I recently read an article on Refinery29 titled, “How Beauty is Teaching Minorities to Look More White.” In it, the Asian author, Sharon J. Yi, makes the argument that the beauty industry not only pushes Caucasian beauty ideals, but is “using makeup as a tool to make ethnic features appear more Western.” She later sites a study in the Psychology Press that concludes that Asian women, in particular, find white women to be most beautiful, and that this leads to “increasing levels of body dissatisfaction and deepening depression.”
As you can see from the picture above, I do agree that there are many popular hair and makeup trends that may make a woman of color look more Caucasian. As a half-Asian woman, I admit to using some of these techniques on a regular basis. I apply makeup to make my eyes look wider, highlight areas to appear more angular, and dye my naturally black hair lighter. I’m not consciously trying to look whiter, but perhaps I’ve been subtly brainwashed.
Still, I find myself feeling somewhat at odds with Yi’s article. I do not dispute that there are some Caucasian attributes that are widely accepted as beauty standards, nor do I want to diminish the frustration that Yi or other minorities may feel because of these ideals. After doing quite a bit of thinking about it, I’ve realized why I didn’t relate to the piece. In short, I’m not willing to blame the beauty industry, and I don’t think the pressure to be Caucasian is quite as intense as Yi asserts. Here’s why:
1. We have the power
If the beauty industry is pushing Caucasian ideals, it’s because that’s what women are buying. The industry, like any other, wants to make money and they will do this by appealing to their base. We, as women, like to think that we want diversity, but we are probably more likely to buy the magazine with the cover featuring a gorgeous Caucasian actress, or pin the picture of the beautiful blonde on Pinterest, or click on a link offering 5 ways to make our eyes look bigger. As Yi reports, “Caucasians will become the minority as early as 2050.” Let’s put our growing numbers to work, ladies! Make it a point to buy magazines with minorities on the cover. Purchase products that advertise with models of all ethnicities and offer a wide range of products for all skin and hair types. Visit sites that represent your demographic. Our own panel of contributors here on Babble Beauty is comprised of a variety of racial backgrounds.
2. Diversity is celebrated
I’m not saying we don’t have more work to do, but in my lifetime, I’ve seen an amazing amount of change in this area. When I was a kid, there were few African American women on television, and it was very rare to see Asians and Latinas in the media. The ones who were present were often depicted as ridiculous stereotypes. This just isn’t the case anymore; people of all colors are represented. Back in 2004, 60 Minutes did a piece on Indian actress Aishwarya Rai, who was considered, at that time, to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Today, the media is buzzing about the gorgeous 12 Years a Slave star, Lupita Nyong’o. Dozens of other actresses, from Sofia Vergara to Lucy Lui (monolids and all…), have been touted for their beauty and envied by women of all races. The Caucasian ideal may be most prevalent, but I don’t believe it’s the only recognized form of aesthetic perfection.
3. Envy goes both ways
We all want what we don’t have. White women tan to make their skin darker, fashion their eyeliner into cat eyes to look more exotic, and even get butt implants to mimic J. Lo’s fantastic backside. I’ve recently seen Christina Aguilera sporting a gigantic mass of ethnic looking curls. The beauty of beauty is that we can reimagine ourselves any number of ways. Some days I play up the features I inherited from my French father, other days I play up those I received from my beautiful Korean mother.
4. We do it to ourselves
This makes me sad. At the risk of sounding condescending, appreciating my Asian heritage is another benefit of age. I remember being hurt by wanting to look like the women in magazines when I was younger. It’s a very real pain and not something I want to minimize. But when you can find the confidence to ignore the mainstream, your unique beauty can really shine. When you click on the tiny image of Sharon J. Yi, it enlarges and you can clearly see that she is a gorgeous young woman. We all have insecurities, but I truly believe that confidence is the key to beauty, not race. It’s not easy in the face of all the images that are pushed into our line of sight every day, but remember that another person’s beauty doesn’t undermine your own.