The Problem With Beauty Standards
Beauty Standards are Rooted in Whiteness
If you are white, you may be blind to the concept of whiteness. Sure you identify as white, but white and whiteness are two different things. “White” can be described as the color of your skin, whereas “whiteness” is: “the privileges/power that people who appear ‘white’ receive, because they are not subjected to the racism faced by people of colour and Indigenous people.” Whiteness is all around us, yet it may not be apparent to those with the privilege that comes along with being white. Whiteness is the concept that controls everything. As Sara Ahmed explained in her piece, The Phenomenology of Whiteness: “Whiteness is lived as a background to experience.” In other words, whiteness is always lingering no matter what experience one may have. If you take a second to think about certain standards that occur in society or certain experiences you personally had, they can all be related back to whiteness. When you are white, you understand everything in relation to you because whiteness is the norm. On the other hand, as a person of color, you see yourself as in relation to white people. White people have the privilege of doing whatever they want and getting away with it because society is situated around whiteness.
In our society, being beautiful is being white and everything in the beauty industry caters to white people. If one goes into a drugstore as a person of color, they might not be able to find a foundation color to match their skin because the selection is small. Meanwhile, there are 20 different shades for white people. If a black girl wanted to find hair products that would suit her hair type, she would have to go to the section labelled “ethnic hair care” which is separated from all the other “normal” hair products. White people don’t realize this because they can easily go into a store and find what they need, but for other races it isn’t as easy to obtain products that they need.
The reason it is difficult to find beauty items for people of color is because the standards of beauty are discriminatory to anyone who isn’t white. Any face that represents anything relating to beauty is white, and if there is a person of color representing a certain beauty product they often are light skinned. This brings up the problem of colorism. People of color are always deemed not beautiful, but if a person of color is mixed with white they are said to be more beautiful than those who aren’t mixed. So, this conditions people of color feel that if their skin is lighter than they will be beautiful. The closer to being white a person is, the more beautiful they are. This results in white people being surprised if a non-white person happens to be called attractive or beautiful.
This statement is often said to many people of color. When white people say this, they say it based on the assumption that people of color can’t be pretty. They think that (insert POC of choice here) are always ugly and that it is strange when they find them pretty. Because whiteness is the structure of beauty, white people (and others) internalize it without really realizing it. So when white people say something like this, they are acting based on societal norms that whiteness has ultimately created, and most white people will never realize this.
Sara Ahmed also claims that “Bodies stand out when they are out of place. Such standing re-confirms the whiteness of the space.” The space of the beauty world allows for the domination of whiteness which can call out the differences of non-white people. When people of color enter this world of beauty and realize that it is difficult for them to navigate, it is very apparent that this space is only for white people. In order for this space of whiteness (or any space of whiteness) to be combatted, it is important to identify this phenomenon. Strategic essentialism, a method that strategically utilizes categories which essentialize people into a concept in order to expose the inequalities that are embedded among categories in general, is beneficial in calling attention to whiteness. By studying whiteness the way blackness is studied in history classes and portraying whiteness in the same ways that blackness is portrayed, we can then call out the problems with whiteness through strategic essentialism. Through this, beauty standards have a chance at being redefined.