Thursday, 5 November 2009

The white beauty myth!

Earlier this week I was watching the second programme of Channel Four's documentary series Bleach, Nip, Tuck: The White Beauty Myth . It's part of a season of programmes entitled Race: The Last Taboo which the channel is currently showing.

This week's episode was both fascinating and depressing in equal measures. The programme focused on three people, one black women, and a man and women from Indian and Bangladeshi descent who all desperately wanted to change their features so that they could look more 'white'. At various points during the programme I sat there shaking my head at what I was watching!

The purpose of the show was to highlight the trend of supposed 'deracialisation surgery' which essentially means people from non European ethnic groups having plastic surgery so that they can have more white/European features which they believe to be more attractive.

All three thought their ethnic features made them less attractive, and in order to fit into British society and achieve success they had to change them.

The black girl from Essex thought her nose was too black and made her look poor! The Asian women of Bangladeshi origin wanted to lighten her skin as she believed she was too dark, and the man of Indian origin from Kent, wanted more European features so he would get more work as a fashion model.

Watching all of this it seemed obvious that they all had serious self esteem issues, and if anything they needed some form of counselling rather than plastic surgery.

I thought the most depressing aspect was the black girl called Jet, who appeared to want to cut herself off completely from her Afro-Caribbean background. Culturally I'd say she was white and she wanted to be white.

She was a proper Essex girl and at one point whilst being interviewed she had a Barbie doll which she claimed was the epitome of beauty! It was at moments like this that I was shaking my head!

I don't believe that most ethnic minorities given the chance would change their features to look more white, but the programme raised interesting questions about ideals of beauty and what constitutes attractiveness.

Within some black and Asian communities you are seen to be more attractive the lighter your skin and in Western culture the white European aesthetic is held to be the ultimate in attractiveness. Western culture says it is better to have a lighter complexion than a darker one.

All of this has been reinforced for hundreds of years, particularly through colonialism and it's incredibly difficult for such views to suddenly vanish over night.

You only have to look at the fashion industry as another example of the dominance of Western culture setting the bench mark of supposed beauty. The funny thing is, even most white people struggle to achieve this standard in terms of facial looks and physical features.

As an ethnic minority living in the West you have the challenge of being outside of the dominant culture, but you also have to integrate and assimilate with that culture on many levels in order to succeed in those societies. The challenge is to define yourself individually and for communities to define themselves, rather than let the dominant culture constantly define who or what you are.

There is great beauty in all races, but in the West you are exposed to images of one type of beauty dominating over all others.

A few years ago I went to visit my cousin who lives in Japan, before I went there I had never previously found the Oriental (not sure that term is political correct) or East Asian racial features attractive. Once out there I began to see there were loads of good looking women, but then I had to find the beauty in their features as there were no other racial groups out there!

I personally would never have plastic surgery on my face, I'm generally quite happy with the way I look. Thankfully I've got good levels of self esteem. I can fit in and successfully be part of British and Western culture perfectly well without the idea that my ethnic features are somehow a barrier or a hindrance to me.

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