Ethnocentrism 101: Beauty Standards and Cultural Appropriation


Beauty pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight, and it can be found in many ways, as in figures, animals, or landscapes, but the most treated through history has been human beauty. Human beauty, which is mainly perceived by sight, has been represented in many ways since the earliest civilizations. For a long time, sculptures and paintings have been setting the goals of beauty. To achieve them, back in the past, there has even been artificial cranial deformation. Nowadays, there is surgery.


Most authors emphasize that the origins of the Eurocentrist way of perceiving human beauty can be found in the 15th century, the emphasis on skin named "light" and "tame" hair, along with colonization processes played a major role in the spread of these European beauty standards: Of those years and the ones to come. In the 19th century, another idea started to settle: Female beauty linked with fragility and delicacy, and even nowadays, the beauty trends are not linked with most people's features.


Acuña (2001) states that the body is defined by society and that education and institutions collaborate to shape the body in a way that ends up covering society standards. The pressure increases due to the fact that the inhabitants of the Earth have never been as exposed and communicated as now. And in this context, Occident, through Eurocentrism and colonial practices, still imposes life (and beauty) standards.


The geographical areas considered when Eurocentrism is defined were reviewed in the previous article; because it is not about Classic Greek Europe, it is about Western Europe, about dominant cultures, and also about colonialized lands such as the U.S. On the other side, beauty standards ARE NOT a natural state of a human being and also highlighting the fact that most of the beauty industry's target clients are women. Beauty standards have always aspired to certain features, the closer a human is to those features, the closer to beauty.



"Modern make-up" by Tony Futura
Compared to men, women may suffer more from social anxiety, prejudice, and inequality based on their appearance [Muth and Cash (1997), Strahan et al. (2006) in Yan and Bissel (2014)]. To comprehend beauty-related socio-cultural phenomena, many studies have examined the pursuit of beauty related to body image, body perception, a body-related self-concept, and body satisfaction


What media and industry show to be the "attractive" person is something most people are not going to get by just existing. There are cosmetic surgeries, and they are every day more and more requested. This field passed long ago from nose jobs and facelifts to many procedures that can go even further with all kinds of modifications. The industry behind the globalized beauty standards is huge, like never before. According to Vaca (2013), one of the best ways to approach this phenomenon is by checking beauty magazines:

"The approach applied to these mass media instruments is identification of the breakdown between text and images. Upon completion of the analysis , it is concluded that variation exists in the cultivation of beauty stereotypes , due to their immersion in these products, and the fact that they now work with the twin objective of aligning with at the same time concealing themselves as health advice and even forms of improving personality development in adolescents."

And beauty magazines are usually for women, but also reach a wide amount of the public in the world, especially by social media. There are some exceptions but in many regions, the beauty standards (European) reproduced by these magazines have an important impact on self-perception of the body that in extreme cases could lead to eating disorders by people who feel that they do not accomplish the desired features.

North American and European magazines dominated the beauty standards. Asian countries were relatively independent particularly in terms of sexual frames and sexual model selections. Magazines distributed in Latin America and South Africa were in danger of being assimilated into the Western norms of beauty.

By mixing Eurocentrism, globalization, and general disadvantage experienced by women, plus the well-spread European standards, the results of global beauty goals are oriented to white, tall, thin, and blonde features, in a world where most people are not, and these standards are spread in colonized and non-colonized nations. When human beauty does not follow that norm, terrible euphemisms come along to name the features of non-European beauty, people cannot just call it "beauty" and then comes terrible terminology such as: "chocolate skin", "caramel skin", "exotic", "sun-kissed" and many more.


Even if on late days there has been an opening to this other numerous non-European beauty realities, they are still treated as "unconventional beauty" which had led to a new path named cultural appropriation, it has been seen, for example, with the "fox-eye trend": To get it, most western women, models, and influencers have gone through eyelid lift, special makeup, and even surgery. But as the fake solarium tan does not make any favor to anyone, nothing closer to unhealthy than unnecessary exposure to damaging rays. People with features different from the western standards still "do not accomplish" the beauty ideals.


"My eyes are not a trend," by Chungi Yoo
On them, this “manufactured” eye shape is beautiful. On Asians however, this inborn eye shape is a feature to make fun of. Whether the look is achieved with make-up, eye-pulls or plastic surgery, the effect is the same: It’s still an age-old taunt.







The results of these tendencies that have a long way to go to be eradicated are the selling of everything that fights features that do not match "beauty standards" as anti-frizz shampoo, the process of dying the hair, the spraying Indian actors' faces to look whiter, the cultural systematic speech about how Latinas should be thinner, Asians taller and/or more voluptuous, Indian to look whiter, and so on. A lot of these trends and mass media beauty ideals hit on people's self-perception and self-esteem, on their worth.


Industries are going to get wealthier by selling hair treatments, fake tan, whitening creams, and mainly diet lifestyles because one of the most transversely perceptions and practices are the anti-fat ones, justified by their link with health issues, which does not make the approach to the goal public less damaging.


Imagining all the money that could be saved, the self-satisfaction that could be achieved, and all the time that could be wasted on something more enjoyable and less painful practices if it was not for mass media beauty ideals. All the resources of time, money, and happiness women could use in something else if they were satisfied with their body appearance, if they were not mortifying themselves about their appearance while they achieve another million things.


Wanting to use make-up, taking care, using certain colors and perfumes, or using certain clothes is normal; living mortified, or with low self-esteem for not looking European is unnecessary.







Sources:

  • Chin Evans, P., & McCONNELL, A. R. (2003). Do Racial Minorities Respond in the Same Way to Mainstream Beauty Standards? Social Comparison Processes in Asian, Black, and White Women. Self and Identity, 2(2), 153–167. https://doi.org/10.1080/15298860309030

  • Gelles, R. (n.d.). Fair and Lovely: Standards of Beauty, Globalization, and the Modern Indian Woman. 40.

  • Iain Smith. (n.d.). Retrieved 6 September 2021, from https://iainart.artstation.com/

  • It’s Chungi en Instagram: “My eyes are not a trend 💄 Over the past few years I saw a lot of fashion magazines and beauty influencers putting the cat eye look to the…”. (n.d.). Retrieved 6 September 2021, from https://www.instagram.com/p/CBwC7LBBcGp/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

  • Kim, S., & Lee, Y. (2018). Why do women want to be beautiful? A qualitative study proposing a new “human beauty values” concept. PLOS ONE, 13(8), e0201347. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0201347

  • Lavanya Sinha. (n.d.). Your Standards Of Beauty Are Implicitly Eurocentric: A History. Retrieved 5 September 2021, from https://inbreakthrough.org/eurocentric-beauty-history/

  • Muñiz, E. (2014). Pensar el cuerpo de las mujeres: Cuerpo, belleza y feminidad. Una necesaria mirada feminista. Sociedade e Estado, 29(2), 415–432. https://doi.org/10.1590/S0102-69922014000200006

  • Silvestrini, M. (2020). “It’s not something I can shake”: The Effect of Racial Stereotypes, Beauty Standards, and Sexual Racism on Interracial Attraction. Sexuality & Culture, 24(1), 305–325. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-019-09644-0

  • Sophie Wang. (n.d.). Unapologetic cultural appropriation: The fox-eye trend | The Stanford Daily. Retrieved 6 September 2021, from https://www.stanforddaily.com/2020/07/17/unapologetic-cultural-appropriation-the-fox-eye-trend/

  • Yan, Y., & Bissell, K. (2014). The Globalization of Beauty: How is Ideal Beauty Influenced by Globally Published Fashion and Beauty Magazines? Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 43(3), 194–214. https://doi.org/10.1080/17475759.2014.917432


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Melisa Silva

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