Women of colour have been continually taught that 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.
When comparing these standards to post-colonial standards of beauty that were introduced by the Europeans, they 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. Even though 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
It is evident that the colonialist attitudes that have been instilled within so many non-European countries have had detrimental effects, and they have harmfully manifested in communities of colour. As a result of this, people of colour - especially women of colour - feel compelled to meet and uphold these Eurocentric standards. Since women are constantly told that their appearance and beauty is their only defining factor, the pressure to attain and conform to beauty standards is far greater. Consequently, this pressure can have damaging effects on a young girl's self esteem, one who is constantly told that her skin is too dark, her nose not small enough, her lips too big, and so on and so forth. Grade 12 student 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' or your features are only valid and beautiful on a Caucasian person, and because of that, you're reluctant to embrace your culture and who you really are," Martina stated.
Countless Asian, African and South American countries perpetuate and promote the idea that fairer skin is more desirable, appealing and beautiful. They set a standard that women feel they should strive for, and women feel compelled to meet these societal expectations just to be deemed "attractive." The media favours women of fairer complexions and those who exhibit Eurocentric features, 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 girls - especially darker girls. However, along with skin colour, there are many other features that young girls are shamed for. Girls of colour are shamed for their body hair, their "large" noses, rounded facial features, and so on. There are numerous products that specifically target all these "problems" because Eurocentrism has become an ideal of beauty and is reinforced in every possible way, and so companies continue to profit off of the insecurities of young girls and women of colour.
Ethnic Communities and Beauty Standards
Although the media plays a huge role in setting unattainable beauty standards for women, covert messages about such standards seem to be perpetuated within ethnic communities and by family members, which further damage a young girl's self-esteem. Growing up, girls are told to stay out of the sun so they won't get dark; they are told that they need to shave their body hair. Constantly being bombarded with such messages makes them think they are not pretty enough, pale enough, thin enough, just generally not good enough. If our own communities and families do not empower and uplift young girls, how are they to love and accept themselves?
Grade 12 student, Mikka Natividad shared her own experience:
"Many Filipinos obsess over having pale skin, like many other Asian countries, and it's evident in the media with mixed and pale Filipino actors which is funny since most Filipinos are a dark creamy colour. 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."
If these kinds of practices are fostered within ethnic communities, they further destroy a girl's self- esteem because not only does society expect her to look a certain way to be regarded as beautiful, her own community perpetuates these standards and upholds them. This can make young girls reluctant to embrace their ethnicity, and to love and appreciate themselves.
Empowerment and Self-Love
In a world that constantly reminds women of colour of their inadequacies, of their failure to meet the Eurocentric expectations that have been enforced on to them - self-love is a political act. To love themselves is to reject and disregard all the messages of self-hatred that they have grown up internalizing; it is an act of decolonization. No girl should be taught to reject and hate her features, but instead should learn to love and embrace them.
Abeeha Faheem, a Grade 12 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. Empowerment, however, is something that is most effective when there's a group of people that come together and help spark self-love and self-worth within each member."
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.
"A woman of color’s self-love is political and radical, and it is unsettling for the status quo because she is choosing bravely to dismantle the narratives of racist aesthetics against her. So when people bully a girl of color for being content and satisfied with her appearance - a reality that is subjected to racist, sexist slurs in cosmetic industries - and when they tell her to be 'humble' , which is normative code for 'Nah, you’re not special, you’re not light and delicate in a Eurocentric way', then she has every right to chew their hearts and spit them out. A non-white girl’s self-love is revolutionary and anyone trying to water it down needs to back right off."