To be an attractive woman of color in the public eye is a constant battle between 4 standards: The Western Standard of Beauty, What The Majority Thinks That People of Your Ethnicity Should Look Like, The Standards of Beauty in Your Particular Culture/Ethnic Group, and What Your Particular Ethnic Group Thinks is the Best Representation of Their Beauty.
Last week, TV host Julie Chen was forced to address accusations of her having had a nose job after she admitted to having had eyelid surgery the previous week. She came out onto the stage of her show “The Talk” alongside her fellow co-hosts, sans make-up and proceeded to have a make-up artist demonstrate the powers of contouring, step by step.
From the time Chen “confessed” to plastic surgery, something those of us who follow celebrity media already knew via a picture that has been floating around on the Internet for years, accusations of other changes and other augmentations kept coming.
“It’s so sad Asians want to be white”
“She obviously hates herself”
Ironically enough, Chen’s co-host Sheryl Underwood also found herself in a bit of a double controversy both on Twitter and on black-oriented media, especially sites geared towards natural haircare, a week earlier. She appeared to mock Lil’ Kim’s heavily augmented and altered appearance by retweeting comments from other Twitter users about the rapper’s appearance. In the same week, when discussing Heidi Klum’s habit of saving her biracial children’s hair after haircuts, she quipped, “OK, I’m sorry, but why would you save afro hair? You can’t weave afro hair. You never see us at the hair place going ‘Look, here, what I need here is, I need those curly, nappy beads.’ That just seems nasty.”
When Sara Gilbert tried to add some levity to the situation by admitting she saves her children’s hair, Underwood interjected saying, “Which is probably some beautiful, long, silky stuff.”
For both of her transgressions, the responses, mostly via Twitter and on various Internet outlets were roughly the same.
“You shouldn’t be criticizing anybody’s looks, when you look a gorilla”
“Do you even have any hair under that wig?”
So basically, the way to “punish” a woman for espousing The Western Beauty Standard is to point out the fact that she doesn’t fit The Western Beauty Standard?
Both of these situations and the reactions of the general public illustrate a harsh and complicated reality for women of color when it comes to beauty standards. To be an attractive woman of color in the public eye is a constant battle between 4 standards:
1. The Western Standard of Beauty – This one is pretty well known by now.
2. What The Majority Thinks That People of Your Ethnicity Should Look Like – “[insert race/ethnicity] women usually don’t have X or Y like that!”
3. The Standards of Beauty in Your Particular Culture/Ethnic Group – “our women look better with X or Y”
4. What Your Particular Ethnic Group Thinks is the Best Representation of Their Beauty -“she’s too light, she’s too dark, she’s too skinny, she’s too fat, why couldn’t they have gotten a more attractive [insert race/ethnic group here] girl?”
To meet the threshold you can never be “too” – “too ethnic”, “too dark”,“too curvy”, “too tall”, or worst of all, “too fake”. To be “too fake” is to tell a secret. To be “too fake” is to expose the colorism, ethnocentrism, and various other “-isms” that women of color have to deal with. To be “too fake” is to express a desire to be something other than what you are, which makes everyone who has had a hand in pushing the Western Beauty Standard in some way, very uncomfortable.
You must be fair-skinned, but tight-lipped about colorism. Your nose must look a certain way, but we’d better not find any “before” photos of you. Your hair must be natural but not nappy. Your body and other features must be slightly atypical for women of your race or ethnic group, but these attributes must appear natural at all times, regardless of whether they actually are. If you are a person of color in any shade of brown, you must be able to control the lighting, flash, and post-production work done on any pictures of you, lest you be accused of inciting self-hatred, causing little brown girls to hate themselves, and inciting record sales of skin bleach.
When you fail to keep a secret by confessing or expressing a desire to fit one of the four Standards, people will come down on you with a mixture of shame and pity, all while mocking those who dared to cross the threshold. When those who dare to cross the threshold finally break and speak out about the various “-isms’ they’ve experienced in their lifetime, remember to pat them on the pack for being “honest, real and natural” while simultaneously upholding the beauty and value of women who look nothing like them.