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How Western (white) Beauty Standards Affect Ghanian and Dominican Women

How Western (white) Beauty Standards Affect Ghanian and Dominican Women

A Story by Madame Murrell

In Western societies, like America, there’s a strict Eurocentric beauty standard that is constantly reinforced every single day by mainstream media, which is dominated and controlled by the white demographic. Our society conditions us to think that the “all American” woman is thin, pale with blonde hair and blue eyes, which sends a harming message to women of color, who are the complete opposite of that image, and it damages their self esteem. For centuries, Western societies had placed white women on a very high pedestal as a way to reinforce a Eurocentric beauty standards and condition society to believe that white features are more superior and attractive than others, and today white woman are still very much placed on a high pedestal and represented more than other women (88% of the models in our country are white, white women win beauty pageants 90% of the time, white women make up for most of the actresses in Hollywood, etc), are mostly casted as the “beautiful woman” or “leading lady” in most of our movies, shows, videos, etc, and are given more media exposure than other women. Women of color are usually underrepresented, misrepresented and unacknowledged. The nonwhite women we do see on television usually are fair skinned with Eurocentric features, which is still reinforcing a Eurocentric beauty standard by not showing women of darker complexions and the ethnic features that makes them unique from the “norm”, and it’s these particular women who aren’t promoted as attractive and feminine, at lease nowhere near as much as the women of the dominant population, and this does a lot of damage to the self esteem of many young women of color.

Western media’s constant promotion of Eurocentric features as the standard of beauty and the definition of normal doesn’t just affect women of color in Western societies, but also has a negative effect on other ethnic women of color from most places across the world due to the powerful influence of western society over their countries. Due to white supremacy, historical colonization, and the strong influence of Westernized media, which is pretty much taking over most parts of the world (It is the most widely distributed and consumed media in the world), many countries, such as the Dominican Republic and Ghana, had taken in “whiteness” as the epitome of superiority, perfection and beauty. In countries like the Dominican Republic and Ghana, which are made up of nonwhite/black people (some even find it offensive to be labeled as “black”) that greatly values white features over their own, women are taught and conditioned by their own societies to hate their kinky/curly hair and rich brown complexions, and that in order to be feminine and beautiful they had to have light colored eyes, light skin, bone straight hair, and narrow noses, basically they had to be white or the closest thing to it.

According to the article,"Only My Hairstyler Knows" In the Dominican Republic, black women are institutionalized to think that their hair is “bad hair”, and that “good hair” is straight, silky hair (white people’s hair). In this country, Dominicans practically put white women on a high pedestal and consider them the epitome of beauty while considering their own black features, especially their hair, to be unattractive.

In the Dominican Republic, a woman is judged by the way she wears her hair, and whether or not people would see her as attractive or of a high status is determined by how she chooses to wear her hair. When women in the Dominican Republic choose to wear their hair in its natural state, they are perceived to be pathetic women who do not take care of themselves and do not care about their physical appearance. If a woman straightens her hair she would be respected and taken seriously, and she would basically have something a tiny bit similar to “white status”, but if she chooses not to straighten her hair, people would not respect her as much and not take her seriously, and she would be viewed as an unkempt woman of poor status, and treated like a second class citizen.

To avoid social stigmatization and being associated with “blackness’ (which in their country symbolizes uncivilization, unattractiveness and inferiority), many black Dominican women chemically straighten their kinky curls as a way to try to erase any trace of blackness from their physical appearance. Dominican women endure the pain and burns from the chemicals placed in their head so that they could have really straight hair, which would allow them to get jobs, be taken seriously, and also be seen as attractive by others. Dominican women straighten their hair as a way to be accepted by their society, instead of being ostracized.

In Badillo's article, a woman had chosen to quit chemically straightening her hair and wear her hair naturally, and when she did, people’s attitudes had changed around her. Her mother did not want to be seen around her, people told her she would never find a man unless she went back to straightening her hair, and people started calling her “black” as if it was an insult. Her son had seen her hair in its natural state for the first time and made a comment about how he was unaware that she was “black”, and always thought she was “white” because of the way she usually wore her hair before going natural.

The woman was no longer ashamed to wear her hair naturally, showing pride in her roots and racial identity despite harsh judgments she kept receiving from others. This article kind of made me question myself for chemically straightening my own hair. Before, I never thought much of it and always felt like I was doing it to make my hair more easier to maintain, but after reading this article and doing so much research about the topics of African American hair, it made me wander should I go natural. I look at these Dominican women who chemically straighten their hair as a way to reject their blackness and I think poorly of them, but what does that say about myself? I consider myself to be a proud black woman, and I do not want others to see me in the same light as I see these women, and I do not want people to assume I hate my blackness, so I have been questioning myself about how I style my hair and am currently deciding whether I should go natural.

From reading this article, it seems as though Dominican women aren’t referred to as “black” in their society, unless they decide to wear their hair in its natural state, which clearly reminds them and mostly everyone else in that society that they are just as black as the Haitian population who they despise so much. It seems that as long as Dominican women chemically straighten their hair and try to look as white as possible, they won't be seen by their society as having African blood, despite it being really obvious that they do judging from their physical features. Hair is one of the things that women can change, so if Dominican women can't change their race, they could change their hair to try to erase their blackness and assimilate whiteness, although no matter what they do, they are still least that's how the rest of the world sees them.

In Jemima Pierre's article, 'I Like Your Skin Color!' Skin Bleaching and Geographies of Race In Ghana, She explores the popular practice of skin bleaching in Ghanaian society by doing her research and conducting interviews with Ghanaian people who bleach their skin. Jemima speaks about the toxic ingredients used in skin bleaching products such as mercury, hydroquinone, as well as other poisonings. Long time use of skin bleaching products could cause serious health issues and could also result in to skin discoloration and could even give off a permanent odor, but despite the ugly possibilities of using these products, people still use them out of desperation for lighter skin. Al though all skin bleaching products are unsafe, the most effective kind are the expensive ones, which the poorer class of Ghanaian people cannot afford, so they use the cheaper brand of skin bleaching products or result to using actual household bleach (bleach used for clothing).

In the article, the author, Jemima, goes on to say that skin bleaching is a worldwide phenomenon that serves as a highly serious issue in most countries across the globe. Hydroquinone, a poisonous ingredient, was one of the most highly used ingredients in skin bleaching, as well as other cosmetic products. This ingredient caused so much damage and health issues to people, that it was banned in many countries. There have been worldwide effort to put an end to skin bleaching but it continues to be a serious epidemic. Amina Mire believes that the skin bleaching industry shares part of the blame for the skin bleaching epidemic that's affecting societies worldwide. She explains that these industries are using their commercials and ads to reinforce white supremacy and promote the Eurocentric beauty standard, which influences people to hate their skin color, hair texture, etc and want a more "whiter" appearance. Also, one of the things I found interesting that the authors points out, is the difference between black and white beauty products. I find it interesting how beauty industries aim to create products for white women to look beautiful naturally, while promoting beauty products to black women that works to change their physical appearance, such as skin color (to make them lighter) and hair texture (to make their hair straighter/less kinky).

The author had interviewed a Ghanaian woman named Ema, who bleaches her skin everyday with multiple skin whitening products and even mixes some of them together. Ema is well aware of the dangers of skin bleaching but is still willing to take the risk in order to make her complexion whiter. When asked why she bleaches her skin, she said she does it because it makes her prettier, makes her stand out more and makes her more desirable in the eyes of men.

From reading this article, it seems that people of color bleach their skin due to self hate that stems from internalized racism which mainstream media, such as advertisements for skin bleaching, is mainly the blame. It seems to me that almost everybody in all places across the globe views whiteness as superior and more attractive, which is why skin bleaching is so popular around the world. Al though I have an idea why so many people are desperate to look as close to white as they possibly can, I just don't understand why so many people want to have the same look. I think people of color have a certain uniqueness about them that's not worth trying to erase to appear white.

© 2017 Madame Murrell

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Your writing hit home for me because of what I remember my Dominican mother doing growing up. Despite how painful it was, she would forcibly comb the curly hair of me and my siblings; I didn't bother continuing the practice when I grew up, I just shave it all off. But my sisters moved on to straightening their hair with flat iron and chemicals, and they've done it so often now, I'm not sure if their hair can even curl naturally anymore.

I think that for my mother, who was born in the Dominican Republic, she certainly was influenced by the skin bleaching and hair straightening culture her mother and aunts instilled in her, perhaps in pursuit of a more European appeal. I always hesitate to associate such practice, however, with wholly declarative statements such as "people of color bleach their skin due to self hate that stems from internalized racism which mainstream media, such as advertisements for skin bleaching, is mainly the blame." Even before there was mainstream media, people probably went about trying to straighten their hair and bleach skin to mimic Europeans, simply because they were in contact with Europeans and envied them, or were told that black features were ugly. This easily becomes a "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" issue: do social desires influence marketing, or the other way around?

I tend to think about this in synergistic terms, recognizing that media and marketing and capitalism and cultural history and stigmas all play a role here. There's rarely a single root cause for sociological and cultural phenomena, if only because life isn't so simple. Europeans landed centuries before mainstream media existed, influencing how Dominicans saw themselves and their self worth. Capitalism and marketing took advantage of pre-existing cultural insecurities and profited with mass produced straightening and bleaching products; whether or not this exacerbated the internalized racism or simply played to the internalized racism already present is hard to say. I think that the industries that profit from these practices at least continue these traditions considerably, because now its easier to buy products for these purposes. But in the absence of these industries, there's no way to assert that attempts at European beauty will end for black skinned women. I think that's a dream.

On the issue of "blackness" in Hispanic communities, I will say that I didn't identify as black for a long time. The term didn't make sense for me, if only because it comes loaded with a million preconceptions about cultural history and practice I didn't share with what the mainstream considers "blackness." I also didn't make a big deal about my skin color until others did. Now I identify with blackness all the time, and I understand the colonial history in the US.

Thanks for this article. It's nice to know there's others who struggle with these issues. There's a lot I can say about being a Black Hispanic in America, and it's usually something I don't discuss enough.

Posted 6 Months Ago

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1 Review
Added on July 7, 2017
Last Updated on July 7, 2017
Tags: Feminism, Beauty Standards, White Privilege


Madame Murrell
Madame Murrell

Homestead, FL

Hello, my name is Kacie, I'm a 23 year old college (FIU) student with a major in Biology! and I love to write :) I am also a very big fan of The Weeknd, his voice has the power to MAKE ME SUPER WEAK!!.. more..