I might be dating myself here (chronologically, not like, romantically, because that’s weird), but the bulk of my childhood was spent growing up in the Age of the Supermodels. The mile-long legs, high cheekbones and bedroom eyes of Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, and Christie Brinkley formed my earliest standards of beauty. Even the heroines of my imagination were of that All-American cast: Nancy Drew in all her incarnations; twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield and their adventures in Sweet Valley; the Tanner sisters from Full House.
By contrast, I was too short, my face too flat, my eyes too small. I looked too…different. Girls who looked like me didn’t get to star in their own book series or Guess jeans campaign. Girls like me, it seemed, were nowhere in sight. Like many girls who were not genetically blessed with runway-model looks, to be considered beautiful seemed roughly as attainable as becoming an NFL player. I never entertained the idea of getting of eyelid surgery or a nose job, but I know girls who considered it -- and girls who followed through.
Times have changed since I last obsessed over the golden perfections of Cindy and Elizabeth. With the popularity of celebrities like Beyonce and my girl Kim Kardashian, CNN recently ran an article asking “Is ethnic beauty the new ‘it’ factor?” Apparently, the pursuit of individuality is driving people to embrace the image of ethnic women over traditional American beauties.
Some say that this shift in the standards of beauty shows growing cultural acceptance. Linda Wells, editor-in-chief of Allure magazine, attributes the rise in ethnic beauty to changing demographics in the US. The US Census Bureau estimates that, between the years of 2000 and 2008, the mixed-race population grew by nearly 32 percent, or approximately five million people. The popularity of self-tanning products and padded underwear in the US reveal a preference for browner skin and a larger bottom, which are supposedly traits of ethnic women.
According to the article, “More voluptuous figures, fuller lips and darker skin, features traditionally associated with women of African, Latin and Asian cultures, are ‘in.’ Over the past decade, an appreciation for ethnic beauty has been on the rise, and these natural features are becoming popular among Caucasian women who desire to look more ‘exotic.’” It goes on to quote a man as saying, “I mean let’s face it, ethnic women have this exotic appeal -- it’s the curves and the fact that they don’t have this carbon-copy look like anyone else.”
Whoa. Whoa. Hold on a second.
I did not spend approximately five semesters of college reading about the fetishization of black, Latina and Asian women just so some guy can be commended for saying he likes my ‘exotic appeal.’
While it’s a nice change that little girls now have a range of beauties to envy, I think it’s too soon to call this is cultural progress. Beauty ideals will always leave someone out, especially in a country with as diverse demographics as the US. To define Caucasians as being ‘carbon copies’ and anything else as ‘exotic’ seems, to me, to be a rather dangerous practice. There’s a difference between celebrating exoticness and embracing beauty.
So what do you think? Is the era of the All-American girl-next-door truly over? Does it matter whether the standards of beauty are based on Caucasians or ‘ethnics’? Is the rise in popularity of ethnic beauty truly a milestone for minorities, or is it legitimizing the notion of the exotic other?
Sound off -- no matter what you look like, or wish you looked like.