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Beauty Ideals

Allow me to speak on something that is Afrocentric, yet not Afrofuturism.

In recent years, many African American women have started to understand that most of America still adheres to the ideas of Eurocentric beauty ideals. The beauty ideals range from fair skin, to straight hair, to narrow noses and smaller waistlines. Chemical agents have been introduced into the public beauty industry in order to achieve most of these beauty ideals in the home, salon or physician's office.

"Unprofessional Hair" vs. "Professional Hair"

Photo credit: https://i.guim.co.uk

Using recent films such as Skin, Good Hair, and Dear White People, to show how Eurocentric beauty ideals are currently influencing the African American community. While also involving older films such as Imitation of Life, School Daze and a short documentary titled, A Girl Like Me, in order to create a timeline in order to show the gradual influence of Eurocentric beauty ideals within the African American community. As well as incorporating articles that research the topic of beauty ideals in America and their influence within the African American community, I aim to further understand the roller coaster of what American ideals of beauty are and why we have succumbed to them.

Why do African Americans think that if they appear more Eurocentric, they will be accepted in society? Why does society push the idea of the Eurocentric beauty as the status quo? How does the idea that Eurocentric beauty being put on a pedestal affect the African American psyche? Using works from various peer reviewed articles, television talk shows and other forms of media, I aim to answer the aforementioned questions. It has been found that Eurocentric beauty constructs are internalized by African Americans in general, and Black females in particular (Robinson-Moore 2008), and specifically the bodies and histories of the African Americans whose positive images and stories have been eradicated by commodity culture (Kuenz 1993). Typically, however, standards of beauty are dictated by others through the media, cultural traditions, fashion trends, and emanate from anywhere, it seems, but one's own eye (Sekayi 2003), therefore taking the control away from the individual and their communities. This is why we must investigate African American women's conceptions of beauty and perceptions of cultural standards of beauty (Poran 2002).

For many African Americans, their perceived worth, intelligence, success, and attractiveness are determined by such factors as the shade/color of their skin, the broadness of their nose, the thickness of their lips, and the kinkiness of their hair (Wade Bielitz 2005). In the media, many African American women who are glorified for their beauty, tend to be lighter-skinned and have long wavy hair, as opposed to being darker with tightly curled hair (Patton 2006). This distinction of beauty and ugliness has always been the way that society divides the world into a forced binary way of looking at oneself (Mercer 1987). Lighter skin color is positively related to higher levels of racial identity attitudes as opposed to darker skinned individuals having lower their self-esteem, and gender differences exist in perceptions of others’ preferences for skin color (Raskin, Breland and Coard 2001). Even in the areas of education and employment, studies have shown that light skin predicts higher educational attainment and employment status (Hunter 2016).

Reader you will notice that I use the term African American and Black interchangeably throughout these next few entries. That is because not all African American People think of themselves as Black and vice versa. That is due to the disconnect that some Black people feel towards the idea of being from Africa. Although recently, the interchangeability of the two terms are often due to the embrace of being both a Black persona and an African American. This topic will be discussed further in future entries.

In the article, “Beauty Standards Reflect Eurocentric Paradigms”, written by Cynthia Robinson-Moore, the topic of Eurocentric beauty ideals within the African American community is explored. Moore touches on the issues that arise socially, mentally, and economically within the African American community as a result of European influences in the United States. These Eurocentric beauty paradigms impact all of the African American community, but most of the impact fall upon the Black females. African American females have been subjected to some form of colorism or another from childhood to adulthood, being that, “lighter skinned females with longer hair reported social acceptance and other forms of validation, resulting in higher levels of confidence, self-esteem, and individual success” (Robinson-Moore 65). On the opposite side of the spectrum, darker skinned Black women felt that their hair was never long enough and too course, had low self-esteem and felt as though their employment status was due to their darker skin tone (Robinson-Moore). This was due to, “being black affects the way a person walks and talks, his or her values, culture, and history, how that person relates to others and how they relate to him or her” (Russell, Wilson and Hall, 62).

There has always been there debate and obvious fact that the darker skin tone a Black woman has, results in the treatment they receive in comparison to the lighter skin toned Black woman. This treatment is prevalent in a, ‘historical relationship of skin color and socio-economic success among lighter skinned U.S. Blacks”, in comparison to their darker counterparts (Robinson-Moore, 66). Like race, beauty is also socially constructed and socially controlled. Leading to, “racially defined beauty standards becoming oppressive for Black females, since they exclude skin color and hair types which many Black females have” (Robinson-Moore, 68). Within this social construct, there is a hierarchy of racial beauty. Robinson-Moore posits that there are Three major levels to this beauty hierarchy.

The First level deals with the actual skin and hair textures of Black women and how it has been linked to the success of the individual. The females that have the least amount of physical similarities to Eurocentric (white) women, were often, ‘alienated from others at schools or social places, resulting in lower achievement levels and higher high school dropout rates for darker skinned Black females” (Robinson-Moore, 68). The Second level that Eurocentric beauty ideals affect African American females was the income level. Robinson-Moore found studies that came to the result that darker skinned African American women were more likely to be poor, due to the limited employment opportunities they were offered as a result of First level. The Third level that occurs due to the racial beauty hierarchy within the African American community is spousal status. It would seem that lighter skinned African American women are deemed more desirable to the African American man. Simply put, “Black men prefer light skinned women, and want light skinned children.

There are economic and social advantages to having a light skinned wife, most notably social acceptance” (Robinson-Moore, 68). Thus, resulting in the darker skinned Black women never marrying or becoming single mothers and sadly becoming a negative stereotype that society has created. These views are not secret among the African American community, it is just silently and sometimes boisterously accepted and sadly passed down to each generation and the social norm. Dating as far back to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, that introduced Africans to the United States, this idea of skin hue and beauty has lasted through the years.

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