Writing by Aasia Amein. Illustration by Yizhi Liu.
The ideology of white aesthetic was imposed on a global scale stemming from colonial discourse and since then has assimilated into the beauty industry. In the past, it manifested through blatant racism within the media, to such an extent that even morality was equated with lighter skin and beauty. Today, Eurocentrism paradoxically exists as both a ubiquitous yet overlooked concept, making it a very difficult problem to acknowledge and overcome.
The Clark Doll Experiment, where children chose white dolls as being ‘normal’, stands testament to this, serving as a blindingly obvious example of how Eurocentrism has made whiteness synonymous with standard. The archetype of Eurocentric beauty ideals operates by making women of colour feel as if they lack something, so they resort to consumerist remedies. We can see this hundreds of years after Europe’s initial colonial exploits, with many products and services tailored specifically for women of colour to adhere to white beauty standards.
Similarly, from television to celebrity culture to magazines, the people who represent beauty in the media are often exclusively white or white-passing, perpetuating the idea that anglicised features (small noses, fair skin, straight hair, etc…) define global beauty.
As a result, a struggle many people of colour face is accepting our ethnic identities. Mainstream media heavily distorts our view of what we should look like due to the under-representation of our communities. The beauty industry convinces us that our value is based on how attractive we are.
People of colour are taught to be dissatisfied with their appearance and that they are less valuable than their white peers. Rejecting the white aesthetic as the norm is not a problem that can be solved by self-love, but one that instead requires an active deconstruction of an internalised oppressive mindset. Our perception of beauty is still in the eyes of the coloniser.
For many, myself included, this perception of beauty has led to a desire for assimilation. As an Afghan with unconventional features (long, curved nose, thick eyebrows, thicker hair), it quickly became apparent to me that I did not fit in with mainstream beauty standards. I became obsessed with trying to conform to a standard I would never be able to meet, and in trying to be accepted by the West, I was forced to reject my own identity.
In 2015, the ‘Instagram brow’ began gaining popularity, with the trend promoting a thick, natural-looking brow in stark contrast to the over-plucked style of the early 2000s. Suddenly, my eyebrows, once mocked for being ‘messy” and “ugly’, were something to be praised and appreciated. I had spent years desperately wanting to pluck my eyebrows, but the slightest shift in trend had turned a feature I was once ashamed of into an asset. I soon came to realise that my discontent stemmed from society’s disapproval of my unconventional features rather than the features themselves.
Looking back, I found that I was frequently exposed to discreet forms of ethnic erasure: the ads promoting skin-bleaching, the infamous Eastern Asian ‘nose lifters’. Even my own family imposed their internalised white gaze on me, encouraging me to get a nose job and to avoid getting tanned.
Due to the lack of ethnic representation within the beauty industry and the overrepresentation of Western beauty standards, the media seemed to endorse a self-hatred that was echoed even by those in my community.
Brands such as Fenty and AJ Crimson have created a push for more diversity and representation in the modern beauty industry, aiming to create a more inclusive market. While one way they have tackled this issue is by creating products for a non-Eurocentric array of features, they have also been sure to advertise these products using representative models of various races, rather than whitewashed models meant to be palatable for a colonised market.
The representation of ethnic communities is an undeniable necessity in decolonizing beauty. Exposure to realistic and varied forms of beauty serves an important role that directly counters normative white beauty and the affiliation with colonial mentalities. Such representation also benefits young people of colour (such as myself) as we are given role models to aspire to be.
Attempts at homogenising beauty in a world as culturally rich and diverse as this one causes much more harm than good. Beauty should no longer be pain, but an authentic appreciation of your identity rather than some fabricated construct of what society thinks you should be.