Note: This is a full version of the article found in our October Print Edition
Nésa, 19, Mixed
Growing up with a mum who is White-passing with heritage from Wales, England, Barbados and France, and my dad with heritage from Gambia and Cape Verde, I faced some challenging experiences due to Eurocentric beauty standards in my own home. Such standards were enforced on me by my parents who grew up in a generation that idealised long straight hair, fair skin, and slim features. In July 2019, I asked my mum if I could cut my hair short, she agreed, but talked me out of cutting it to my shoulders. This summer, I put my foot down and made sure she understood that I wanted my hair cut short. When I went to remind her to book the hairdresser, she explained that in a photo sent to a photographer who was coming in a few weeks, my hair was long and ‘he might want it longer’. I was struck that she used someone else as an excuse to not cut my hair. When I retorted, ‘it’s my hair on my head’, her silent reaction made it clear that she didn’t understand the impact of what she said. My sister with shorter 4b/c hair, was more affected by these beauty standards than I was. The difference in our hair is merely down to genetics but she has always complained about having short tight curls comparing it to 3c hair which has been overrepresented in the media and natural hair movements.
Unusha, 19, Pakistani
Unusha explained her experience of how colourism has affected her family, ‘With Asians, it has always been about skin, skin colour is everything… I’ve seen it myself with my dad, he’s a lot darker than me. When he married my mum – she is quite fair – everyone, without even talking to him would say, ‘he’s a bit dark.‘ ” I can hardly imagine hearing someone on my mum’s side of the family describing my father as ‘dark’ in a negative tone, but as Unusha’s experience shows, it does happen. She mentions, ‘I do think it’s getting better but it’s really horrible in South Asia especially’ which shows that this is a clear problem that has emerged from the idealisation of fair skin and Caucasian features.
Karol, 19, Mixed-Latin American
Speaking with Karol, she describes that she was affected by Eurocentric beauty standards as early as Year 7, “Everyone was trying to get to know each other and I remember it was after the dance when Kandre, my friend, asked where I was from because I looked White-passing. She remarked, ‘Your skin is white but you have a black nose so it doesn’t really make sense, and like you have a nice bum but White girls don’t really have bums’. I felt so scrutinised… especially since it was coming from a Black girl too”. This is a clear example of how these beauty standards can skew Black people’s image of each other. Karol then went on to talk about finding the right products for her hair, ‘Growing up there was never anything for me, even in the curlier sections there was never anything actually good. At least now it’s more diversified, but even in the curly hair products section, they usually have stuff that kills your hair’, She further said, ‘When you went to the hair shop and you go to the kids section, there’s always a little Black girl with straight hair on the box…every single time or a watered down version of Black hairstyles, and it’s just a bit whack.”
Ruqayyah, 19, Mixed
Ruqayyah talked about how her view of hair length has been affected by images of long hair, straight down to your ass and my hair doesn’t grow like that, I always like my hair short but then it just felt boyish all the time’. With curly/coily hair, it can feel like your hair doesn’t grow as fast as straight hair, but it’s just more difficult to see the length as it all doesn’t fall straight down. Being surrounded by long hair in the media makes short curls feel ‘boyish’ because images of males with short hair are more normalised than females with short hair. She also relays her experience with straightening her hair during secondary school, ‘The day you straighten your hair, you get a lot of compliments because everyone is like OMG, you should do it more. Then they keep asking, ‘Ruqayyah when was the last time you straightened your hair? Just switch it up, just switch it up’ but I find it so damaging”.
Nairah, 20, Afro-Arab
Nairah grew up in a mixed household surrounded by differing curl types. ‘You start to notice which compliments are directed at your curl type’ she mentions, referring to her type 4 curls compared to her older sister’s type 3 curls. She also mentioned that in her community, type 3 hair would’ve been classed as ‘good hair’, but her own hair isn’t. ‘Even if you had just one strand of curly hair’ it would’ve been relaxed.
As Nairah went on to describe her experience with Glow & Lovely – formerly known as Fair & Lovely- , an Indian skin lightening product, I realised that colourism is a large problem in communities of colour. ‘They use it like a normal cleanser, just like how we use Neutrogena, that’s literally their Neutrogena back home’ she explained. “Growing up, you even had aunties giving the kids Fair & Lovely”. “In secondary I went to this girls’ house and she said one of her aunts said ‘ohh you shouldn’t be marrying someone who’s a bit too dark, we don’t want the kid coming out maka’, maka is like charcoal.’
Eurocentric beauty standards is an issue that has affected our parents’ generation, which has then trickled down to our generation. It’s all around us and we need the representation or even conversations like these to start changing attitudes, and reinforcing positive messages concerning our natural, beautiful features.