Destroying POC’s Confidence: Western Beauty Standards

Riya Bathina, Staff Writer

How we present ourselves is a massive portion of our lives. We can choose to present feminine, masculine, or gender-neutral: we have that choice. Imagine that choice being stolen from you as soon as you were born because of something you could not control. Imagine being hypersexualized, fetishized, and masculinized just because you are a person of color. Unfortunately, that is the problem many people of color face every day. This is depicted through magazines. POC (persons of color) have been heavily underrepresented in magazines and magazine covers. With poor representation, incorrect and damaging depictions of POC are common. The Minnesota State University states, “90 percent of the magazine covers with women of color had hypersexual images, contextual cues, and content. The percentage of magazine covers with women of color with ethnic traits masked by whiteness was also 90%. Twelve magazine covers of the 52, displayed images of WOC (women of color) portraying objectifying attributes.” It is hard to imagine why women of color are being portrayed like this without understanding beauty standards.

White men have held power in history, picking and choosing what is attractive and what is not. With the outlook of the colonizer, the appearance of colonized people (POC) is unattractive and abnormal. So for years, beauty standards have been Eurocentric and based on white features. Appearance is highly valued in western society and how attractive one is can determine social standing and available opportunities given to them. First Rand explains, Economists Markus Mobius and Tanya Rosenblat proved in 1994 that the “labor market sorts the best-looking people into occupations where their looks are productive.” In 2006, a Harvard University study found that: physically attractive workers are more confident, and higher confidence increases wages; for a given level of confidence, physically beautiful workers are (wrongly) considered by employers to be more able, finally controlling for worker confidence, physically attractive workers have communication and social skills that raise their wages. The pretty privilege extends into professions that have nothing to do with how a person look. ‘Hot’ economics professors, designated by the number of chili peppers awarded on, earn 6 percent  more than members of their departments who are perceived to be ‘less hot.” Pretty privilege is something that, unfortunately, dictates how a lot of us are treated, and as our society highly values our appearance, it is something you may value highly. Thus, it is familiar for people to analyze their appearance and criticize themselves heavily, but low confidence clearly emerges from negative comments towards oneself. With beauty standards controlling self-confidence everywhere that reflect the appearance of a colossal amount of people of color, we start to see the affected mental health of many people of color.

How exactly do beauty standards apply to Eurocentric features? The International Socioeconomic Society states, “Western beauty ideals include being thin and tall, having long hair, having light/tanned skin, having big breasts, large eyes, a small nose, and high cheekbones.” Unfortunately, a majority of POC have ethnic features that go against these ideals. One example is body hair; our hair is also darker because of melanin in POC’s skin tone. That causes the body hair to be far more prominent, and when beauty standards are generally negative towards body hair, people of color face far more stigma and often resort to to shaving and removing body hair. Junior Evanka Singh states, “People always stereotype Indian people as being hairy, and they pretend to normalize body hair, but the media always shames Indian people for having body hair.” When a marginalized community is stereotyped in a specific way that is generally viewed negatively (like having excessive body hair), a whole minority groups beauty is seen as limited. The problem with unachievable standards being a paramount concern for society is that the media then broadcasts these unreasonable ideals to an impressionable audience. With the media, the reach of magazines and the news is so rapid that an already influenced society believes that they must adhere to the standards set for them.

Here in America, standards change quickly, and with social media in the mix, we have seen trends come and go. A movement that peaked due to the Kardashians influence on body alterations is a BBL. A BBL is a Brazilian butt lift (plastic surgery) that makes a body curvy. While embracing more voluptuous body types is excellent, it is hard to justify its popularity when considering what race the trend is based on. The Washington Post says, “The embodiment of this celebration of the racial mixture was a new national symbol for Brazilians to embrace: a hyper-sexualized mixed-race Black woman known as the mulata. The mixed-race woman, or the White fantasy of her, became both the embodiment of the new national myth and the sexual and reproductive mechanism for race-mixing that would whiten the population by reducing or diluting the Black population.”

When a widespread beauty alteration is based on a marginalized community harassed for centuries because of their body, problematic notions tend to arise. The question is, why is it that POC features are only attractive when white people sport them? The dilution of black culture is another example of Eurocentric standards erasing minorities’ cultures. Although people of color’s features may be deemed attractive at some point in time, racism rears its ugly head when we see the outlook of many influencers when wearing features of people of color. An example is the notorious ‘clean girl’ aesthetic, popularized because of TikTok.

One of the elements of the clean girl aesthetic is the application of slick oil to hair, as it is seen as fashionable and put together. Singh continues, “When I was younger, I put oil in my hair [because many South Asians have thick hair, and oiling it is a common cultural practice], and I was always ostracized for it. But now that it is super cool and trendy, it sets these double standards and is very hypocritical. And it pushes those  ideals that it is okay if you are a white person with POC features rather than just a POC with those same features.” Another common problem people of color face when looking to enhance their beauty is makeup companies and their lack of shade range. Madison March, an established beauty editor, says, “As a Black woman, it can be a pain to find complexion products that actually match my skin tone. When I am swatching new products, it can often feel like shades are either too light, too dark, or the wrong undertone. And even when I find the right shade, the formula might not even match my preferences. But the problem is bigger than a couple of missing shades. The beauty world’s complexion crisis is multifaceted and shows that the industry has a long way to go before it can truly be the paragon of diversity and inclusivity it too often portrays itself as.” This paragraph depicts the difficulties many darker-toned people go through when trying to buy makeup. Junior Logan Burbank states, “We are not good at having darker shades for darker customers. You have to buy a lot of skincare or makeup products to get the darkest shade online.” Beauty companies refusing to adhere to darker skin is another example of beauty standards stopping people of color from expressing their identity and feeling good about their appearance.

Although beauty standards worldwide are generally based on people of European descent, it is crucial to analyze foreign beauty standards. In Asia, skin tone is a standard heavily set for how dark someone’s skin is. With a heavier emphasis on light skin in Asia, it is essential to see how the population does not reflect the standards. Most Asian inhabitants are darker than the standards imposed on them, leading to a market of desperate customers searching to lighten their skin. CISION states, “Amid the COVID-19 crisis, the global market for Skin Lighteners, estimated at US$8.8 Billion in the year 2022, is projected to reach a revised size of US$11.8 Billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 6.6% over the analysis period. Creams, one of the segments analyzed in the report, is projected to grow at a 7% CAGR to reach US$6.5 Billion by the end of the analysis period.” With such a lucrative business only bound to advance, the heavy influence of Eurocentric standards is apparent. The dark truth about skin-lightening products is their health hazard. CISION continues, “Skin lightening soaps with mercury salts prevent melanin formation, thereby leading to a lighter skin tone… Mercury has been associated with several harmful effects on the human body, with kidney damage being the major adverse event of using mercury-based cosmetic products. Scarring, discoloration, rashes, and reduced resistance on the skin are some of the adverse outcomes that may emerge from using mercury-based skin lightening creams.” When civilians are willing to endanger themselves with mercury poisoning to achieve impossible beauty standards, it is hard to justify having those expectations in the first place. Freshman Ava Datta states, “Media coverage of racist beauty standards is dangerous as the outreach can damage a lot of young audiences. With skin lightening/tanning creams, advertising and lack consideration for POCs when designing products excludes people of color.” Many people interviewed insisted that diversity for POC models is the answer, which is agreeable. Although diversity is crucial, diversity itself must be accurate and non-harmful. As we have seen on magazine covers with women of color, their culture is mixed with hyper sexualization mocking cultures and simultaneously fetishizing those very models’ ethnic’ features.

People of color have been severely underappreciated and disadvantaged when viewing beauty standards. With more information about how minorities are associated with low socioeconomic status, it is essential to invoke change to reverse the standards set thousands of years ago. Senior Anish Bhamidipati says, “I feel in the United States we have the most diverse population, so our brands have to cater to different types of people, which has not been happening.” Acknowledging diversity in the United States is essential as the population is just waiting to be represented and served. Foreign beauty seeping into American beauty brands is also a sign of change. Sophomore Dain Kim adds, “I regularly buy Korean beauty, and seeing it on the shelves at Sephora is something I can appreciate!” Slowly with change, beauty standards may start to break down. People of color are beautiful, and racist beauty standards convince them they are not. So it is time to change.