by Olivia Short ’17
Beauty around the world is shaped drastically by the West. The airbrushed skin, photoshopped hair, and edited bodies that we see on magazine covers affect more than just us as a country.
It all began in the era of Western colonization– with a culture of overbearing white supremacy, the idea of whiteness being “superior” seeped into beauty standards. To have “white” physical traits (straight hair, light skin, light eyes, etc.) was to be beautiful.
This may sound conservative and dated, but white supremacy still has a covertly powerful effect on the way we perceive bodies and beauty in 2016. Especially prevalent here in the states is the issue of natural hair. Black people’s hairstyles involving naturally-textured hair (afros, dreadlocks, or even just unstyled natural hair) are considered “dirty” and “unprofessional.” Styles that more closely emulate white hair, such as weaves or chemical straightening, are viewed more positively, especially by employers in professional environments. Watch this video by young feminist Amandla Stenberg for a short but well-written discourse on black hair.
Especially pervasive in all the world is the pressure to be pale in order to be beautiful. A surprising amount of skin-whitening treatments can be found alongside the typical beauty products in many countries, most famously in the recently-trendy Korean beauty industry.
There are a variety of social movements to counter Western beauty standards– see #blackout, biracial pride, the natural hair movement and many other much-needed niches of intersectional feminism. At the heart of all these movements is the radical idea of loving oneself in spite of systematic societal disempowerment. After literal centuries of forced disenfranchisement, people of color all around the world are actively rejecting the pressure to conform to Western ideals and loving their naturally-occurring bodies.
In March 2016, South Asian people are reclaiming their beauty through the social media movement “Unfair and Lovely.” At the heart of #unfairandlovely is a body-positivity that encourages South Asians to embrace their beauty, even if their un-fair skin doesn’t align with Western beauty’s glorified paleness.
The movement began with just one photo of sisters Mirusha and Yanusha Yogarajah, students at the University of Texas. The sisters kickstarted a blunt, contemporary conversation about skin tone– an issue as old as their traditional jewelry, but as modern and relevant as their contemporary clothing.
The original photoseries of the Yogarajah sisters was conceived and shot by Pax Jones, a black feminist photographer whose work can be found via twitter @misspaxjones. Jones and the Yogarajah sisters create a culture of solidarity between women of color who, though different in the specifics of racial identity, deal with similar intersections of misogyny and racism.
The #unfairandlovely movement was created with particular attention to India’s obsession with paleness (a lasting antique from British colonization). But South Asians of all nationalities, and women of color in general, have embraced #unfairandlovely, particularly for its ideas of cultural pride and self-love. See some tweets below to understand why the movement was such an important accompaniment to International Women’s Day.