Thursday, July 13, 2006

Euro-centrism and Beauty...What's Too Much?

There is a blog called the Yangpa. "양파" or "yangpa" is onion in Korea, if you know the Onion website you already have a strong idea what the site is about. If you don't, let me just say that it is a parody in written in a journalistic style that publishes satirical pieces on modern life in Korea.

Here is a post from that website that is hilarious:

Our whitening cream provides maximum whitening for any type of asian skin. It contains special Whitecules that go deep into your body to provide a full whitening experience. After just a few applications, you'll make Drew Barrymore look like Fu Manchu!

Possible side effects include:

* Sudden cravings for milk and cheese

* Tendency to vote Republican

* Desire to watch hockey

* Inexplicable waves of guilt

Okay, so it's a harsh satire to say the least, but it brings up an interesting topic that is discussed in Korea but is also prevalent discussion in all ethnic minorities in this age of affordable plastic surgery, botox, hair weaves, skin lightening creams, etc.

The question is usually framed as "when does grooming and self-improvement shift from a choice to a manifestation of self-loathing or a quest to be whiter" with the poster child for this question being Michael Jackson.

However, it's not literally white as the picture above shows. It's usually the quest to zap the ethnic features off in preference for something more mainstream. What "mainstream" seems to mean is eurocentric or white as you usually don't see people wearing afro wigs except during Halloween.

This manifests itself in many ethnic minorities.

In Korea, it means that skin whitening products are guaranteed fast sellers for cosmetic companies and that the double-eyelid surgery is one of the most popular. In India, it means that they have categories and descriptions for brown that I've never heard of and would most likely be shocked at the depth and detail of the distinctions. In African-American culture, it's the prevalence of chemically relaxed hair and hair weaves.

Now before people start commenting and pointing the obvious that not only Asian women get double-eyelid surgery, not that only Indians have issues with having lighter skin or that black women aren't the only ones relaxing or weaving their hair, I KNOW THIS. I'm generalizing for the sake of discussion. I realize there are exceptions. Hell, I'm one of them, and I know there are many other exceptions. However, considering how much money is made off of ethnic beauty it's a question that should be discussed because too many people reduce it to a choice when we all know more is going on here.

In fact, there was a news story about how more black women are choosing to wear the natural textures (there are many) of their hair rather than straighten: Returning to Roots.

It just seems that now that it's easier, cheaper and more accessible for everyone to get wider eyes, lighter skin or longer more flowing locks that people have lost sight of balance in the quest for "beauty". I put it in quotes because I don't think it's beautiful to look like everyone else. I certainly don't think it's beautiful to have the same pair of eyes that the girl next to you has or to have so much fake hair on your head that you resemble a thoroughbred. I also think that if everyone jumps through all of these whoops then "beauty" is nothing more than a cookie-cutter aesthetic.

This subject can be a book, and, for that reason, I'm going to stop and just say I think that it would be so much better to channel that money into therapy so that people can learn to love themselves as they are. That's not to say I'm saying the hell with grooming. I'm all about getting a manicure and pedicure. I'm all about finding a new lipstick color that accentuates my lips. I'm all about twisting my hair so that it cutely coils in all sorts of directions. I'm not even saying the hell with hair weaves as why not if you want it?

However, I'm looking at what motivates it. For some it probably is trying something new and having fun. For some certain looks are simply what they prefer. But when you refuse to leave the house rather than show the world the natural texture of your hair then something is amiss. If you think the girl with the wide eyes is sexy and you're not simply because your eyes aren't as wide something is amiss. When you think you aren't as beautiful because you're the color of rich dark chocolate something is amiss. I'm all for looking my best. I'm just not for paying money for someone to carve on me, apply chemicals on me or otherwise tinker with me to overpower my DNA code.

I know I can't control others, and I don't want to because embracing yourself as you are is a choice just as thinking your beauty is less than others is ultimately a choice too.

It's just that with all the obvious and fake alterations, it's a natural question to ponder.

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