As the US has grown to be one of the most powerful countries, our society’s standards of “beauty” have been thrust into other parts of the world through globalization. What I mean is that Eurocentric beauty standards — or a focus on European (or Caucasian) culture — has been elevated around the world as ideal. Granted, the US is not the only culprit in this; it is very much a Western problem in general. After all, the term is EUROcentric.
However, due to events like the widespread colonialism of the 1800s, the European societal norms have lingered in other societies and have taken away from different cultures’ own values of beauty. When you walk down the streets of Milan, London, Paris, or New York City, you see billboards featuring the typical tall, slender, Caucasian model. Who knew that this would spread to cities such as Tokyo, Kathmandu, and Beirut? From India to China, Caucasian or Caucasian-featured models are beginning to dominate the modeling industry for the high-end brands.
In China and other parts of Asia, women use skin-whitening cream and walk around with umbrellas on sunny days to keep themselves as close to white as possible. Also, in many East Asian countries, a surgery to give women “double eyelids” has become a popular practice, taking away from their own natural, cultural beauty to make them meet the standards of white beauty. In Lebanon, 1 in 3 women will endeavor in some kind of plastic surgery. In India, light-skinned women are considered more attractive than dark-skinned women. Japan even invented a tool to thin one’s nose without the hassle of surgery.
This doesn’t even take into account women of color in the US. The “Black is Beautiful” campaign was started not only to fight racism, but also to fight the constant suppression of their unique cultural features. Colored women feel pressured by societal standards to receive hair straightening treatments, hiding their naturally textured hair. The Society Pages rounded up a selection of beauty ads that showed how black women are expected to look identical to white women. In advertising across the board, black women’s skin is lightened. Celebrities such as Beyoncé and Rihanna are frequently accused of using skin whiteners.
A fine example of this is the Clark Doll experiment — which was conducted in 1939 by a black couple. Two identical dolls (the only difference being that one was black and one was white) were put in front of children of all races. The children had one task: to decide which one was more beautiful. In almost all of the instances, the white doll won. This experiment was repeated in 2009 and warranted the same results.
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Lupita Nyong’o, winner of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Twelve Years a Slave, is a huge supporter of celebrating black beauty and embracing cultural beauty around the world. Her speech on black beauty received massive support, and she is one of the leaders in this campaign.
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Whitewashing in the media has gone on for too long. There are so many beautiful aspects of all cultures that need to be appreciated. On a personal anecdote, I am indeed Caucasian, but I am from southern Italy, so I have very tan skin and extremely curly hair. Because of this, I don’t meet the typical Eurocentic beauty standards. And even I, someone who is white, feel that I am constantly put second in the beauty competition to those who are blonde and blue-eyed. So, I can only imagine what a true woman of color feels like.
It is truly ignorant for people to not realize exactly how large this problem is within our society. Native American, Asian, Latin, African, Middle Eastern: All these cultures are so beautiful in their own unique way, and to just ignore them in favor of “typical” beauty is racism. Our society needs to realize that supporting Eurocentric beauty standards is just another insidious form of racism that has continued to dominate our mindset.
29 thoughts on “Eurocentric Beauty Standards: A Global Disease”
“Whitewashing in the media…” I object to the choice of words here. The media was never whitewashed – that implies that whites had conquered the preexisting media of other nations and then glorified ourselves in it. In reality, the media is a white creation and the media of other nations sought to imitate it. The media was built up to the mega, ubiquitous part of life it is today by whites and then spread all over the world. Therefore the problem isn’t that whites celebrate white beauty in our own media; the problem is that non-whites OVER CONSUME white media, even in their own non-white home territories. We can’t expect of whites to celebrate the beauty of non-whites and to pretend like we consider it superior or equal to our own, as that would be disingenuous. Most whites don’t even find non-whites attractive, be they Asian, Arab, African, Indian or Hispanic Mestizo. The onus is on non-whites to create their own media and to support it instead of white media. Non-whites should found their own ‘Cosmopolitan’ and ‘Esquire’. They should make their own films filled with non-white female cast. Us whites should not allow non-whites to cuckold us by voluntarily kicking ourselves out of our own media industry.
Hi there. Sorry to bring this back from the grave (and I’m going to guess this comment will almost certainly never be read), but I feel compelled to clarify something here.
I lived in China for almost 4 years. I was in the Sichuan area, which has seen comparatively little colonialism historically (especially the Chongqing area where I lived, Chengdu is a bit different); that aside, I spent quite a bit of time in some deeply rural areas, where exposure to the western world had been essentially nonexistent (and remains so). Here’s what I discovered: the fixation on pale skin in China has very little to do with Eurocentrism. As it turns out, it’s more of a matter of class distinction—having dark skin implies that you have to work outside, whereas pale skin suggests that you’re privileged enough to be able to stay indoors and lead a life of luxury. This isn’t speculation on my part, mind you; it was confirmed, quite explicitly, by numerous Chinese I interacted with over there. My erstwhile girlfriend, who was quite traditional, would refer to darker-skinned folk as “farmers” (not unkindly, although I’ll admit it was off-putting) and was quite fixated on lightening her skin tone as much as possible.
This is not to say, of course, that the Eurocentrism you’re referring to hasn’t affected other countries, nor that said influence isn’t problematic, because it is. But I would caution you against assuming that it’s the only factor in this equation. Honestly, as far as China is concerned, the desire for “milky skin” predates the colonial era by quite a bit—it’s more like a traditional social more, à la the desire to slim down or to avoid wrinkles. You can argue about whether or not those are values that should be espoused by a society, of course, but they’re not something that was “imparted upon the poor Chinese by those dastardly white folk”—that’s just a naive interpretation of history. Just sayin’, yo.