In the early 20th century there was a booming business in creams, lotions and nostrums to lighten the skin. One of the earliest millionaires in America Madame C. J.Walker made her fortune selling chemicals door to door, that would straighten your hair. Products to make your hair straight are still profitable in America. In the 1960’s experiments with black children, asking them to pick the “pretty” doll between two dolls, one white, one black, were conducted. They almost always chose the white doll. This experiment was repeated fairly recently with not too different results.
Now, the news comes from Asia that people, including some children are having plastic surgery to change their eyes and the shape of their face to look “more western.” That is, of course, a euphemism. What they mean is to look more white. I am western, but I do doubt they are having their faces changed to look more like me or my daughter or my other relatives, at least those who are not white.
What kind of world have we created that would make a child look at his or her racial features and decide they are ugly enough that he or she is willing to try chemicals and even surgery to look more like what she or he has been taught is beautiful? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we all know that. However, since the late 19th century there has been a massive global attempt to define beauty as white only as surely as the bus waiting rooms and fountains of the pre Civil Rights Movement South.
I watched a television program recently where a woman who was fairly obviously a prostitute, and a well worn one at that, had asked a man for money, which he supplied. When the producers of the show asked him why he gave her the money he laughed and said, “She’s a blonde, that explains it all.” This woman had to be in her late fifties, her face was lined and creased with wrinkles ( not that an aged faced means you are not capable of being beautiful, at least I hope not, but she was NOT beautiful) , her “blonde” hair had obviously been obtained with the help of Clairol, her clothing was shabby and her demeanor was coarse. But, to him, evidently the fact that she was able to represent at least that iconic paragon of beauty, THE BLONDE , was enough for him to shell out about $700 of his hard earned cash.
Perhaps it my ethnicity that keeps me from understanding why anyone would think that the color of your hair has to do with beauty. Black people pretty much have brown or black hair, although we do have a fair number of blondes due to our rich genetic stew, and we can, of course, dye our hair, like most blondes do. However, I can no more think of sorting people as beautiful or not beautiful because they have a certain color hair than I could because they have a certain color of skin. There are beautiful people of every color, with every color hair and every kind of feature, and there are ugly people in every one of those categories as well.
But what is ugly to me might not be ugly to someone else and vice versa. What is ugly to me is a 12 year old girl wanting to have plastic surgery because her Asian eyes are ugly to her. That is ugly.