Through years and generations and centuries of violent colonialism, white supremacy, and imperialism, the US has gotten really great at whitewashing beauty norms and normalizing beauty norms to mean a specific set of physical traits. I, personally, can really only talk about beauty from the stance as someone who has lived almost entirely within the US as a white, fat, queer person. So my own experiences with beauty are warped but also extremely privileged in many ways.
A couple years ago, Dove came out with this video that was supposed to be empowering to women and talked about “real beauty”. (Ya know, the one titled “you’re more beautiful than you think” and basically said that women are our own harshest critics or something.) There have been plenty of critiques of this video, primarily because the video still focuses on women who fit into the conventional beauty norms of the US (white, skinny, young, etc). Golda Poretsky wrote about five different critiques of the video, which I definitely recommend reading through. Similarly, Jazz (last name unknown) wrote a critique about the video and also brings up so many great points, including the fact that there are only a few people of color in the video for only a few seconds. (If you’re at a computer reading this, hover over the text with your mouse and for me at least, it got a little easier to read.)
The sense of beauty within the US (and some other ways) is very dependent on whiteness – having white skin is seen as the default, the “norm”. Lindsay Kite brought up many amazing points about the whitewashing of beauty, specifically talking about how the current beauty ideals uphold whiteness and exclude women of color. Kite also addresses some of the ways in which the massive beauty corporations have repeatedly lightened the skin of many women (such as Gabourey Sidibe in the photos below):
Companies like Loreal and Clairol have come under fire for digitally lightening both the skin color and hair color of black women featured in their advertising…
The fashion and modeling world has also come under attack (for a good reason) about the rampant racism that exists within that industry and the fact that the industry (especially Fashion Week) is getting whiter and whiter. Chanel Iman and Jourdan Dunn have both come forward with the incredibly racist encounters they have experienced in the fashion industry as models. Chanel Iman opened up about some of the problems that the fashion industry has with race and some of the things she has faced, saying specifically:
“… A few times I got excused by designers who told me ‘we already found one black girl. We don’t need you anymore.’ I felt very discouraged. When someone tells you, ‘we don’t want you because we already have one of your kind, it’s really sad.”
And something that also continues to be a problem regarding beauty norms within the US is the fatphobia and the monetary gain from fat shaming and weight loss. A few months ago, I wrote about my own sense of worth living as a fat queer and unemployed person in a capitalistic society. And that continues to be true because of the way corporations reap the monetary benefits from fat people hating our bodies. US News reported that people in the US spend upwards of $60 billion every single year trying to lose weight.
The Militant Baker has a really great post about the model Tess Munster and how as a society, we have gravitated towards fat shaming and hating fat people who are fat with themselves. Plus sized models are almost nonexistant, especially in the context of actually being realistically plus sized. Most plus sized models rarely wear something larger than a size 16/18 and usually are tall as well. Which is why the 5ft5in and size 22 Tess Munster is getting such an outcry – she doesn’t fit into that plus sized narrative that we as a society have accepted.
In that same article, Jes Baker talks about the concept of body currency – or the idea that if we get to the ideal body size, then we will also obtain love, happiness, worthiness. Baker does highlight the problem with body currency, stating that:
The obvious problem with Body Currency is that thinness doesn’t necessarily equal happiness. It just equals money in the pockets of companies who sell us insecurity to make sure that we’re repeat customers. It’s a real shitty move on their part and leaves anyone who believes in the scam SOL which then makes them angry without really knowing why. So they direct all their angry feels towards those who cheated the system and found the pot of gold without doing any of the goddamn work.
Looking back, it’s easy (for me at least) to see how beauty norms and the concept of beautiful has been rigged to show a small set of physical traits that privilege being thin and being white. There are of course so many other factors that go into beauty norms – including age, class, gender, sexuality, and so many others. It’s important to be critical of the messages we are given through the media and society as a whole because more often than not, those messages are laced with racism, hatred, and overall problematic natures.
And of course, there’s much more that goes into this – particularly regarding race. Because whiteness is valued, put into a position of power, and that’s something that we as white people must be critical of.