On race and beauty

// 11 August 2008

In this really moving exploration of why she is so hurt and angry at her (black, male) best friend’s insistence on dating white girls, Latoya Peterson at Racialicious, talks about how black women experience beauty standards differently than white women:

In discussions of beauty – particularly those on women centered blogs – white women can understand being held up to an unrealistic standard of beauty. To be impossibly thin, impossibly blonde, impossibly clear skinned, with a body that defies the law of physics is presented as something that is attainable if you try hard enough and buy the right products, though many women find these efforts to be futile. What most of these conversations do not understand is that when black women pick up these kinds of magazines, or watch advertisements on TV, or popular television shows with popular white actresses, we do not get the message “try harder.”

The message we receive is never.

You will never look like this. Not if you straighten your hair, or lose weight, or work out every single day, or have the perfect body and the perfect wardrobe to match. Even if you fit all those requirements, you’re still “pretty for a black girl.” And if, for some reason, you do not fit these requirements, if your hair is frizzy or curly or kinky, if your thighs and ass will always keep your size in the double digits, if your features are not keen, if your skin tone is too deep, then there are many people who will never consider you beautiful.

Hat tip to Shapely Prose

Comments From You

Sabre // Posted 12 August 2008 at 3:27 pm

Interesting article. Many of my friends are in interracial cross-cultural or interreligious (is that a word?!) couples, as I am. We all grapple with issues such as this at some point.

Once I asked my (white english) friend if he had a ‘type’. He said he didn’t but looking at his past and current girlfriends he clearly likes to date brown asian women. Another friend clearly prefers oriental asian women baed on similar evidence. But friend 1 also said (and this pains me) that he never found black women attractive. Rather than stemming from racism I really think this is because black women just aren’t generally shown as beautiful as much as other women. Perhaps he hasn’t been ‘trained’ by society to think of them that way. Beautiful white women are ubiquitous in Western cultures, and beautiful Asian women (including oriental) are occasionally seen but also have that wonderful submissive and docile stereotype attached – bonus points! (note sarcasm) Black women are almost invisible by comparison, in the beauty stakes.

The few black women who are considered to be attractive usually have caucasian features, straight hair and/or light skin, apart from Alek Wek (Stunning! I’m not black but I love that her nose is more similar to mine than any other model around). Asian women too are considered more beautiful the lighter-skinned they are, take a look at the most popular Bollywood stars! Not the men of course; they can get away with being darker. So even if you’re not white, the whiter you look the prettier you are generally considered to be! (I realise there are other cultural reasons and it’s not always just about emulating whiteness, but it still feeds into the notion of white being the most beautiful)

Of course it would be easy to say that beauty doesn’t matter, but it does. Humans make instant judgements based on looks. What’s considered beautiful depends on so many things and many people have personal preferences or a ‘type’. I guess the problem is when (in a population) these preferences are so biased towards or away from one group of people that underlying prejudices are probably to blame.

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