December 9, 2021


Only The Finest Women

How Eurocentric Beauty Standards Harm Black Women

Sydney Clark isn’t really a dim-skinned Black girl, but her complexion isn’t really as gentle as her mom or sister possibly. This difference, having said that slight, is why she says she thinks she was taken care of otherwise from the relaxation of her household. Even though strangers would compliment her mother or sister, they would not speak to her, simply smiling or nodding in acknowledgment, she remembers.

“It can be anything that I dealt with for a lengthy time — sort of wishing that I was whiter, so I could healthy in with my family members — and was making an attempt to understand why I ended up hunting like this,” suggests Clark. “And then it came to me that folks who look like me were not valued as significantly as people who looked like them.”

Clark now operates the Mending Wall Task, an on the net content material hub for variety, equity, and inclusion focusing on subject areas this sort of as mental well being and reproductive justice, and is earning her master’s degree in general public wellness at Tulane College. Clark states she started to procedure how Eurocentric attractiveness criteria — a reference to physical traits this sort of as hair variety, facial capabilities, and pores and skin tone that are normally linked with people of European descent and are perceived as “wonderful” — truly afflicted her although earning her undergraduate diploma at Southern Methodist College. It was then that she claims she experienced a variety of microaggressions and outright aggressions. For case in point, persons were being possibly enamored with her pure hair, which she wore in an afro, or averse to it, she says. These encounters pushed her to deconstruct how these natural beauty benchmarks and their impacts impacted her mental health and fitness alongside other college students of colour on campus. 

Whilst the illustration of Blackness in leisure and media has developed, facts suggests there is certainly nevertheless substantially place for enhancement. A 2020 report from Women of all ages and Hollywood uncovered that Black gals comprised 26 percent of woman people in broadcast community courses from 2019 to 2020, up from just 12 p.c in 2010 to 2011. In the aftermath of the Black Lives Make any difference uprisings in 2020, include types of color appeared on practically 50 percent of 50 significant magazines in 2020, a notable rise from 17.4 percent in 2014, in accordance to the Trend Spot’s 2020 report. And a March McKinsey report located that Black sales opportunities comprised 14 p.c of lead roles on cable Television displays, up from 12.9 per cent in 2018.

Entertainment is only a single region in which Eurocentric elegance standards are omnipresent Black girls battle these beliefs in the place of work as perfectly as in familial and intimate associations, way too. This idea that culture dictates which facial features, hair textures, and system types are seen as “extra beautiful,” can obviously consider a toll on Black women’s self-esteem, mental overall health, and overall notion of by themselves. 

Chanté Griffin, a journalist and normal hair advocate, says she discovered men and women had been managing her otherwise after she slash her hair. Growing up, she pressed and wore her very long hair straight, but in 2016, she made a decision to minimize it all off, in aspect mainly because, after decades of straightening it, it was tough to transition to natural, healthier styles. 

A person memory that sticks out, she says, is when another person she was courting abruptly stopped complimenting her on her hair after she swapped very long braids for a small, normal design and style, she recalls. She claims she believes the flattery stopped mainly because Eurocentric splendor expectations dictate that for a longer period hair — even lengthier, purely natural hair — is someway “better” than small hair.

Ahead of Africans ended up brought to the United States as element of the slave trade, their hairstyles were a considerable section of their society, signaling every little thing from their tribe to their standing within just their group, says Lori Tharps, writer of Hair Tale: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America and Similar Household, Diverse Colours: Confronting Colorism in America’s Numerous Households. But as they ended up introduced to the New Earth as slaves, the Europeans shaved their heads, describes Tharps. Now, even generations right after slavery finished, Black females and girls’ hair texture stays penalized in the office, in educational institutions, and even at the airport.

Lori Nixon-Bethea, Ph.D., a Black certified skilled counselor based mostly in Oakhurst, New Jersey, claims she has read from clientele who are nervous about how their hair is perceived at do the job and in their relationships. Just one customer felt that her African American husband was displeased when she minimize her hair simply because she considered he was attracted to her traditional glance, she remembers. The hope is that women of all ages can uncover validation in just themselves, describes Nixon-Bethea, who says she encourages her clientele to use good affirmations and establish what is actually wonderful about their characteristics. (Connected: 11 Black Gals Get Real About Purely natural Hair at Task Interviews)

When Clark was increasing up, she states individuals would problem whether or not she was associated to her family due to the fact she had darker pores and skin. These interactions brought on her to prolonged for lighter pores and skin so that she could in good shape in with her spouse and children and adhere to the characteristics that were extra valued by society, she claims.  

By the early 1900s, the cosmetics market emerged and inspired darker-skinned men and women to lighten their skin tone — skin-bleaching products and solutions were being commonly advertised — and straighten their normal hair. This prompted a dialogue amid Black People about whether to reject these kinds of splendor products and embrace their natural capabilities, or adhere to these specifications as a implies to endure, claims Tharps. 

Scholars in the 18th and 19th centuries built on Bernier’s work and concluded that the best entire body style for white females must be slender because African women’s bodies are inclined to be curvier, states Strings. Researchers at the time equated the slimmer bodies of white ladies with the suitable woman figure, she points out. 

Karen Balumbu-Bennett, a Very long Beach front, California-centered accredited medical social worker and psychotherapist, who is a 1st-era Congolese American, remembers her work with an educator who changed her attire to stay clear of being oversexualized by her preteen students and colleagues. Despite dressing in a a lot more modest style, she nevertheless felt singled out, recalls Balumbu-Bennett.

“She recognized she would get bizarre comments from some of her colleagues, even female types, this kind of as, ‘Oh, girl, you have a wonderful system,’ or, ‘That seems to be very good on you,’ or, ‘I cannot get away with that, [but you can] since you happen to be curvy.'” shares Balumbu-Bennett. 

Together with regular media, social media platforms perpetuate Eurocentric attractiveness criteria, but certified clinical social employee Sydney James suggests her clientele are divided on no matter if to modify their overall look to continue to keep up with these traits, she says. Black girls applying these platforms see content material featuring thin noses, hourglass figures, or athletic builds, and straight hair or looser curls. Continuously viewing illustrations or photos portrayed on social media that you should not align with their normal capabilities can make it tough for Black females to celebrate and validate their individual splendor, describes James.

Around time, the place of work stressors connected with Eurocentric splendor criteria can contribute to Black girls enduring melancholy, nervousness, or troubles in their interpersonal relationships, in accordance to Balumbu-Bennett. Carving out time for yourself by physical exercise, yoga, meditation or relaxation can support, she says. 

And if you have not considered therapy, now may be the time to examine the possibility, states James. This can be valuable for all those who’ve skilled racial trauma stemming from trying to adhere to Eurocentric natural beauty standards in the office or other social circles. The possible rejection in these cases from not fitting a specific mold can lead to stress and anxiety, worry attacks, and small self-esteem, she provides. (Connected: How to Locate the Best Therapist for You)

The healing process isn’t finite. Even for Black females who have found acceptance in just on their own and their visual appeal, a Tv clearly show, social media publish, or only looking at other folks could set their development toward greater self-like back again, causing them to truly feel like they ought to conform to beauty specifications, points out Nixon-Bethea.

Which is not to say that Black girls carrying weaves and extensions, as effectively as make-up, constantly stems from a drive to appeal to mainstream lifestyle, as hair and makeup frequently serve as a form of self-expression and creative imagination. Having said that, the pressure to evaluate up to Eurocentric expectations can play a function in these decisions. Black women who continue being mired in the misconception that their beauty just isn’t plenty of may possibly try physique enhancements, change their make-up, lighten their pores and skin, thin their noses, or have on lots of extensions, she says.

For Clark, leaning on her close friends and likely to treatment aids her course of action the affect that Eurocentric elegance expectations have on her psychological wellbeing and self-esteem, she suggests. Through treatment, she was able to have an understanding of how to come across additional benefit in herself somewhat than in what other folks considered of her, she adds. 

Griffin, who also runs an Instagram website page devoted to purely natural hair humor, admits there have been moments when she’s thought of chasing an Insta-model determine to attract followers, but then she remembers how significantly she values her spirit and the influence of her get the job done far more than her actual physical appearance — a viewpoint she characteristics to years of developing her Christian faith.

For Black ladies seeking Black therapists to work through these or other culturally unique troubles, the choices can seem limited. Just four % of the U.S. psychology workforce are Black, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2020 figures. Possessing a Black therapist does not assurance that they will be the proper match, but obtaining a culturally knowledgeable therapist who has a very similar qualifications or lived activities can be a fantastic start, states James. In search of a therapist at all is a major to start with phase due to the fact it is really a recognition that you have unmet needs and want anyone to facilitate the journey to far better mental wellness, she adds. 

If she could make systemic adjustments to undo some of the problems triggered by Eurocentric splendor requirements, James claims she would like to see a additional numerous illustration of pores and skin tones and system forms in media. She’d also like to see mental health and fitness schooling built-in, specifically around overall body picture challenges, in community educational institutions, and to undo costume codes that can concentrate on Black persons, these types of as skirt length or hairstyle policies, she adds. James thinks these policies perpetuate the idea that you should conform to understand, perform, and exist — or facial area consequences.