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Eurocentric Beauty Ideals for Females
By Lisa Ma
Modern day’s concept of beauty has a lot to do with slender features and light skin. Women with fairer skin and more anglo-saxon features tend to be more sought after while the women of color are pushed towards attaining lighter skin. In Nell Painter’s History of White People, Winckelmann’s stated that, “white skin makes the bodily appearance more beautiful” and that the Greek profile was the apex of the beauty standards (Painter 2010, pg 61).[see image 1] Basically, it was easiest to be considered pretty if you were white or have the facial and body features of a European since it is their race that most closely relate to that of the Greek profiles. This extends to people of other races and/or people of color, by having those previously said features, they would immediately be considered more attractive. In a quote from Maisha Johnson regarding models of color in media, “she has to be a white girl dipped in chocolate”, meaning the girl would be more accepted by society if she had all the Anglo-saxon features while along with her dark skin. (Johnson 2016). This paper will talk about how the Eurocentric beauty ideals came to be of such influence, the details of what the ideals pertain to, and just how it affects the women in society.
Born in 1717, Johann Joachim Winckelmann is considered to have played a major role in spreading his ideas of what the ideal form and color of beauty is. His work in 1764-1767 Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums (History of the Art of Antiquity) became a hot commodity and was the start of his influence over the art culture. His writing detailed how “modern Westerners should embrace the Greek way of life and freedom, to achieve Greek excellence in art and presumably, all of culture”, this moved the readers to believe that the Greeks were the ideal in every way shape and form, including their faces (Painter 2010, pg 60). Though Winckelmann did not father this idea that the Greek beauty is perfection, he did further spread the influence and weight of this idea.
In the reading called Chromophobia, David Batchelor argued that the western culture has a prejudice for color as color is used to define flaws and corruption, etc, “whiteness is woven in the fabric of Culture” (Batchelor 2000, pg 19). This leads to the open possibly of people associating that whiteness, or the absence of color to the pureness of an object and that it was something desirable. His book also goes over his theories on how the Western culture’s disfavor and “fear” of color in their aesthetics came to be. I feel it is important to note how David started the chapter with a story about an unusual art collector’s home and proceeded to describe how everything was inside was white and noticeably wiped of color. He claimed that it was “a kind of white that repels everything that is inferior to it, and that is almost everything” the whiteness of the art collector’s home felt not only tyrannical and alienating, it gave off an aura of superiority (Batchelor 2000, pg 10). I believe this story was meant to symbolize modern society’s oppressive white ideologies and ideals. This correlates to the Eurocentric beauty ideals as having white or fair skin is seen as most optimal.
A popular term coined for this issue is called “whitewashing of beauty”, which means everyone is made lighter and more “white-like” in an attempt to make others or themselves more “beautiful”. This happens a lot in media and magazines today where the companies will literally photoshop a model or a celebrity’s picture to make them appear lighter so that the image can then conform to what is now society’s idea of beauty. [see image 2 & 3] Not only is the skin color often lightened, other features such as the nose, eyes, or lips will be edited in order to fit the standard eurocentric model of beauty more. When the typical female of color consumer sees a celebrity as popular as Beyonce get photoshopped into having light skin, they will take notice not only of how light and pretty she is, but the more they see these types of photoshopped images, the more they will come to believe that that is how the normal black woman should look like. This in turn will cause them to compare themselves to the celebrity and make them reevaluate their own attractiveness.
All the while this is done, girls and women of different generations that may look up to that particular photoshopped model will believe and attempt to attain their role model’s looks, subconsciously conforming to modern society’s ideals. This stereotype that the white European woman is what everyone should be trying to look like influences the media to not only introduce more white female domination into everyday advertisements to satisfy customers who already accepted or agree with the Eurocentric beauty ideals, it also allows for the continuation of this methodology and overall mindset. This sort of behavior steer women of color into thinking that their natural skin color is not ok, which makes it harder for them to accept or even love themselves. This easily becomes the case because everyone else in society is basically telling them that if they want to look beautiful, they have to look a certain way, in this case--European.
This stereotype has not only pressures women to achieve Eurocentric beauty standards in whatever way they can, it encourages more and more females to conform to this notion of beauty. The stereotype that white beauty is the ideal had spread throughout the world to the point where people actually get double eyelid surgery or rhinoplasty to emulate the Europeans.They strive to be as looked up to and as accepted in society as the photoshopped white women they themselves look up to. Women in Asia go as far as to skin whitening creams and carry with them umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun just so they can be as light as possible. In addition, 1 in 3 women in Lebanon “will endeavor in some kind of plastic surgery” (Tranchina 2015). All in all, the ideal beauty standards are considerably influenced by the history of Eurocentric beauty ideals.