Do American beauty standards uphold white supremacy?
Do BIPOC struggle with body positivity because they truly believe something is wrong with their bodies, or is it that America is encapsulated in an exclusive standard of appearance? A standard that perpetuates supremacy and suppresses equality. A standard centered in European ideals and white presence. A standard that influences the beautiful, vast colors, shapes, and sizes that share and make the space of this nation to idolize that outside of themselves. Leading many young people to change their perspective on not only their uniqueness, authenticity, and essence, but that of others as well–furthering division.
In a recent article I wrote, I talked about the evolution of “Soul Food,” which stemmed from survivalist times. The ingredients given to slaves–which has inspired many of the dishes that encompass “Soul Food,” weren’t given to slaves as a means to their wellbeing, but as a means to keep them alive to fulfill their duties. Today, an outcome of the evolution of “Soul Food” in conjunction with systemic oppression, are various health issues that are often unaddressed until it’s too late. This has fueled the current health disparities seen faced by the Black community time and time again. But though obesity is common in America, it is not an embraced standard in the context of beauty. This is what can make “Soul Food” oppressive, as it didn’t originate from abundance, but from scarcity–and at the hands of oppressors; and is directly destructive to the wellbeing of many in minority communities.
Even though, Black women, and I mention women because women are most oppressed by beauty standards… Black women, especially Black women who come from Black dominant environments such as the South, are likely to be physically bigger than embraced by the American beauty standards through the integration of soul food; but also due to environmental impacts. As I mentioned briefly in the recent article I wrote, Soul Food stems from the methods resembled in traditional African cuisine. Soul Food, in a way, is just Americanized African food. And in Africa, thicker women are seen as healthy, as it signifies abundance. In African culture, meals are commonly hearty, rich, and nourishing, so one’s thin stature can translate as deficiency.
But when you think of diet culture in America, this analogy can be a direct glance into the reality of many young people who are attempting to embody the “American” beauty standard fueled in society. As genetics play a large role in one’s physical presence. Except in this case, deficiency isn’t an accessibility issue but a result of conditioning.
When I was younger, the early 2000s beauty standard reflected very thin and small women, who had straight long hair and pale skin. This was reflected on TV, which as a young person I hadn’t developed the distinction between entertainment and reality. So as a 6 foot woman with dark skin and coily hair, who naturally weighed more than others my age, this made me undoubtedly self conscious.
I’d faced many rejections socially because of this, because not only are those who are directly affected by these standards contributing to the issue, but those who are not under the standard but enforce the standard, such as men and public influencers, contribute as well. As I got older I fell deeper into insecurity as I began to “fill out,” and put on more weight. Aside from the many other social conditionings sought through internalized white supremacy, as a statuesque woman, body image was the one that hit my self esteem hardest. But as I began looking outside this oppressive perspective, and looking more at communities that resembled myself, I noticed that this conditioning was not my truth. And I knew that continuing to hold myself to a standard fueled by white supremacy, would only be self destructive.
White women, demographically speaking, are commonly applauded as the “ideal” in terms of beauty for reasons further than genetics, such as accessibility privileges for example and the leverage to control this narrative, but what does that mean?
Another thing to address is the beauty standard of today, which in regards to the female body, resembles that of the Black woman. The lips, the hips and backside, it was all used to mock and dismiss the beauty that resembled African essence.
Now, it is at the forefront of beauty, reflected heavily in the media and on the TV, and now excludes another demographic. Even still, Black women are not at the forefront at the applause. Plastic surgery and intentional workout regimens have allotted all women who may not naturally resemble this body shape to achieve it. But the question is why?
What is a beauty standard if it is always racially exclusive in some capacity? What is a beauty standard if it’s exclusivity fuels the internalized white supremacy that lowers our collective wellbeing as a nation?
All colors, shapes and sizes can be beautiful. All colors, shapes and sizes are beautiful.