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removing colonial standards of beauty

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    When I was 12 years old, my self-proclaimed “biggest talent” was giving myself a salon-style blowout. I would set my dryer to the highest heat and speed and painstakingly run a brush through small sections of my hair — ignoring the burn in my arms and the tears that collected along my waterline nearly every time. 

    It didn’t matter to me that my hair was one of the most defining features I had inherited from my mom, or that so many Indian women around me had a hair texture identical to mine. My hair was puffy, frizzy and imperfect in my eyes because it wasn’t pin-straight and sleek.

    Much too recently, I’ve found out that my hair is actually wavy. With a little bit of hydration and care, I can bring out the inherent curl pattern. But what continues to hurt me the most is that I’ve heard similar stories from so many other Indian women. 

    We don’t know what to do with hair that isn’t perfectly straight, but isn’t naturally curly, either. We resort to harsh heating tools and treatments to make ourselves feel more “beautiful,” but we never seem to ask ourselves why we define beauty in a way that causes us to reject our natural features.

    Western conventions of attractiveness have always put whiteness on a pedestal. Since the earliest race theorists claimed that Eurocentric features were the most attractive, it has been ingrained in us to covet fair skin, blonde hair and blue eyes. 

    For a long time, young women of color were instructed to alter their appearance and change their mannerisms if they wanted a chance at employment and social mobility. 

    Beauty has therefore been yet another facet of colonization. Not only is it a method of asserting the superiority of one race over many others, but it is also a subtle way to encourage assimilation into white society. 

    We live in a world where beauty is seen as intrinsic to a woman’s self-worth and her ability to gain respect. But because these beauty standards often specifically exclude women of color, they send the message that we are not of any value if we don’t change ourselves to look “white enough.”

    Recently, I saw a video on TikTok listing the differences between “witch” and “fairy” type faces. Unsurprisingly, the features deemed more “fairylike” included button noses, dainty lips and a small, “delicate” face. The witch, on the other hand, had a big head, a large nose (crooked, of course) and a disproportionately protruding browbone.

    The post, with its thousands of likes, almost made me flinch. 

    I spent years as a young teenage girl trying to convince myself that I would eventually grow into my too-big nose, trying to ignore how unattractive it made me feel. And still, the world seemed to never stop picking at the scabs of my insecurities, intent on making them bleed once again. 

    Why am I, and so many other women of color, relegated to the role of the “witch” because of our ethnic features? Why are we categorized as something hideous and undesirable, merely because we don’t conform to Eurocentric standards? Why are we stripped of our femininity, as if it is our fault that society has such a narrow definition of beauty?

    Though it may not be immediately apparent, social media platforms (TikTok, in particular) thrive off of creating an endless feedback loop of women’s insecurities. Not every instance is as obviously shocking as the video I came across, but once you start paying attention, it’s remarkably difficult to stop. 

    I’ve seen so many filters like this — from the ones that are meant to show the symmetry of your face to those that determine if you have the “golden ratio” of eye-to-nose-to-lip proportions. 

    I’ve seen trends where girls color parts of their noses in with a black marker and then stand against a black background, speculating what they would look like with the “perfect” side profile.

    Social media, with its prevalence in our everyday lives, has considerable power to enforce racialized beauty standards. But ironically, it was through social media that I learned that my frizzy-puffy hair was actually wavy, due to a relatively new movement that teaches women to care for and embrace their natural curls. 

    Online trends are still dangerous — they often feed into discriminatory notions of attractiveness, all while being passed off too easily as just a harmless joke or a bit of virtual fun.

    I find myself grappling with these messages on a daily basis. When I look into the mirror, I have to actively work to decolonize my ideas of beauty. I have to correct myself each time I criticize my eyebrows for being too thick or my hooked nose for ruining a photo of me. I have to suppress my impulse to shave my body hair, because I know that having it doesn’t make me any less “clean.” 

    I have to challenge my urge to strive for perfection, in a society where “perfect” never seems to look like me. 

    Now, I allow my hair to air dry more often than not, because I can’t find it in myself to conform to standards that will always exclude me. I refuse to let the antiquated standards of beauty pick and choose what parts of me are “acceptable.” 

    I see in myself all the women who came before me, and I choose to accept this with pride.


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    Author: Mark Cruz

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