Catherine Etienne '18
Magazines, movies, television, commercials, music videos. Cosmo, Vogue, “Wedding Crashers,” “Neighbors,” “Friends,” “Gossip Girl,” GoDaddy, Victoria’s Secret, Kanye West. When everything we see, hear and feel has been in some way influenced by media powers, what does that say about our choices as consumers? What does that say about our roles as producers? With the flood of images and messages that the media dumps on us, in one sense we consume; in another sense, however, we are being consumed.
With this as the reality, there has been a huge issue with the Eurocentric standards of beauty constantly being imposed on us. Whenever we watch a music video, listen to a song or read a book, we are often presented with a white female object of desire – or we simply assume this fact because we have been conditioned to do so. The same goes for the stereotypical “dream woman” or “hot girl” at different avenues, whether it is at school, the club or work. The fact that the word “white” is implicit whenever we see the words “beautiful woman,” “desirable woman,” “dream woman” or anything else pertaining to “femininity” says a lot about how society views women of color in comparison to white women.
Eurocentric standards of beauty have far-reaching consequences and oppressive effects on the lives of women of color. East Asian girls undergo eyelid surgery to make their eyes appear larger. Women with darker skin soak themselves in tubs of bleach to strip the melanin from their skin, rubbing “scar removing” products all over their bodies in the hopes that their “scars” will fade away and the skin in place will finally be even in tone with that of Candice Swanepool or another white beauty that the media puts on a pedestal. Although whitewashing is an issue, it often goes unnoticed because it is something that we have grown so accustomed to. When white Hollywood, white media and white beauty have always been everyone’s reality, it’s seen as normal and as truth.
Whitewashing works in many different ways; one such method is cherry-picking certain features that are typical of different marginalized ethnicities, and glorifying them on white bodies. This fact is hypocritical because, historically, women of color who naturally have these features have been looked down upon for them. These are things such as full lips, big bums and darker skin. Far from helping women of color, this form of whitewashing enforces the idea that these features can only be viewed as beautiful when placed on a white body. In addition, these features are often still racialized in fashion, with coded words such as urban or edgy, to indicate that these are not the forms of typical beauty – thus reinforcing the notion that white beauty is the true standard.
Last week, Yesha Callahan of The Root wrote an article criticizing Cosmo Magazine for whitewashing their standards of beauty. Cosmo featured an article where they juxtaposed denounced old-fashioned trends and praised new ones. What was problematic about this article was that black models sported the denounced fashion trends, while white models sported all of the praised fashion trends. This idea seems to imply that being a woman of color is “out,” and that being white is “in.” Callahan critiqued this openly narrow-minded and racist view on the part of Cosmo. That seems to be another standard that we now set for the media: you can further subjugate women of color to hating themselves as long as you are not as obvious about it as Cosmo.
Clearly, this acceptance of Eurocentric beauty standards – which only benefits a subset of the population – needs to change. We can sit here and blame the media all day for perpetuating these standards of beauty, or we can start asking ourselves why we believe it. If everyone born with a beauty deemed unworthy by the media, whether it be their skin color, their size, their hair or anything else chooses to love their looks like the media loves skinny white women, that may be enough to start to change what we see on the TV screen. This is our role as producers. The next time you’re watching television, be on the look-out