Beauty and race or ethnicity, are two components of daily life that are often discussed and linked, especially when it comes to the media and the fashion industry. The reason for this is because the fashion industry, which in the end, is all about beauty, and more specific human beauty and attractiveness seems to promote a certain type of look. Most models we see on the runway and in fashion campaigns are Caucasians or come from other white groups. According to a study, in 2008, from all the female models that walked down the runway during New York Fashion Week, 87% were White, 6% were Black, 6% were Asian and only 1% were
Latina. This information needs a few clarifications, but we assume that by “Black” they refer to people of African descent, and by “Asian” they refer to Chinese, Korean or Japanese people and not to Indians, Pakistani, and other groups that are also “Asian”. We are wondering how many models were actually, for example, of Indian or Cambodian descent – probably less than 1%. This is proof enough that society’s standards of beauty are quite clear.
While some people argue that race does not even exist, it is undeniable that race is something that does exist – after all, it’s something we can see: some people are darker, others are lighter, some have blond hair, while in other groups there are no people with blond hair. However, the question is whether ethnicity is something that differentiates us in other ways than in the way we look.
In the end, don’t we all feel in the same way, don’t we all live in the same world? Even though we might have different colors and traits, as the saying goes, “there is only one race – the human race.”
Therefore, why do we see white as the norm and the ideal standard of beauty? The answer to this question is very easy: it was the white people who traveled throughout the world to discover new territories and to bring their culture to the places they conquered. Dark skin people have a big history of being segregated, enslaved and ridiculed. Moreover, the shade of dark skin one had was an indicator of what his or her life could be: in America, during the 1800s, slaves that were lighter were allowed to come in closer contact with their master’s house, as opposed to darker skin slaves, who had harder life. This issue of colorism is something that has affected the black American community in the sense that lighter dark people are sometimes seen as better than black people with dark skin.
This is why, even today, most black people who are models have either “white” features or very light skin. Speaking of light skin, for Westerners it might come as a surprise that in some countries like India, there are lots of skin bleaching products advertised all day long on TV and people go to extreme lengths to become whiter. To them, white is beautiful and this is seen everywhere in their culture. Soap starts, movie stars and signers are all extremely fair compared to the general population of the country.
As for why Asian and other ethnicities such as Latinos are under-represented in fashion and the media – that is simply because of an Eurocentric view of the world, which we are sure is about to change. When it comes to Arabs and other Middle Easterners, because of the recent unrest in the region, they are seen as the “enemy” and are therefore disregarded – which is unfortunately a classic case of racism.
These are all things we know and even though there is a lot of racism in the world today, there are things we can do.
This black – white beauty phenomenon is highly correlated to the concept of internalization. Internalization is when an individual believes a social construct (such as that the whiter the person, the better) and decides to act upon it. Therefore, what we can do is to look for beauty in other places other than what history has taught us and to learn to appreciate ourselves. This is key: seeing your ethnic background equal to everyone else’s will install an attitude within you that will be hard to break; and this is something people of all ethnicities should do, white, black, Asian or otherwise.
Comedian Margaret Cho had a story in one of her TV specials. She often talks about beauty from the perspective of an American-Korean woman who had to fight with racism and with other image-related issues such as losing weight. She once told a story of an interview she gave, in which the radio host asked her what she would do if she were to wake up the next day and “be beautiful”, meaning blond, very tall and very thin. Of course, Cho was perplexed, but was ready to give a funny answer to the question saying that if she were to look like a Barbie doll, she would probably would not get out of bed because she would be too weak to stand and continued by saying how amazed she was of how limited some people’s vision of beauty is.
And that is a good argument. Don’t you think it’s time to break the chain and to see each other as people and not as Black, White, Asian, Arab or anything else.
To conclude, we can say that yes, there is still too much racism in the world and that we need more diversity. Secondly, there is unintentional racism as well, meaning people who are not racist promoting only certain looks for commercial or other reason, having nothing to do with ideology or any type of real racism. However, the issue of racism and of perceiving one race as better than the other has a lot to do with the people who are passive consumers of society as well. What we should all do is embrace our true, authentic selves, even though this means that sometimes we have to work harder.
Fraquoh and Franchomme
P.S. What do you think? Is beauty correlated with race? Is there a strange standard of beauty in the fashion world? Share your thoughts in the comments below! For more articles on style, fashion tips and cultural insights, you can subscribe to Attire Club via e-mail or follow us on Facebook or Twitter!