Beauty Standards Argumentative Essay Example
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Popular culture has always revealed a lot about gender, sexuality, and class through a variety of perspectives. The notion of beauty itself is a social construction that becomes normative despite the fact that it is often used a tool for social control. Members of society at-large strive with conform to prevailing ideals in order to be validated as attractive. Beauty standards have historically and continue to reflect Eurocentric paradigms that prize light skin over dark skin, which is evident in media representations of ideal beauty. Because blackness has put certain individuals at an historical disadvantage, it is clear that beauty ideals continue to reflect a society that values whiteness. Eurocentric paradigms can have damaging and debilitating effects on the life trajectories of black men and women due to internalized self-disregard and self-hatred. Ultimately, dominant notions of beauty in the United States are racially defined and thus disproportionately impact black females in comparison with black men.
Recently, CNN host Soledad O’Brien presented a two-day presentation about the lived experience of blacks in the United States (“Black in America”) in which she addressed topics such as socio-economic status, education, male-female relationships, parenting, HIV/AIDS stigmatization and reality, and the socio-economic diversity in the black community. During one interview with professor and author, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, and his brother, Everett, O’Brien questioned what accounted for the conspicuous socio-economic differences between the two brothers. Dr. Dyson was an accomplished Princeton graduate while the other remains convicted murderer who is currently serving a lifetime in prison. To answer this question Dr. Dyson pointed to his brother’s dark-colored skin, and then subsequently to his own light skin to suggest that darker skinned individuals living in America are not given the same “opportunities” or leniency as lighter- skinned blacks are. Dr. Dyson articulated an argument based on the historical relationship between skin color and socio-economic successes enjoyed by lighter-skinned blacks, and how those advantages had enabled him to achieve a Princeton education while his darker- skinned brother became ensconced in a world of crime (Robinson-Moore 67). Black women have historically been quite vulnerable to European beauty standards that emphasize particular hair types and skin colors that exclude African-American women.
Because of the frequency of European beauty standards in the media as well as in peer and family relations, black women often internalize these standards, which directly impact their academic achievement, self-perception, self-regard, employment, sexual behavior, and mental health. Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted an experiment during the 1940s in order to assess how skin color affects the self-perception and self-regard amongst non-white children. This study became known as the “Doll Test” and became famous when it was cited in the significant court case decision entitled Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. This test revealed how dark-skinned children were negatively impacted by European beauty paradigms. European beauty standards correlate the concept of beauty with distinctly European features in order to judge a person’s beauty from a point of view held by society at-large. These European standards prize whiteness or lighter skin tones, light-colored eyes, straight hair, and thin lips and nose as the ideal model of beauty against which all people are judged. Skin color and hair, according to Robinson-Moore, communicate racial beauty hierarchies. She asserts that hair textures and skin colors are “prominent signs of African ancestry [which] affect[s] attractiveness and therefore socialization” (Robinson-Moore 68). The education system in the United States reinforces certain messages about skin color that are taught and learned within the family unit and often encourage young African-American girls to internalize Eurocentric beauty standards that value lighter and whiter skin. Thus the intersectionality of race, identity, and back female beauty has remained an important site for scholarly research because of the power dynamics and relations that continue to influence certain behaviors in certain social groups.
Income differentials and employment status further reinforce the argument that Eurocentric standards of beauty impute value onto skin color. Black women who have darker skin tones and textured hair that go against established beauty standards are more likely to remain unemployed than those who conform with them. Robinson-Moore cites a study conducted by Aschenbrenner in 1975 that concluded that poorer black women in Chicago often had dark-colored skin. Perceived attractiveness indeed correlated with employment status as “attractive” people in conjunction with European standards receive more employment and education opportunities than those who do not visibly conform (Robinson-Moore 68). Black women who have darker skin thus are more likely to lack employment and a higher education than those who have lighter skin.
Most devastatingly, however, is the fact that racialized beauty standards impact the spousal status of black women. Racial hierarchies directly relate to how black men select their mates. A study conducted by Hughes and Hertal in 1990 concluded that light-skinned black women retained a higher status than those with darker skin. Black men prefer lighter-skinned women not only because of the socioeconomic advantages and acceptance attached to such mate selection but also because of a subconscious desire to have light-skinned kids (Robinson-Moore 69). Thus, statistic reinforce the reality that dark-skinned black women are less likely to get married. Black females thus must negotiate beauty ideals despite the fact that negative valuations have been imputed onto darker-skinned African Americans in the United States.
While family and the educational system perpetuate Eurocentric standards of beauty, the media also plays an important role in perpetuating such specific standards. Gordon conducted a study that examined how black children reacted to media portrayals in relation to the amount of media consumption they participated in on a quotidian basis. Gordon concluded that black girls identified with black television and black music, and that skin tone and hair texture figured largely in the descriptions of the media images the participants were exposed to. Media portrayals of black women as sexual objects and/or objects of desire contribute to the centrality of appearances in the lives of adolescent black girls. Black girls thus are more susceptible to negative messages discussed by the media with regards to their attractiveness and physical appearance than girls who have lighter skin. As a result, dark-skinned black girls often engage in risky behaviors over a long period of time (Robinson-Moore 70). Taken together, European beauty paradigms negatively impact the lives of darker-skinned females and often suffer from poor mental health during their adult lives.
The root of African-American struggles stems from their darkened skin color within a society that prizes Eurocentric beauty ideals. Eurocentric beauty paradigms impact the identities of black females in a largely negative manner. The cultural identities of black women are adapted and subsequently communicated because dominant standards of beauty. Black men and women internalize European beauty ideals especially black women. Black women who have lighter skin tones and long straight hair have testified that they felt more socially accepted and validated, as they feel more confident and report more individual successes and higher self-esteem. Individuals with darker skin and shorter hair tended to experience more alienation, lower self-esteem and limited socioeconomic opportunities. In order to combat European beauty standards, studies have shown that nonwhite families need to fortify cultural identities from an Afrocentric perspective rather a Eurocentric one that has proven crippling vis-à-vis beauty standards. Families also need to confront negative sentiments and messages about beauty to their children in a way that boosts their self-esteem and self-regard. Black women who have darker skin are seemingly set up for failure beginning in their childhood as a result of living in a society steeped in Eurocentric values that grants light-skinned black females far more employment and educational opportunities than their dark-skinned counterparts.
Robinson-Moore, Cynthia L. “Beauty Standards Reflect Eurocentric Paradigms—So What? Skin Color, Identity and Black Female Beauty.”
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