Eurocentricity of Modern Beauty Standarts

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? Beauty is subjective, not objective; as everyone defines and sees beauty differently. Now, why does everyone presented in the media look similar? Why is there a beauty standard? How come everyone wants to look like the same few people? What is the rave about double eyelid surgery all about? We need to ask, where is this coming from? Whom are we all trying to look like? What does this beauty standard that everyone wants to conform to look like? Most importantly, how does everyone unanimously decide on this?

When we think of beauty, we often think of it as a personal taste, something organic and unique. However, beauty is a phenomenon that is much more constructed and formulated and something that is influenced by larger forces (Donella).

Beauty has always been defined by whiteness, and it has always been in the eye of the colonizer. Beauty (Eurocentric beauty standards) are rooted in racism, colorism, classism, sexism; and it reinforces gender norms. The beauty industry was founded on the binary and it upholds patriarchy and capitalism, which both ultimately affect everyone (DeFino).

Eurocentric beauty standards were mainly first introduced to societies all around the world in the 1800s, during the period of widespread colonialism. Colonialism brought a lasting, lingering effect that eroded away different cultures’ values of beauty.

Ohaguro or teeth blackening is a tradition in Japan that was practiced for hundreds and hundreds of years, and it can be traced back to the Heian period (Dhwty). At that time, in Japan, Ohaguro was a sign of utmost beauty and a symbol of luxury and eliteness. It was toward the end of the Edo period that this practice diffused from the aristocratic class, down to lower classes (Dhwty). However, this practice quickly came to a halt at the beginning of the 20th century, the same time the west became an economic and industrial superpower. To keep up and compete on the global stage, Japan completely banned the practice of teeth blackening. This marked the end of a culturally significant beauty practice that was quickly turned into something outdated and antiquated because the country was taking on a project of modernization (Donella).

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In South Korea, for the longest time, any alterations to the body were considered taboo, as the body was considered a gift from ancestors. This social custom was so deeply rooted that women often never cut their hair. However, upon hearing this you may feel shocked. As, today, South Korea has the highest rates of plastic surgery per capita, with double eyelid surgery being the most popular procedure (Hess).

Double eyelid surgery was invented during the Korean War, which lasted from 1950-1953 (Chow). The surgery was developed by Ralph Millard, who was an American military plastic surgeon stationed in Korea. He was a part of an American public relations campaign that aimed to show “American’s benevolent face to the Koreans” (Chow). The first procedure ever performed was performed on Millard’s translator, who, according to Millard, was in need of an “alleviation of his suspicious-looking eyes” (qtd. in Donella). Similar wording can be found in Millard’s surgical notes, simultaneously expressing how the language of race pervaded Millard’s logic. Millard wrote in 1964 that the absence of eye fold produces “a passive expression that seems to epitomize the stoical and unemotional manner of the oriental” (qtd. in Donella). With this, Korean eyes without the crease were dubbed “slanted’ and became a sign of deviance (Chow). This brought a lasting impression in Korea. Korean ads today will suggest that undergoing the surgery brings “broadening of the mind, a brightening of the soul, and confidence in the spirit” (Chow). Furthermore, in Asia this look is coded as Korean, while in the United States, double eyelid surgery is seen as East Asians trying to look white (Donella). A this very example perfectly exemplifies how beauty has been affected by war, empire, and a colonizer-colonized relationship (Donella). Most importantly, we need to hold it close to the present, where the South Korean beauty and cosmetic industry is valued at over $9.1 billion (So).

There are specific explanations for the correlation between beauty and whiteness that is ingrained into everyone’s heads. In the United States, there were no Black Miss America contestants up until 1940 (Donella). This is no coincidence, as the rules stated that contestants had to be “of good health and of the white race”, this essentially prohibited any women of color from entering the pageant (Donella). While this may seem insignificant, this ultimately shapes white feminine beauty into becoming American ideal beauty, and this conditions the way people think. Additionally, this is yet another example of how colonizers determine the beauty standard, and how race is a huge factor in how beauty norms are created. The oppressed and colonized are quite literally pushed down, and in this case underrepresented.

Next, why do white people do a lot better on cross-cultural studies of attraction? Is the belief that beauty is a characteristic of the white race, shared by racial theorist Christoph Meiners, actually legitimate? Absolutely not. White people are not more attractive simply because it is a characteristic of their race, but rather because of lack of repeated exposure. This is also known as the mere-exposure effect or the familiarity principle; it is a psychological phenomenon when a preference is developed merely because it is familiar ('Mere-Exposure Effect'). This explains why beauty standards are Eurocentric, and this is more commonly known as underrepresentation, which can be found throughout society and media.

Underrepresentation is prevalent in the media; at New York’s fashion week, one of the world’s biggest fashion events, 82.7 of the models were white, leaving 17.3% for racial minorities (Johnson). This number is insignificant when considering one-third of the US population consists of racial minorities. Additionally, the non-white people in media must have Eurocentric features. Maisha Johnson speaks on women of color in the media, explaining that “[they have] to be a white girl dipped in chocolate”. Female Black actors often appear in media with straight hair; and this is often achieved through wigs, chemical straightening, or flat ironing (Johnson). Likewise, many makeup ads demonstrate this exact ‘need’ for non-white models to look like white people, and oftentimes they look exactly like white models (Wade).

In conclusion, beauty has evolved from something that was once truly subjective, to something nearly completely objective and defined by set standards. This evolution has erased many different cultures’ beauty standards, as they have become Eurocentric. As of today, beauty is defined by whiteness, this is the case because of colonialism, and the media has only further perpetuated this dangerous notion.

Bibliography

  1. AbdulKader, Salma. ‘Beauty Is in the Eye of the Colonizer: Eurocentrism Rears Its ‘Beautiful’ Head’. Medium, Medium, 4 Sept. 2020, http://medium.com/@salmaabdulkader/beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-colonizer-eurocentrism-rears-its-beautiful-head-519b8acff6e4.
  2. Chow, Kat. ‘Is Beauty in the Eye(Lid) of the Beholder?’ NPR, NPR, 17 Nov. 2014, http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2014/11/17/363841262/is-beauty-in-the-eye-lid-of-the-beholder.
  3. DeFino, Jessica. ‘How White Supremacy and Capitalism Influence Beauty Standards’. Teen Vogue, Teen Vogue, 19 Oct. 2020, http://www.teenvogue.com/story/standard-issues-white-supremacy-capitalism-influence-beauty.
  4. Dhwty. ‘The Allure of Blackened Teeth: A Traditional Japanese Sign of Beauty’. Ancient Origins, Ancient Origins, 2 Oct. 2020, http://www.ancient-origins.net/history-ancient-traditions/blackened-teeth-traditional-005544.
  5. Donnella, Leah. ‘Is Beauty in the Eyes of the Colonizer?’ NPR, NPR, 6 Feb. 2019, http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2019/02/06/685506578/is-beauty-in-the-eyes-of-the-colonizer.
  6. Herald, The Korea. ‘Uncovering History of Double Eyelid Surgery.’ The Korea Herald, 11 Sept. 2015.
  7. Hess, Chris. ‘The Seven Countries with the Most Cosmetic Surgeries’. Hess Plastic Surgery, 24 Feb. 2021, http://www.hessplasticsurgery.com/blog/the-seven-countries-with-the-most-cosmetic-surgeries/.
  8. ‘Joanna L. Rondilla’. NPIEN, http://www.npien.com/chapters/northern-california-chapter/17-chapters/132-joanne-l-rondilla.
  9. Johnson, Maisha. ‘10 Ways the Beauty Industry Tells You Being Beautiful Means Being White’. Gender Society, 19 Jan. 2016, http://gendersociety.wordpress.com/2016/01/08/10-ways-the-beauty-industry-tells-you-being-beautiful-means-being-white/.
  10. ‘Mere-Exposure Effect’. Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Mar. 2021, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mere-exposure_effect.
  11. So, Won. ‘Topic: Skin Care Market in South Korea’. Statista, Statista, 25 Feb. 2021, http://www.statista.com/topics/5461/skin-care-market-in-south-korea/.
  12. Wade, Lisa. ‘When Whiteness Is the Standard of Beauty’. The Society Pages, The Society Pages, 16 May 2014, http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2014/05/16/white-as-beautiful-black-as-white/.
  13. Wade, Lisa. ‘When Whiteness Is the Standard of Beauty’. 16 May 2014.
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Eurocentricity of Modern Beauty Standarts. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 14, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/eurocentricity-of-modern-beauty-standarts/
“Eurocentricity of Modern Beauty Standarts.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/eurocentricity-of-modern-beauty-standarts/
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Eurocentricity of Modern Beauty Standarts [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 15 [cited 2024 Apr 14]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/eurocentricity-of-modern-beauty-standarts/
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