Beauty Standards

Whiteness

“…If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.”-Albert Einstein

Whiteness is everywhere and we’ve all picked up on it.

I can’t really say where it all started for me or how it became such a big part of my life, but I can give you some vignettes.

I remember loving my hair at one point. Not even loving it, actually. I just remember not thinking about it. I do remember first grade. I remember that day in first grade when I first saw a friend move her hair out of her face and place it behind her ear. I remember trying to do the same and it not working. I remember thinking “Why can’t I do that?” and somehow managing to notice every other little girl who could put their hair behind their ears. Then I started to notice how easy it was for each one of them to put their hair in a ponytail, a personal struggle I had and still have to this day. I then remembered the countless hair ties that broke with a snap! and immediately felt the pain of the hard bristled brush my mother used to corral my hair into those very hair ties.

I remember 7th grade. I remember two new girls entering the grade. They were black, just like me. But they had light brown skin. They had these beautiful sandy gold locks that they wore with pride (something I hadn’t done since early childhood) everyday. And, most striking to me, they had green eyes-just like the white women I’d seen in magazines. I remember wondering if there was a “better” types of blackness. And if so, why oh why had God left me with the boring brown eyes, the boring brown hair, and dark skin?

I remember 8th grade. I remember calling myself “mixed” and making it my mission to let everyone know that I was mixed. I remember the pure bliss and ecstasy I felt letting anyone who would listen know about every part of me that wasn’t black. I also remember crying at night, feeling sick with the parts of me that were black, wondering why I didn’t have green eyes or “nice” hair.

I tried not to remember 9th grade, when someone told me that I was “so black” for something I’d said afterschool. It was just a comment, right?

10th/11th grade rolled around and I decided to wear my natural hair for the first time in almost a decade. I remember being proud of myself for going a week, then two weeks, then three weeks natural. But, I remember not really feeling beautiful unless I straightened my hair.

I remember telling my internet friends “It’s okay if you call me the n-word as a joke. I don’t really care!”

I remember caring.

I remember being mad at myself for accepting that and allowing people to use such a hateful word to refer to me. Why did I feel this need to be accepted by any white person I came across?

I remember not wanting to demean myself anymore.

Then there was 12th grade. I remember dating a boy whose grandmother hated black people, but cried tears of joy when she saw a picture of me and determined that I was “one of the pretty ones”.

I remember my heart sinking into my stomach after realizing she only thought a black person was worth being respected because of the way she looked.

I remember my heart sinking further down when I realized I once thought this way about myself too.

I remember my best friend and I being taunted by a group of schoolboys dying of laughter because the “black girls were eating fried chicken” for lunch.

I remember being pissed.

I remember hearing them call each other “niggers” as an insult. And I remember telling them to shut up and threatening to shove my fist down their throats if they didn’t.

I got better. I felt better. I was standing up for myself, and I know it wasn’t much, but I felt like I was standing up for my people. MY people. For so long I’d felt so much resentment towards myself because I wasn’t white and tried so hard to distance myself from the very people, my people, who have not only been my biggest supporters, but the biggest promoters of black pride as well.

I’m terribly embarrassed by the amount of self-hate that ate away at my soul for such a large portion of my life. But that self-hate is a mistake that I won’t ever make again. Although I wish I’d always grown up loving my skin, I’m happy to know that I survived the beast that is self loathing. And I know that if I can survive that, I can survive anything life throws my way. I fucking love being black and no picture of some blue eyed, straight haired, girl or some idiot’s slurs or some private school girl’s comments will ever take that away from me.

As for my time in college, I will forever remember being a minority at school. I’ll remember the people who referred to me as “pretty for a black girl”, not “classically beautiful”, and who assumed I was “loose” as a result of the color of my skin. And I will remember so many of the white boys I know who would love to bend a “chocolate” girl over a table, but would never dream of taking her home to their parents because she wouldn’t fit into their image of the perfect American family.

But, most importantly, I’m going to remember how far I’ve come from that girl who idolized whiteness. I’m going to remember how good it feels not taking anyone’s racist/quasi post-racial bullshit. I’m going to remember how great it feels to have brown skin and never get sunburnt. I’m going to remember looking in the mirror everyday and smiling with my full lips. I’m going to remember these crazy, wild, big ass curls on top of my head and how god damn fresh they are. And I will most definitely remember how fucking proud I am, and always will be, to be an unapologetic black woman.

Untangling History

When I first arrived at Bard, it was a time when I was struggling with my own self-perception of beauty, a lot of which, was entangled in my feelings towards my hair and what I thought was “required” of my upkeep to appeal beautiful to not only myself, but to the outside world (where the latter proved to have the most influence). These were the unspoken aspects that I maybe, at the time, didn’t consciously realize were intertwined with a few key driving factors: my upbringing as a child, the various beauty practices that I saw being carried out regularly in my household as well as in some of my family members’ households, the presence (and unfortunately sometimes absence) of African American women and their hairstyles of choice within media (T.V., radio, advertisements), the customary hairstyling “norms” practiced by the women who looked like me in my community, and the perceptions from which these hairstyling practices arose and were perpetuated. With that being said, although I had never had a perm (my mother never allowed it), which is historically one of the most utilized hairstyling practices of African American to any other practice by far, I still straightened my hair by heat on a daily basis (which is the second utilized haircare practice by AA women). This shows that although the method of beautification was different, the ideology of what I thought made my identity “satisfactory” was still the same: that I simply was not beautiful without my hair being bone-straight.

With my focus at Bard being in history, I thought it not only appropriate, but almost necessary for me, someone who was using college as an avenue through which to not only learn more about my field of study but to also learn more about myself, to try and trace the narrative of African American hair and how this seemingly unanimous idea that natural hair is inferior to other textures spread like wild fire. Through my research I found that prior to colonialism, Africans maintained a strong sense of pride in not only their hair, but what their hairstyles communicated to their community. Hairstyles during this time were often elaborate and were used to relay messages of marital status, tribal group, religious affiliation, and other cultural markers.

After the onset of colonialism and slavery, individuals of African descent were made to not only cover and destroy their hair but also then to disconnect from a significant part of their heritage. Over time, straight hair became not only what was considered aesthetically pleasing, but also became an unspoken requirement for employment, and thus survival, which was necessary for blacks after emancipation and the integration of blacks and whites in the workplace. This, along with other factors contributed to the way in which African Americans were made to perceive their hair, which consequently created an eventual dissonance between who we are naturally, which most people would consider to be our “identity”, and what others think our identity should be based on their standards and preconceived notions beauty should be expressed.

After months of doing research that showed just how badly blacks were made to feel about their hair and the toxic hairstyling practices that ensued thereafter, coupled with the fact that I had recently cut off all of my hair and went completely natural, I started to feel deep sadness, realizing that a lot of what I felt about myself was conditioning brought on by an implementation of a certain ideology of another culture…and I really resented that. But what I also learned was that through the African American hair culture, communities were established.

The hair salon (and barbershop) was often a place of refuge and a platform on which monumental messages like civil rights, healthcare, and the importance of voting and community activism, could spread throughout for the furtherance of a people. I can say that although blacks were forced to conform to Western societal standards of beauty, some of which proved to be very harmful to the mind and body, those practices created an environment where people could come together to teach, bond, and form relationships…in other words, to create a community.

With all of this being said, it is important to note that hair in general is a fluid part of everyone’s identity and plays a significant role of how you are perceived, and is a pretty important part or constant element in most people’s lives. However, through my research, I noticed that many African Americans share a different narrative and perception of their hair in juxtaposition to other cultures. My ending point is that mass perceptions has the ability to change, and with the natural hair movement in full swing, more women cross-culturally, are becoming feeling inspired to drop societal norms and step into who they feel they should naturally be.

I was granted a unique opportunity to form a community of my own at Bard, one that was reminiscent and thus reflective, of the communities formed by African American women from the onset of the black haircare industry onward. I was happily surrounded, and even more so impressed, by the women who looked like me who were also beginning to embrace their natural hair. This community became an immense comfort to me, seeing other women (and men) who were developing a sense of pride for an element of themselves that they had maybe once been conditioned or taught to cover, alter, or even loathe. Through this community emerged a communal identity that represented progression through self-acceptance, and it is something I will take with me for the rest of my life.

 

Bria Bacon

 

Beautiful Either Way

Have you ever scrolled through your Facebook or Twitter timeline and come across a meme that displays two photos: One in which someone models a full face of impeccably done makeup, the other with a face void of any additives? The caption usually reads: “This is why I have trust issues”. It is the same person.

This is utterly disrespectful.

I usually tend to disregard it; However, I feel this crude sentiment is one which far too frequently goes unchallenged in the media.

One matter I need to address here is these “trust issues”. They have displaced origins. It is ludicrous to believe that the makers and supporters of these memes actually have trust issues with foundation, blush, contour or eye shadow. Please go resolve these trust issues ASAP.

The second issue lies within the framework of often Eurocentric and sexist ideals. These meme-makers are not understanding that certain people find comfort and peace in determining how they are going to creatively express themselves through a cosmetic medium. Some may have struggled with severe acne all their lives, and one of the ways they are able to divert attention from it is to wear makeup. Some people are burn victims (acid, fire, etc.). Burn victims’ scars and injuries to the public represent an important event in their lives that they may or may not always want to share with the world.

I have struggled with my own body image for years now, and I do not always come to appreciate my body below the neckline. One of the ways for me to deter unwanted attention from my body is to play up my more celebrated features: my almond eyes and full lips. To wear makeup is one of the many ways for us to go about our lives, without attracting the unwarranted stares or rude comments. Makeup can be a medium for self-expression, but also for self-protection. Also, some people just enjoy the artistic license of wearing subtle or vivacious makeup looks, and that is okay too! But the assumption (most often times vocalized by cis men) that everyone wears makeup in order to validate their appearance in the eyes of the beholder (who are, again, most often times cis men) is implicitly misogynistic, and sometimes even racist.

Makeup is not always used to hide behind a veil, but neither always to attract attention. It is to allow others to focus on our contribution to the world and the people around us, rather than our physical marks. It is crucial to understand that we choose to take the time and effort to show a different side of our physical appearance in a manner that makes us feel better or more comfortable.

So, to anyone who supports those blatantly tactless memes, try to be more conscientious of the reasons behind our decisions to wear makeup. I also encourage those meme supporters to make an active search for why it is that they have trust issues over something so personal to another individual. It is a selfish and flawed ideology.

 

Tiffany Leung