How Beauty Teaches Minorities To Look More White

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I hate my nose. I won't leave the house unless I've contoured either side of my flat, too-big-for-my-face honker, and I've figured out a way to angle my face when taking pictures so as not to reveal how indelicate my snout really is.

I didn't always feel this way. My war against my schnoz didn't sink in until I began my first post-collegiate job as a beauty editor. Entrenched in the industry of self-improvement, I started noticing the serious gap between the mainstream beauty ideals I was promoting and my own reality. I didn't have the defined nose bridge, the creased eyelids, or a raised brow bone that would've given my face the "depth" I harped on in every article.

Yet, I wasn't acutely aware of how far I truly fell from the beauty tree until I attended cosmetology school for a story. Their textbook advised applying dark eyeshadow to the crease for contour — even to Asian monolid eyes that lack the fold. Just pretend that it's there, it read, and apply the shadow where the crease should have been.

It was then when I fully realized that the beauty industry — from cosmetic companies preferring Caucasian women selling their products to magazines curating beauty advice for the white majority — was using makeup as a tool to make ethnic features appear more Western. It's not a coincidence that all the features I wanted were the most dominant characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon face — all physical features that I was born without because I'm Asian.
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Reconciling what I theoretically believe — that there isn't one standard, objective beauty ideal — with what I feel (that I'm not pretty) is, to put it simply, difficult. I wish I could say that I'm impervious to the constant social and cultural reinforcements that having pale, white skin, creased lids, and a raised nose aren't just different but, indeed, better. But I can't.

It's painful for me to admit right now that if I had the money, I may steal away for a couple months, hide all my pictures on Facebook, and redo my nose. And, if I were being really honest, I don't know if I'd stop there. With endless finances, I might chuck all dignity aside and hack away at my face à la Heidi Montag to emerge as a beautifully distorted Franken-Barbie.

And, I'm not alone.

Study after study showcases how minority women (of Asian descent in particular) internalize these mainstream beauty ideals and ultimately suffer psychologically due to the difficulty impossibility of realizing them. One such study published in the Psychology Press followed the logic of the famous 1939 Clark Doll Experiment, where instead of dolls they distributed pictures of attractive Asian, black, and Caucasian women and gauged which ethnicity the female participants wanted to look like the most. It concluded that the Asians, like the Caucasians, thought the white women in the pictures were the most attractive, ultimately increasing levels of body dissatisfaction and deepening depression.

"Of course, this isn’t just true for Asian minorities," says psychologist Sumie Okazaki, PhD, director of NYU's Counseling Psychology Program. "Each ethnic group has its own departures from the white beauty standards." And, while there isn't a whole lot of literature speaking to how much media affects minorities' perceptions of beauty, the truth is in the plastic.
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According to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), there was a 10% spike in facial plastic surgery among Hispanic, Asian-American, and African-American patients in 2012, with rhinoplasty as the most requested surgery of all the minority groups, and blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery) coming in at a close second among Asian patients. It's not surprising that the most popular surgeries for Caucasians (facelifts and breast augmentations) don't change their racial makeup, while the surgeries for minorities attempt to undo the physical features that denote race.

And, this mainstream standard isn't confined to our national borders. Women all over the world subscribe to the Western ideals with skin-whitening in India, rhinoplasty in Iran, and South Korea leading the most plastic surgery operations per capita. (Nearly one out of every five South Korean women has had some sort of plastic surgery in comparison to one out of every 20 in the U.S.)

While everyone deserves the right to change their nose or their body as they see fit, Okazaki says it's worth noting that "there is a racial history that influences the current standards we're conforming to now" and a lot of the reasons cited for wanting plastic surgery is to embody more Western features with the hope of achieving the confidence that comes with being, well, white.

The fact of the matter is that the color of our country is changing. Caucasians will become the minority in the U.S. as early as 2050, and it's time that the media began to accurately portray the people that make up our beautifully evolving nation. The more sizes, colors, and monolid eyes that are splashed onto the covers of shiny mags and TV commercials, the less we would internalize the belief that there is only one set way to be pretty. After all these decades, it's still rare for a minority to appear on a cover without some kind of controversy.

But, while the industry may be slow to change, we, as minority women, also have to make the conscious effort to reteach ourselves what we believe is beautiful. Because despite the fact that minorities may clamor for more made-for-them coverage, the story that ultimately gets the most clicks is a makeup tutorial on how to slim down your nose. So, no, the cosmetic companies and media conglomerates aren't going to change overnight. The shift needs to begin with ourselves, rewiring our brains to truly value — and believe — that our eyes, lips, and even our flat snouts, are as beautiful as their Caucasian counterparts. And, maybe one person writing about her insecurities on a very public forum (thank you, Internet) can serve as a small reminder that you're not alone.