Image Description: A red disposable razor on a blue background
The day before I moved back to Oxford for Trinity, I was shaving my arms in the shower. My hand slipped and I cut my forearm. While I was wiping up the blood, I had a tiny frustrated cry. There was no reason for me to have this massive wound on my arm – which still hasn’t healed by the way- other than the fact that I felt the need to have hair-free arms because the thought of wearing t-shirts and baring my thick black hair made me self-conscious. This fear of our own bodies is a universal feeling shared by many women, but women of colour have it especially hard. From our darker, coarser hair, to patches of hyperpigmentation, there are particular features of our bodies that come naturally, but feel unnatural to accept.
The intersection of being a woman, and an ethnic minority has plagued my life in more ways than one. It is more than being considered doubly unfit for certain opportunities, but it is also the internal criticism I face every time I cross paths with my reflection. Instead of just thinking to myself that I do not look like the models in magazines, I think to myself that I do not look like the white models in magazines. Any comparison between yourself and a model is an undeniable gut-punch, especially since it comes from your own worst critic: you. Comparing your skin colour to a model’s is its own special kind of poison. For me, I know that I’m not just comparing the paleness of their skin to mine, but I’m also dwelling on the fact that her arm hair is barely noticeable. And I am also dwelling on the fact that she almost certainly has airbrushed skin in contrast to the hyperpigmentation that surrounds my mouth, and makes wearing tops that expose my elbows an agonising experience. Being a woman of colour brings it with so many troubles, and beauty standards are, unfortunately, automatically included.
Hyperpigmentation has always been the bane of my life in the summertime. While it is not exclusive to women of colour, it is certainly much more noticeable. Since we have more melanin, and our melanocytes are larger, we are much more prone to darker patches across our bodies. Add in being a ‘plus-size’ person, and it really becomes unavoidable. Women of colour are more likely to have darker inner thighs, which injects uncomfortable conversations into our sex lives. If you search ‘hyperpigmentation in women of colour’ or some similar topic, you’re confronted with dozens of beauty articles telling you how to fix the ‘problem.’ Nowhere in my original search was there the indication that I want to change myself, but of course it is assumed that we all want to look ‘normal’ – and in this context that of course means ‘white’. Not only does it propagate the idea that being white is beautiful, but that white is clean and pure. Being a woman means constantly being bombarded with a barrage of solutions to problems you never knew existed in the first place; but being a woman of colour means that the firing squad isn’t just telling you to lose a few pounds or bleach your hair blonde- it thinks your genetics are ugly.
Being a woman means constantly being bombarded with a barrage of solutions to problems you never knew existed in the first place; but being a woman of colour means that the firing squad isn’t just telling you to lose a few pounds or bleach your hair blonde- it thinks your genetics are ugly.
However this double downed criticism aimed at women of colour is not first discovered when a twelve year old attempts to understand what is going on with her body because she “ looks different to her friends”. Recently the rise of social media photo filters has been rightly criticised by celebrities such as Jameela Jamil and Maya Jama. These filters hold an unmistakable fondness of whiter skin and bluer eyes. Instead of logging on and seeing yourself, us women of colour now have the joy of being able to see what we would look like if we were white! As well as the misogynist changes of the filters (like adding makeup and exaggerating lips), there are some that really blur the lines between a beautifying filter, and a white supremacist filter. From the bigger (and often lighter) eyes, thinner lips, paler skin, and smaller nose, these filters love to tell people of colour that they need to undergo several cosmetic changes in order to really be beautiful. The nature of the patriarchy means women are more susceptible to these messages, and therefore more likely to internalise such messages. The beauty standards for women of colour are markedly different to those for white women, and when it is as subtle as this, it becomes harder and harder to ignore.
The archetype of beauty in the modern age is subtly racist. Without being accepting of women of colour and the way our bodies look, it is impossible to imagine a riddance of these ridiculous standards any time soon. As much as I strive to laugh in the face of them, the taunting words of advice columns and dedicated articles still always sting. Being a woman of colour drains you and drags you away from any feeling of self-confidence, whether this is applying to a prestigious university, climbing the ranks of professional industries, or simply just looking in the mirror. The constant blows and kicks that tell you that you are just not right seem to be never ending. The issue of beauty always leaves a darker bruise because it is not linked to the stereotypes about you and your race, but it is an outright abhorrence at the objective facts of your body. One of the best tools against prejudice is having faith in yourself, but for women of colour, this is a mountainous task, even on the skin-deep level.