Beauty's In the Eye of the Beholder (And Other American Myths)

Just as a quick life-refresher, race does not determine beauty. A myriad of other qualities on the personal attraction personal checklist? Sure. But to dismiss a woman as a knockout purely for her skin or generic facial features is just. ignorant. Beauty is an unmeasurable concept—a treasure valued differently by all of us—an happily so, otherwise we'd all be brawling in the streets over the same folks. One girl’s drooling nerd is another girl’s knight in shining tech-wear, am I right?

To be beautiful is an elusive and transient quality and any attempt to boil uniqueness and allure down to particulars or stereotypes—particularly a racial formula—to quantify what makes a woman beautiful, is like claiming one flavor is irrefutably better than another. It's an argument you can't win because by definition, it's purely subjective. And while these often exclusive ideals of prettiness are tiresome at best and demoralizing at worst, there's a further damaging facet of the whole beauty conundrum that's the most derogatory of all.

“You’re really pretty . . . for a black girl.” Ah, the backwards, under-handed way to pay a compliment by suggesting someone is the exception to an otherwise steadfast aesthetic hierarchy. And it puts down an entire race while you do it! Now that's some pejorative heavy-lifting.

In our Eurocentric nation, it should come as no surprise that there are particular ideas held high above others in the beauty arena. It’s why so many super models are Caucasian and why—historically—so are the majority of beauty and fashion icons we hold in high regard. As Americans we have fallen prey to a particular "look" —namely white and thin—and suffer from an inability to shatter it. The result? A culture that has slowly and systematically made black women (or any woman who doesn’t fit the pre-existing mold) to feel not only unattractive, but like an anomaly. Trite as it is, how can anyone of color ever feel like their "look" is being celebrated or honored when it's so rarely chosen or featured in any mainstream way?

The current era and a world we live in—chock full of filled of half apologies and backhanded compliments— is by and large a culture that embraces the "in between." We're noncommittal in a multitude of realms. From #sorrynotsorry and “sorry for partying” to YOLO and the glorification of reckless youth, we love us some contradictions, some things that just can't be reconcile. So why doesn't this threshold for contradiction permeate our theories on Beauty?the beautiful people.

It’s increasingly frustrating to witness a world where exceptionally gorgeous women are continually made to feel like shit about their looks and then—when the world finally starts to catch up and catch on— all the headlines try to claim we’re embarking into new territory. It’s not the exclusion of abstract or "unconventional" beauty that’s new, it’s our expanded collective mindset that’s finally acknowledging just how steeped in stereotypes we are.

One of the underlying problems tied to race in the 21st century is our lack of available words to even talk about the ever-shifting landscape in a new era of ethnic identity. Sometimes people say stupid things—things that sound racist. And yes, there are always going to be your garden variety of assholes out there, but for many, their words sound so ignorant because they don’t actually have the words in their vocabulary to talk about things like, oh say, interracial or non-European-esque beauty. (Let’s be real—we were founded by a bunch of Pilgrims and folks who were used to foggy ol’ white-bred England...and they laid the groundwork for more than just ‘mercian politics.)

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Telling a black woman she's "a Nubian princess" is just as ridiculous as telling every attractive white woman you meet that she's "pretty as an Irish Rose." Stop comparing and quantifying; we're not melons in a market to be compared side by side for shape, color, smell or freshness. There is no ideal.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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