Tell Me Your Goddess Name: Decolonizing Beauty Standards

Black female wearing a t-shirt that states "you were
T-shirt via Adriana Díaz-Peña’s shop on Etsy Listing

Here we are again, navigating in the critical exploration of the best of Tiktok. This time, I crossed paths with a trend which, at first glance, seemed quite commendable, but nevertheless couldn’t prevent me from questioning our existing representation patterns.  

The video adopts a pretty simple concept: individuals, here exclusively female, take over the pose of a portrait or an artistic representation of their own cultural group in order to highlight non-white and BIPOC beauties. The goal is to reappropriate the identity of those multiple peoples and their specific physical features that have been smoothed out by the domination of mainstream white beauty, corresponding to an extremely restrictive cannon promoted in fashion, advertising, social media. Basically, in the vast majority of our society.

The intention is therefore good: to try to get out of the globally dictated standards of beauty, to praise and promote BIPOC beauty standards, to expose the diversity of human beings, and to reappropriate one’s body – and thus one’s own history, narrative.

What surprises a more experienced eye, however, is that most of these representations – with the exception of the Indian image, perhaps, and the Greek statue – are in fact derived from a pictorial repertoire that has more to do with Orientalism than with real indigenous representations. One recognizes the orientalist style of fantasized, sensual representations, made of flamboyant fabrics and jewels, tinged with the tastes of the colonial period. We are faced with clichés whose universe belongs rather to the colonial world, whose greatest concern was not frankly the fidelity of the representations, but rather the idealization of an orient and of fantastic and exotic colonies, through a male and white eye, the famous male gaze

Other similar trends touch a little closer to reality with a comparison with archive photographs for example. We must also recognize that it is difficult to find in certain regions of the world representations in art that are naturalistic or realistic, or at least close enough to reality to play the game of the seven differences. 

One simply regrets that, after centuries of reinforcing white beauty standards and idealizing eroticized non-white bodies, getting out of the white male gaze still proves so difficult. Although influencers are courageously starting this work of deconstructing such beauty standards, the road will be long and surely a little bumpy.

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