#LetsTalkAboutIt: Why Is Everybody Obsessed With Looking White?
#LetsTalkAboutIt: Why Is Everybody Obsessed With Looking White?
Before we start getting into it, I want you to think about all the women who are in the mainstream light currently and what they look like. Do most of them have shiny hair with sleek noses and high cheekbones and range mainly from the colour palettes of “Ivory” and “Sand”? Are the majority celebrating their curves as long as it isn’t a ‘little too much’ but always, of course, having to flaunt what they have? I want to welcome you in what I call the postcolonial effect on beauty and how it has trickled down from that damn machine.
Let’s begin with a story. Once upon a time, not long ago, I was in a beauty department store when I was introduced to a “glowing foundation”. This, I was told, would “luckily” make my skin fairer therefore solving all my problems in a jiffy. University debts? Nah. Future job prospects? Nada. World hunger? Nope- I mean, everything is sorted now I almost look Caucasian. One of the first thoughts which came to mind was that being from a Southern-Asian descent or in other words being “Deep Honey”, I was not even on the darkest end of the spectrum yet already was barely represented. This made me question where do those go who do not fit into “nude” tones? And what is even “nude”? Why do I connote it with pale skin? Why do I have to pay more for what is not specialist subject? Surely, these companies would profit financially if makeup for all became more available- or are we not a reason valid enough? But the most prominent thought which came to mind was: why is everyone obsessed with looking white?
When I thought “everyone”, I didn’t specifically narrow the thought down to those who are of that colour but simply to those who aren’t. For example, the makeup artist who attended to my ‘needs’ was a woman of colour and as are those, who comment on my “gradual darkness” as I have gotten older. But just how we accepted how some white men over the age of sixty may be racist as they were brought up in a different time, it is also accepted of those who are yet again older but of a “coloured” race whether it be black, across the board Asian, Native American or Latino to be racist to themselves or others of that race when it comes to matters of skin colour. However the scary yet very real idea is that these standards of beauty are not just by those of age, these inklings have seeped in as facts for those who are of the next generation. For example, Proust stated roughly that “we only see beauty when we’re looking through an ornate gold frame” meaning how we see beauty in the words of artist Greyson Perry, is “conditioned”.
Although I do not want to state just by being a woman of colour, I am speaking for all in this category as this is the beginning of the problem: we cannot be boxed in generalisations even though we are part of a community. This is not to be politically correct but to simply state that one person of colour does not and should not reflect their entire race whether it be on superficial topics or those that have an effect in a worldly manner. Furthermore, we can not be tagged and put a label on by those who aren’t a part of this marginalisation in the West but are a part of the enforcement of making one feel like a minority. This leads me to my first point, in that I, a single person, with individual thoughts which aren’t just “Asian” (and it’s fine if they are) personally see and blame the effects of colonialism on the one way we view beauty for the most part.
However, it is not the historical stun of how one can have so much power they can make an entire country feel ugly but how the same people of that race will perpetuate this further. What I mean when I say this, is the racism in each race.
An article I read long ago discussed vaguely about how although the caste system has long been abolished, it is not an unpopular opinion in India that being fairer made you more beautiful alongside having a thinner nose, being slim and tall with shiny straight hair. And those who weren’t, were shunned and even compared to the dark skinned Hindu Goddess of Destruction. Coming from a Bangladeshi heritage, which although being progressive, there were always odd comments made at weddings (because, you know, when are we not getting married?) by distant relatives who synonymized the Khoina’s fairness with her beauty. Unfortunately, this is not a rare case in Asia as although we are years away from the 1920s, when women in China ate powdered pearls in the hopes of making their skin lighter, there are still notions in place which hold this attitude. The app Pitu is an example, as although it was ironically recommended by Vogue Australia, a magazine which targets mostly white women, it was claimed to be one of the best apps for beauty. This Korean app allows women’s faces to be “autofixed”. This can be continued in the “makeup” process of “whitening” your skin tone, “slimming” ones detected face, whilst the “enlarger”, “dark circle” and “brighten” options allows you ‘open’ up your eyes to a percentage your face and scrolling fingers desire. The worrying problem is that not only do you end up as a Manga character, you realise that these fantastical creatures have also been a victim to the beauty ‘norm’ the whole world is fixated by. It is an app which gives into the idea that only one part of the world is the standard which we should all aim for.
To continue, we now live in a digital world where now every notion has its own multi-platform. Therefore, although everyone blames the adverts in magazines due to their lack of diversity, they are now just one form of media with the ability to misrepresent. This is conveyed as 44% of Korean and 54% of Chinese adverts are modelled by Caucasian models. Furthermore, although India is praised for using their Bollywood female stars as the mascots of beauty brands, these actresses such as Aishwarya Rai Bachchan are of the lightest skin tones with blue eyes and shiny straight hair, therefore representing only a small percentage of the variety of looks Indian women have. Moreover, the UK is constantly being connoted for being “diverse” and “multi-cultural”, even our consumer magazines only hold makeup and beauty samples in adverts for white women which questions if these advertisers and publications believe all their readers have Aryan qualities. Lastly, ‘ethnic’ models only fill up three percent of these fashion and beauty adverts which brings us to my next point of what is being represented.
Currently, Lupita N’yongo is the face of Lancóme beauty whilst Jourdan Dunn is one of the models for the YSL touche éclat campaign and consequently a great progression for two black women to be centre of the largest beauty brands. Although I’ve stated before, one person cannot represent a whole race of people, it can be argued that the current ethnic models featured in these ads do not typically have the most ethnic of features. I am not exclaiming black women only look like Naomi’s, Lupita’s and Jourdan’s as there is such a rich variety of looks, I am questioning the fact that it is 2016 and this simply is not enough. Is there any advancement really, if the small fraction of coloured models arguably have quintessential caucasian features?
The ‘Pink Obsession Colour Riche’ L’oreal ad is just another page of the same boring book. Although this ad features a variety of looks, with women such as Eva Longoria, Fan Bingbing and Sonam Kapoor smiling around John Legend as he plays the piano, in a rose tinted haze, the models appear to be “white washed”. So is the message still ‘Yes, we love women and their range of backgrounds but let’s still only paint them with one brush’? Ergo, what is the difference between what these brands are doing and what Fair and Lovely, a popular face cream in Asia, which claims to make one ‘more beautiful’ by making one ‘lighter’, aims to do? Unfortunately, albeit the former brands and their efforts (no stars for Fair and Lovely they are still only perpetuating the same standard. And the problem with this, psychologist James Cutting states, is that the more frequent you post the same type of image, the more people gain a preference to that certain style hence the reason why many believe being of a lighter skin tone is the foundation of beauty.
These days, however, you do not need to look as far as the campaigns in magazines to see this. As ‘contouring’ has taken over the makeup sphere across Instagram with micro-clips on how to get the most striking and dare I say again, typically Caucasian features, the underlying message remains the same. This isn’t to say everyone who contours wants to look white as a) it is not necessarily exclusive to ethnic minorities although increasingly popular and b) that would be the same ignorance as stating every time a woman applies makeup, it is for a man. But why is it not projected the variety of colours every woman can wear regardless of her skin tone? Why is it that only small pointed noses are coveted? And why are we now shown how to make our eyes appear more almond shaped and less raisin? As far as I’m concerned, both of them are just as yummy.
There is even an on-going joke across social media with British Southern Asians about how when girls typically of that background post a picture and you cannot see their nose due to how bright their filter is, it’s because of one reason only: an attempt to hide the shape of their nose. It may just be that they enjoy harnessing the sun’s light but it may not.
On the other hand, luckily, due to the internet, there are models who are deconstructing what is on social media. Whether it be Anti-Agency praising unfamiliar looks or Stefania Ferrario with her campaign to drop the “plus” when it connected to bigger (but just as fantastic) models. Or Celiné’s every going campaign to use women of age with the result, in my opinion, being ultra cool.
You may be wondering why I have been discussing beauty in the #LetsTalkAboutIt issue when there are so many other atrocities happening simultaneously in the world right now. You might even say it’s a first world problem to even have the time to dissect this material and it is. It may not be the biggest problem women have to face or anyone who does not feel as though they are represented but it is still a problem. It is still part of this machine where the outcome is that people feel like the Other in which the Western standard of beauty becomes the global standard therefore not just an act of alienation but a feeling of inferiority. Unfortunately, even in the wave of new feminism, it still is not talked about enough yet it is a feminist, humanist issue, even. On the contrary, these images are carried out by what is known as ‘Woman’s Magazines’ and still cater to one bygone idea of what their reader is. You may say that the models chosen whether it be Cara Delevigne or Kendall Jenner are due to their “versatility” but I think we all need to reconsider why being white is considered as versatile or worse, what one should aim for. Whether it’s the fault of religious text focusing on one’s “light” or noor which many interpret as lightness of skin (completely disagree, I mean, Beyoncé is literally what I orbit around) or how our language has been sculpted. The claim that white connects to ideas of purity thus virtue and motherhood which is clearly the only reason for the existence of women. Or how “fairness” has a double meaning connected with integrity. But there is none of the latter if you think one set of people, based on what’s on the literal surface are better than those who happen to be different. Sue me, but I’m very happy being the colour I am, I just wish more people were. I mean, God took me out the oven just at the perfect time, right?
Written by Tahmina Begum/ @tahminaxbegum
Images via Dazed Digital, Vogue, YSL, Lancomé, Lóreal, Fair and Beauty, W Mag, theaerogram.com, whatismatt.com
Illustration produced for XXY Magazine, by Aase Hopstock