Diaspora Dilemmas7 May 2019
I’m known in most circles as the loud, extroverted one. I know how to make an entrance, and, like fireworks, you can almost always hear me before you see me. I am often asked about where I get my confidence from, and how I have the ability to seemingly be so “intense” all the time. I usually smile and wave it off, citing some variation on the saying, “I get it from my Mama,” (which is completely true by the way, my mama is most definitely my absolute inspiration) and move the conversation along.
The truth, however, is much darker. I’m aware that this sounds very ominous, but the outer layer of confidence and ever-present toothy grin are only relatively new additions to my everyday routine, after years of undiagnosed self-hatred. I spent the majority of my teenage years thinking I was ugly just because white boys were not attracted to me.
Some of you may be quick to blame those boys for having bad taste (to which I wholeheartedly concur), or a teenage need for validation based on physical appearance (you would also not be wrong). The real culprit is only one that I managed to really pin the blame on years later, after my journey into activism.
Eurocentric beauty standards, or the current mainstream standard of beauty, are standards that promote Western ideals of beauty to the entire world. Whiteness has become the default by which we judge everything, and when you are anything but what the world considers beautiful by these standards, it’s easy to see how self-hatred, doubt and internalised racism can wedge its way into your psyche.
To ‘quantify’ this, Eurocentric ideals of beauty place the following characteristics as the most beautiful; a slim nose, light skin, long lashes, straight hair, light coloured eyes. These characteristics are associated with European features and provide impossible standards for WoC/PoC more broadly to measure themselves up against, which only paves the way for a hatred for natural, ‘ethnic’ features to be built.
Eurocentric beauty standards have and continue to make me feel as though I do not belong. That who I am, as I am, is not enough. That unless I have golden hair or light eyes that I’ll never be the beautiful girl that’s sung about in any pop song, the protagonist in any Young Adult novel, or the lead in any romantic comedy.
And it’s not hard to see the clear progression in thought. If your standard of self-worth is, like many other impressionable teenagers or young adults, based on how many people find you attractive, as a woman/person of colour, you will ALWAYS fall short. Not only will you always fall short of the unattainable criteria, but you will also inevitably attract the wrong kind of attention; the attention of those who are a sickly kind of sweet, and hungry only on the basis of your melanin content and nothing beyond that.
The internalised racism that Eurocentric beauty standards have promoted and even perpetuated is realistically going to take me a lifetime to unlearn. This doesn’t mean that I don’t love myself as I am now, but even now, as I have grown to be comfortable and appreciative of this brown girl body, I still find myself consuming media and longing for long blonde hair, a slimmer face and lighter eyes.
To snap myself out of this endless glorification of ‘white’ is a conscious process and one that goes down as comfortably as a vodka shot (if you can do a vodka shot without flinching, you have an amazing poker face). I started unfollowing mainstream white models, and instead found a whole community of brown girls and boys on Instagram to redirect my feed to. I’ve found a newfound appreciation for my melanin, my unruly eyebrows and all brown everything because of this. This self-curated selection of media has allowed me to mentally and physically decolonise my thought processes and media simultaneously.
PoC communities on social media are trailblazing the way for the normalisation of non-Eurocentric beauty through representation. With mainstream media recognising the effectiveness of including PoC in their content as well, in the future our screens will start becoming better pictures of the diverse landscape around us. Although this inclusion is not without its own set of problems. Corporations have discovered that diversity is the new “sex”, in that it sells.
After so many years of constantly falling short in terms of Eurocentric beauty criteria, of attempting to mould myself to fit a definition of beauty that was predicated on my exclusion, I’ve for lack of a better phrase, said “screw it”. I’ve made a conscious effort to create my own definition of beauty, one that is centered around PoC and finally, I’m not falling short. I’m measuring up against my own ruler.