white aesthetics

[an addendum]

I think I should have included a little something more in yesterday’s post, therefore I am adding this little addendum…

A few personal experiences that have my opened my eyes to my otherness according to our society… i.e. not Hispanic, not white, not normal, not fitting into any neat little category, but rather a mysterious, ‘exotic’ other…

1) I was once told by a boy at school that I was “not Hispanic enough” to understand something

2) I was once told quite specifically just what was wrong with my face according to a boy in high school

3) At my last job a male customer asked me if I was Italian, or Greek, or [insert other European background here], and after my answering in the negative a few times he finally asked, “I’m sorry, but what ethnicity are you?? I just have to know…”—and this happens to me a lot, FYI—I finally said, “El Salvadorean,” and he said, “oh, wow, that’s surprising… I mean, you’re pretty, you look European…”

*The lesson here, in case you didn’t get it, is that people from 3rd world countries, e.g. Central America, are not attractive.

4) When I started dating my current boyfriend [years ago] I told a few people, including him, that he was the first white boyfriend I’d ever had. A few friends kind of laughed, like, “ok….haha…you’re being silly…who cares, etc.” and the thing is, I realized- they didn’t get it, they didn’t see it like me (and after all, how could they). That ‘thing’ is: I learned early on that I was not attractive to white boys, white boys would not and could not be attracted to me – I’m “weird” looking after all. (Hence, the constantly being asked by random strangers what ethnicity I am) How do I know this? I was told so through various insults as a teenager girl. I grew up in Venice, CA, but got bussed up to a high school in Malibu from 7th grade on. And that was it- that’s how I learned my place. I went from being “normal,” maybe even pretty according to some, among my racially diverse elementary school peers (*think black, white, Mexican, Korean, Costa Rican, Ethiopian, etc.*) to being an instantly unattractive freak among the sea of blonde-haired and blue-eyed girls in Malibu.

And that’s my story. I heard and underwent a lot of harmful treatment there. That’s where I learned what the standard is. That’s where I first learned about white aesthetics. That’s where I first learned about my otherness. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. *And* I know white girls and women undergo similar pressures to conform to arbitrary standards of beauty as well. My sister and I have both been through the ringer when it comes to social pressures, standards, criticisms, and sexism impacting us in severe and traumatic ways- and she’s white. (I’m adopted)

I’m just giving you a view into one girl’s experiences. And that’s not to say that my journey or experiences have been rougher than anybody else’s. Mine are my own- they are unique to me, my gender, my ethnicity, my sexual orientation, etc., just as my sister’s or any other woman’s experiences will be unique to her and no one else could ever truly understand them. We all experience things differently. It’s not about ranking types and levels of oppression, but rather understanding that we are all subject to this system, these inequalities, and how we experience these things will inevitably vary.

In the words of Cherrie Moraga, “The danger lies in ranking the oppressions. The danger lies in failing to acknowledge the specificity of the oppression. The danger lies in attempting to deal with oppression purely from a theoretical base. Without an emotional, heartfelt grappling with the source of our own oppression, without naming the enemy within ourselves and outside of us, no authentic, nonhierarchical connection among oppressed groups can take place.”

 

 

 

 

 

“I want to be bright!”

During a study group session one day with two classmates (both black women who had children), our discussion turned to white aesthetics. Not unusual as we were all essentially Sociology majors within our interdisciplinary department.

My one friend tells me how her daughter, after the first day of kindergarten, came home and said to her, “Mommy, I want to be bright!”

Naturally she said, “Baby, of course you are going to be bright. You’re already so bright. I’m sure you’ll be the smartest girl in class.” Then her daughter corrected her, “Nooooo mommyyyyy… I want to be BRIGHT. Like the pretty girls at school with the light skin and the smooth hair!”

How would you feel hearing your five or six-year old daughter say something like this?

This is the world we live in. History and law books were established and written by privileged white men, and therefore standards of female beauty set by the pure and virtuous white woman- the object of the privileged white man’s affection. Think Lillian Gish (ahem, The Birth of a Nation!), Barbie (does it get any more normalizing/indoctrinating than Barbie?!), Marilyn Monroe, Pamela Anderson, Gisele Bundchen, etc.

[Hence, why Bill Maher says something to the effect of, “That’s why you didn’t get that lead role in Titanic!,” to Kerry Washington at the end of this clip, though it’s cut off]

I may not be a black woman, but I am “other,” and I’ve fought my own battles against the overwhelmingly “white” standard of beauty. Growing up I was often called “exotic.” Not pretty, not ugly, but “exotic;” In other words, different, unusual, “other.”

Do you know about the growing popularity of the eye surgery to make Asian women look more “Western“? Do you know about Renee Rogers, an American Airlines employee who wasn’t permitted to wear her hair in braids while at work? (they asked her to pull it back in a bun and wear a “hairpiece” over it….) This also brings to mind the Chris Rock movie, Good Hair, a documentary set into motion by his daughter asking him, “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair…?”

I will now refer you to this awesome critique and compilation of images via “beautyredefined.net.”

*Editor’s note: This article now contains [an addendum]