ‘ugly,’ Gordon stated.
Countless Asian, African and South American countries perpetuate and promote the idea that fairer skin is more desirable, appealing and beautiful. The media also favours women of fairer complexions, which sends out a message to young girls of colour that do not meet these standards that they are not beautiful enough.
Bleaching one’s skin is a practice that is normalized and encouraged in countless countries, and various products are sold and advertised that specifically target darker skinned girls. However, along with skin colour, there are many other features that young girls are shamed for, such as their dark body hair, their “large” noses – essentially all their non-Eurocentric features.
Ethnic Communities and Beauty Standards
Although the media plays a huge role in setting unattainable beauty standards for women, covert messages about such standards are continually perpetuated within ethnic communities. Growing up, girls are told to stay out of the sun so they won’t get dark; they are told they need to shave their body hair. Constantly being bombarded with such messages makes them think they are not beautiful enough, pale enough or thin enough. If our own communities and families do not empower and uplift young girls, how are they to love and accept themselves?
Another Grade 12 student, Mikka Natividad shared her own experience, “Many Filipinos obsess over having pale skin, like many other Asian countries, so when my mom would fuss that I got a tan, it made me feel insecure – meanwhile white people get spray tans or lather themselves in oil at the beach to get darker.”
Empowerment and Self-Love
Abeeha Faheem, a 17 year old student commented, “It’s important that the empowering and accepting stage has to come from within the community itself. We need positive role models that teach young girls from a very young age that the only standard of beauty there should be is the one you make for yourself, and it shouldn’t be influenced by society or other individuals.”
We all must empower and uplift young women of colour, to teach them self-love in a society that constantly invalidates their beauty and cultivates insecurities. Only through small efforts can toxic beauty standards be dismantled and shattered, and only through empowerment on a small level can changes escalate to a larger scale. – CINEWS