Media’s restrictive portrayal of beauty, comments from family members and beauty products aimed to lighten skin are only a few ways false beauty standards are perpetuated.
“Many if not all of us have experienced some type of body shame,” said Cantú Queer Center and Women’s Center program coordinator Tracy Garcia.
To discuss these experiences and the ways in which beauty standards are internalized within others, the Ethnic Resource Center hosted an event titled “F*ck Your Beauty Standards” on May 23. Through peer discussion, a video and a self-love letter activity, the event created a space for around 20 students to share their struggles and experiences surrounding Eurocentric beauty standards, colorism, body positivity and self-love.
Coordinators of the event, including Chicano Latino Resource Center staff member and Rachel Carson alumni Carlos Gutierrez, chose the subject of body-positivity because of personal history and knowledge of the impact beauty standards has on a person.
“Growing up in a Mexican immigrant community, appearance was a lot and one of the things family members would decide to pick on,” Gutierrez said. “Even if they didn’t feel like they were picking on it […] my body was always something to be commented on. That’s why I personally find this topic very intriguing and I’d like to see it talked about more and more normalized.”
The event also highlighted the work of Laura Aguilar, a Chicana queer artist known for her nude self portraits. The art was displayed to highlight fat-positivity within the body-positivity movement, and to start the conversation around self-love and community care.
“We want to start a discussion about challenging beauty standards placed upon us that say all white thin bodies are the standard of beauty to achieve,” Garcia said to the crowd.
To visualize the day-to-day impacts of beauty standards and colorism, coordinators showed a video from MTV’s Decoded, titled “The Problem w/ White Beauty Standards,” to the audience. The video listed examples of how beauty standards are enforced on people, such as “nude”-colored products, backhanded compliments from friends and family and societal standards of what is considered “professional” for natural hair.
Attendees resonated with being affected by the media’s narrow portrayal of beauty. One of the discussion facilitators and third year Krishnee Shankar, explained that growing up, Shankar’s family encouraged her to use a skin-whitening cream to help with her acne and to lighten her skin.
“For me personally, this topic is really important,” Shankar said. “I grew up in a really small, mostly white town and media images had a bad influence on my self esteem.”
The effects of colorism not only have negative consequences on mental health, but physical health, according to the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Compared to white women, it’s shown that women of color have been shown to have higher levels of beauty product-related environmental chemicals in their bodies. Occurrences such as these make the conversation around beauty standards and their effects even more important.
Other attendees, such as third-year Daniela Flores, came to the event to widen their gaze on the effects of beauty standards and colorism. She explained how beauty standards can negatively affect people of color, in line with the event’s theme.
“At least for women of color, we do not all get told we are beautiful in an equal way,” Flores said. “We all have different lived experiences. I was there to learn more about colorism and how it impacts people differently, because it’s not the same experience for everybody, specifically for women.”
Coordinators wanted the event to end with an act of self-love. Attendees were asked to carry the love and positivity they learned beyond the event by writing love letters to themselves. Their letters of self love could be written to their younger selves with words they should have heard, a letter to their present selves to be reminded of their body’s beauty or to their future selves to take the things they learned with them.