How Beauty Standards are Intimately Linked to Patriarchy

Women have had a tough ride throughout history. However, this is even more true for women of color, who have had their beauty standards both racialized and fetishized at different points.

While times are changing and the fashion and beauty industries are becoming more inclusive, there’s still a long way to go. Beauty standards for women are still intimately connected to the patriarchy, so let’s take a look at what this really means. 

The ideal beautiful woman

The idea of a “beautiful” woman may have gone through changes in history, but our standards are still fairly consistent with the idea that was pushed during the 18th and 19th centuries, during the days of colonization.

At that time, the model for a beautiful woman was obviously white. This meant that, by extension, most desirable features were seen from a Eurocentric perspective. This included small lips, straight, fine hair, light skin and small noses. Not only were the standards set by the white body; they were set with the express exclusion of the black body.

 By contrast, beauty standards connected to black bodies were seen as undesirable and “savage.” What made this even worse was the fact that many of these beauty standards, such as large lips, dark skin, and afro hair, were regarded as signs of beauty and wealth in black communities. It’ll come as no surprise to anyone that white communities set out to dehumanize black standards of beauty.

 How things have changed

Over recent years, prominent black figures have worked incredibly hard to change this image. While black women were featured more prominently in magazines and the media, many of these women still conformed to white beauty standards. This included lighter skin, more “European” facial features, and straight hair. Of course, these are signs that patriarchal beauty standards were still holding strong.

Black beauty became more desirable and thus gave rise to cultural appropriation.Take for example Kylie Jenner. As one of the most popular influencers in the world, what she does matters to many. It comes as no surprise then that her cosmetic surgery began a surge in people trying to become more “black” in appearance. 

Some of her most well known surgeries include lip fillers and hip and butt implants. Both of these areas have long been seen as beauty standards in black communities, and now they’re becoming popular as a fetish or trend in the beauty industry.

What it all boils down to, however, is that these beauty standards are defined by the male gaze. Many women feel the need to alter their bodies based on what men find attractive. After all, it’s unlikely that the first woman to have lip fillers did so for her own personal gain.

The next step in the evolution of female beauty standards has to be removing the male gaze from the equation. Rather than defining our bodies based on what men want, we should define them on what makes us happy. This should translate to celebrating our natural bodies for what they are, and not what the current trends might be.

by Christine Okoro

I am a part time writer who enjoys expressing my thoughts and voice through written text. I want to be able to enlighten, inspire, and create with others through topics that interest me and spark conversation.

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