🗣 Finding Our Student Voice 🗣 The UnifiEd Student Voice Team Blog Surrounding Student Life
Walking into a check-out aisle at Walmart, I could not help but look at the magazines neatly stacked on each side of the aisle. In bold red letters with a font size of almost 60, it stated, “Drop Two Sizes In...
Just 2 Weeks!” Next to it was one about how “baby fat makes you look less attractive”. Ironically, next to those magazines were a massive shelf of candy bars. I was hesitant about grabbing that candy bar I have been craving all day. Instead, I refused and listened to these magazines implying it would make me look and feel less beautiful for eating those extra calories.
Almost every day, I walk into a school surrounded by amazing women, and for a while, I could not help and wonder why the world has put us into a position to hate the way we look. Society says all people are unique and beautiful, but when it comes to an unacceptable feature, it is as if these words do not have meaning.
Within the western part of the world, its beauty standards usually consist of full lips, a big cleavage, a waist the circumference of your wrist, wide hips, a defined jawline, almond eyes, poreless and ageless skin, and the list goes on. It is not to say that these features are bad; the problem is how people view themselves. These beauty principles come and go, becoming a trend where people expect to look that certain way. Not to mention that beauty standards vary depending on several factors, such as culture, climate, area, region, religion, time of living, lifestyle, experiences, and more. Women in South America, for example, prefer round muscular legs and a toned body. South Korean women, on the other hand, favor a slim figure. One of the biggest things many countries also find ideal is fair skin. Indians and South Koreans are some of the people that believe in this concept.
The Philippines, another country that believes in this ideology, is a beautiful country filled with amazing people. The people there mostly have a dark complexion. However, it is also dubbed to be the country with the highest use of skin bleaching. Skin bleaching is a strategy used to “whiten the skin”. This can be obtained with creams, scrubs, wet and dry dermabrasions, pills, and the most popular procedure, an IV drip known as the “Cinderella drip”. One of the doctors that do these procedures says that light skin is “almost a status symbol, like having a Hermès bag.” Prices even increase because of its popularity. Thus, the only way people can afford to get these products into their hands is to buy them on the black market. In local stores, people purchase whitening products, not knowing it contains a hazardous chemical called mercury. The effects of mercury can damage your lungs, kidneys, nervous, digestive, and immune system. “They’re not looking to be white like a white person, they’re just looking to be lighter skinned because historically that’s what they perceive as not only beautiful, but also powerful,” says Joanne Rondilla, a professor at San Jose State University.
Social media has helped me put myself into different women’s perspectives. As I scroll through several apps, I always come across many videos of black women speaking about their personal experiences to their audience. I once came across a video of a woman stating how she tried to remove her skin color because of the negative remarks she received when she was younger. She goes on to say, “I used to hate my skin so much when I was younger that one day, after a long day of being bullied at school, I went straight into the bathtub and I poured a whole gallon of bleach on myself, praying to God that it would somehow ‘wash away’ the melanin that He gave me.” As a Latina woman, I never realized how big of a problem it was to black women. It was one of those aha moments, that epiphany feeling that pushed me to speak more about the dangers of these arbitrary standards. The stereotypical ideologies behind black women go a long way back. During slavery, black women with a deeper complexion were treated harsher than women with a tanner complexion. Even though beauty standards fluctuated through the decades, lighter skin tones were always deemed “cleaner” and “prettier”, while dark skin tones were the opposite. Dream Clinton, a journalist, working for The Guardian news media, has spoken on her experiences as a black woman. “I have many memories of being degraded because of my complexion, the most piercing is from middle school: two girls giggled in my Georgia history class during the showing of a documentary about slavery. As the film explained the origins of skin tone prejudice, one girl – biracial, hazel-eyed, and the only other black girl in class – whispered that she would have been a house slave, but that I would have been a field slave…I sank down in my chair, silently greeting the weight of oppression on my 12-year-old shoulders…In many ways, nothing has changed since that day. Dark skin still not only comes with the expectation of lower-class but lessened beauty, not to mention uncleanliness, lesser intelligence, and a diminished attractiveness.” The naive concepts society has on black women have diminished them, putting them in a position that takes away a piece of worth and replaces it with the idea that “they are not good enough” and somehow forces them to fit in people’s quality of beauty.
It appalls me how these women are uncredited and misunderstood by so many people. What really made my jaw drop was how they are ridiculed for their features. Society has actually found its way to say that these features are more conventionally attractive on lighter women while it is considered “exotic” on dark women. One of the beauty standards today aspire to have similar features as black women. This is where colorism plays a significant role in this topic. Colorism is the discrimination of darker people being treated negatively and thought to be less than lighter people. In addition to this, classism is also a problem. Being tan is a regular pastime many people do today, though few actually know how it became popular. During the Industrial Revolution, many impoverished people would work under the sun, making them tanner. This led to the idea that a tan was “poor” and “low class”. People with pale skin were associated with “wealthy” and “fashionable” since they worked in less harsh conditions. In the 1920s, Gabrielle Coco Chanel, a French fashion designer and founder of the high-end brand Chanel, went on a Mediterranean trip. As she returned from her cruise, people realized that she became tanner because of the warmer weather. Nowadays, tans are dubbed with prosperity and health; how the tables have turned. These toxic ideologies behind these beauty standards have brainwashed us to try and make us fit into this small group of people. When one is not “suitable” within these rules, they are often seen as lazy or as if they do not care about their appearance. If you’re fat, lose weight. If you’re skinny, you’re flat. If you're born with an hourglass figure, you want attention. You had plastic surgery? You’re a wannabe. This. This is what society thinks of a woman. A woman can never feel like they are enough because if you’re this, then you’re that. People do not realize the consequences of these principles. Many celebrities such as Kesha, Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato, and Jennette McCurdy have spoken about their eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Fashion model Filippa Hamilton worked with Ralph Lauren until she was fired for being “too overweight”. Later, they released a picture of Hamilton photoshopping her with exaggerated physical proportions to hide her natural body. It has been normalized to look flawless, having no stretch marks, no cellulite, no wrinkles, and other aspects. Behind every lean woman is someone who felt she wasn’t big enough. Behind every big woman is someone who thought she wasn’t small enough. Behind almost every woman in general, she felt as if she was not enough. Wanting to look and feel beautiful is not wrong; it is forcing yourself to look attractive, to feel acceptable to society, that is wrong. “The standard of beauty’s not definite. We define it,” quotes architect Shamcey Supsup. Think, if each woman was born according to beauty standards, what unique feature or versatile attributes would we have to offer to the world?
For almost seven years battling an eating disorder, all I wanted was to fit into what I thought was beautiful. There was a point in my life where even my parents took away every single mirror in the house so that I could not judge myself. After several years, I looked at the mirror for the first time, and I saw a woman who had more to give to others than just her appearance. I came to realize I could not satisfy everyone I met. I could not make everyone like me, but I could show other people that their uniqueness is the most beautiful thing there is. People have standardized that looking and evolving as a human is the worst thing there is. Having a bit of hair or belly here or there is not the end of the world; it is a normal thing our bodies do. Whether you were born with melanin or fair skin, know that even the media representation is not the definition of yourself. The ideals of beauty have shifted into what we see within our eyes, but even with the eyes of an eagle, you wouldn’t be able to see how unique a person’s soul is until they show it to you.