As a woman of color with a mixed heritage and mother to a 3-year-old little girl, today’s beauty “standards” scare the hell out of me! From fake freckles and eyelashes, hours spent in front of the mirror drawing on eyebrows, to hours spent under the knife or needle – not to save lives, but to have a bigger derrière paired with skinny thighs and barely visible waistlines. What have we become?! Men and women alike have bought into this culture. Women are in constant competition with themselves and each other to achieve a better, unreal and unnatural look, as opposed to uplifting each other. While on the surface this may seem like a women’s issue, it is also a male issue. Boys are being raised by women who are demonstrating the type of woman that they should seek as a partner. Men are perpetuating the issue by seeking women who exclusively live up to these standards, all while simultaneously posting memes asking what happened to the 90s girl who was naturally beautiful. Huh?! You’re surrounded by them! It’s all cyclical. A matter of supply and demand, if you will, and it is destroying the concept of self-love and the acceptance of the genuine self.
I was a teenager and in my 20s in the mid-to late 90s through 2013. A time in which self-love and being comfortable in one’s own skin was considered the norm and not a trend. For the most part, the women who set the beauty standard, who were picked as leading ladies for music videos and box office hits, who were gracing the covers of magazines, and the women I saw on the street were fresh-faced, natural, and unapologetically themselves, and walked in confidence – without their face primer, lip plumper, and eyebrow gel.
So… I know, thus far, I sound judgmental and a little like – dare I say – a hater. This is not my intention and it is not who I am nor who I encourage you to be. I cannot help but speak out against the things that I see that are contributing to an injurious culture, especially when most are naïve to the fact that the damage is even happening. There are times when I question my own beauty based on today’s standards. In those times I check myself and in my moments of insecurity and doubt, I remember that in most cases the image I’m comparing myself to is unattainable because it is very likely fake/made in a doctor’s office and/or edited in some way. Therefore, I rebel against it. I demonstrate transparency and live in my truth by posting pictures of myself removing my God-given Puerto Rican mustache on social media (just because the Frida Kahlo look is not for me). It is not about the removal of my mustache as much as it is the acknowledgment that it exists. I am not perfect and I am not afraid to show you so – and I want to encourage other girls and women to feel the same.
One could argue (and they have) asking “well, who are you to say anything? Shouldn’t a woman decide what makes her feel beautiful and be able to do what she wants?” In the grand scheme of things, my answer is yes – of course. I do feel like women should be in control of how they feel and in the discussion of beauty, women should feel empowered to decide what makes them feel beautiful. However, from a clinical perspective, I fear for our women and for our girls who are watching and learning and emulating what they see in today’s world. In some cases, women, both young and old, are dying…under a knife or needle. For example, women are thoughtlessly injecting silicone into their bodies. There is limited documented information regarding the long-term effects to one’s health as one ages when silicone has been injected into the body. However, in researching this topic and reading a 2006 article from The Radiological Society of North America, I learned that “[T]he U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned silicone injections in 1992, but people still seek them out because they are cheaper and easier to get than professional plastic surgery…” Albeit, some beauty trends are not as dangerous as others.
But striving for perfection can not only be physically harmful, it can also cause for a dysfunctional psyche – leading to a skewed, augmented sense of self-worth. A publication by the YWCA explores various impacts of the “search for perfection” which includes among others; the economic and professional impacts on women. The reality is startling and the adverse impacts which are unfortunately still quite relevant- even in 2017. Notably, the publication suggests “[T]he issue is not new, but the extent to which it is invading the lives of younger girls and women of color, and the lengths to which women will go to achieve an unattainable look, is an increasing problem. The pressure to achieve unrealistic physical beauty is an undercurrent in the lives of virtually all women in the United States, and its steady drumbeat is wreaking havoc on women in ways that far exceed the bounds of their physical selves.”
Lastly, another concern is that we are setting the next generation of women, and men. up for failure by trying to make our daughters mini-women and showing our boys that this is ok. It seems as if gone are the days of 4 year old girls wearing cartoon characters, farm animals, ABCs and 123s on their t-shirts. In 2017, toddler girls have matching top knots, hoop earrings, cut out jeans, belly shirts and duck lips. Why strip children of their innocence? Why allow our teenaged girls to buy top of the line makeup to contour away their natural and still developing beauty? Why teach our sons that the girls with the thickest frame and perfect fake eyebrows are better than the girls who are unafraid to explore the outside world without a face of makeup and study books instead of YouTube makeup tutorials? The sexualization of children is not a concept to be ignored. The YWCA publication notes “[y]oung women of this generation ‘have learned from a very young age that the power of their gender was tied to what they looked like – and how ‘sexy’ they were – than to character or achievement.” Moreover, “young boys also pick up on sexualization and appearance-based objectification of girls early by learning to sexually harass and objectify girls.”
While some companies and celebrities are spearheading the au naturale movement such as Dove, Dark And Lovely, and Alicia Keys, to name a few, much more work needs to be done and it starts with everyday change agents like you and me. So what do we do? I suggest the following:
(1) stop contributing to the glorification of all the fake-ness (stop buying products that support these standards, stop following the women who perpetuate these standards on social media, etc.)
(2) spread information about self-love and embracing one’s flaws. Talk to your younger queen sisters and young king brothers, cousins, sons, daughters, and students. Become a mentor and have these discussions with our youth
(3) challenge these new norms daily. Rebel against them by posting a picture with your makeup and hair done when you feel good about yourself – but also challenge yourself to feel good enough and beautiful without it all on. Go outside without makeup. Post a fresh-faced photo (but, like for real! Not the “fresh-faced makeup look!”)
(4) Help to start a positive body image movement in your community or school or home. Love yourself the way you are, demand respect for doing so and teach and encourage others how to do the same.
Beauty standards will always be out there and are ever changing, but let’s collectively work on being our most naturally beautiful, physically and emotionally HEALTHY selves, one person at a time.
BY: J’Lee Maldonado, MSW
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