Homehealth & wellbeingbody imagewhat are ‘eurocentric’ beauty standards?

What are ‘eurocentric’ beauty standards?

CW: Racism, colonisation, violence

Feeling negative and insecure about body image is already a huge issue among teens, but there’s another complex layer added for those who don’t fit the bill of whiteness — Eurocentric beauty standards. 

As the term suggests, ‘Eurocentric beauty standards’ refers to the prioritisation of European or Caucasian features over all else, where they are depicted as the highest form of beauty and everyone else is pushed away to the edges. This is incredibly harmful for young First Nations folk, People of Colour (POC) and Women of Colour (WOC) who are presented with the false idea that being ‘beautiful’ means being white. 

Think about the types of women you see in advertising. How many of them are white? Way too many of them, right? Over the years, advertising has consistently tried to sell us the myth that beauty and femininity solely lies in whiteness. This isn’t just in so-called Australia and other Western countries such the US, Canada and UK. Around the world, beauty and fashion advertising, celebrity culture, and social media campaigns are still very much fixated on the white woman. 

How can “Eurocentric” beauty standards lead to harm?

Around the world, Eurocentric beauty standards make people feel insecure about their appearance and like they have to change their looks in order to fit in. 

Black folk continue to face discrimination and exoticisation for their hair, when it is a symbol of survival, resistance, and celebration. For women in East Asia, eye contacts and double eyelid surgery are extremely popular, taking away from the natural beauty of their eyes. In many Asian countries, skin whitening products are widely used and there is a common belief that whiter skin is better (though this is also a product of classism). And right here in so-called Australia, young First Nations folk, POC and WOC can experience immense struggles with their appearance, as it can never meet Eurocentric beauty standards. 

Internalising these beauty standards can lead to low self-esteem and make people feel secondary or ‘other’ to white folk. For example, the narrow beauty standard of having a narrow, slightly upturned nose (or what some people call the ‘Disney Princess Nose’) can make those with more pronounced noses feel insecure about how they look, and experience feelings of self-hate. Another word for this is internalised racism. This is one of the most insidious (or subtle but very harmful) forms of racism, as it is not directed at others but at oneself. 

@gangbanger_0 #greenscreen #fypシ #disneyplusvoices #dis #disneynuimos #disney #fypシ゚viral #fyp ♬ Remember_you_mars – Trillian

Eurocentric beauty standards don’t just impact people’s self-esteem, it can also affect life opportunities, such as getting a job. For instance, it’s been found that employers often favour potential employees with straight hair as opposed to those with curls or afro-textured hair, due to the stigmatisation of Black features. Obviously, hair has nothing to do with how smart we are, right? These are racial biases, where people make false assumptions about who we are based on how we look, and they have absolutely nothing to do with who we actually are. 

Is it a compliment or is it actually racism?

It’s important to remember that racism disguised as a ‘compliment’ is not a compliment. It’s racism. Another word for this is ‘microaggressions’. 

“You’re too pretty to be Aboriginal” is not a compliment. It’s a racist, abusive symptom of colonialism.  — Wadjanbarra Yidinji, Jirrbal and African-American woman, Sasha Sarago

Backhanded ‘compliments’ like these are unacceptable, as they make people feel inferior and othered. Saying that someone is ‘too pretty’ to be a certain identity or ‘pretty for’ being from a particular cultural background suggests that people from that culture are always less beautiful than white people, but they are an ‘exception’. This is harmful as it lowers people’s sense of self-worth. 

So why do Eurocentric beauty standards still dominate? 

Colonialism basically, and who has power in our society. What is colonialism though? Great question. Colonialism occurs when one nation occupies another to exploit its resources and people. Eurocentric beauty standards endure because historically, influential figures, predominantly white men, shaped notions of what is admirable and attractive. (For a deeper understanding of the impact of European colonialism in world history, check out this map). European colonists imposing their values on other cultures has fostered a sense of inferiority, leading to harmful practices like skin-bleaching.

Imposing these beauty standards can be viewed as a form of violence. Presently, countries such as the USA, UK, and Australia wield considerable influence in shaping global culture, encompassing media and language, a phenomenon referred to as ‘cultural imperialism.’

A pink billboard ad for the skin bleaching brand 'Fair & Lovely' in India, where a woman is pictured with half her face darker than the other half, accompanied by the text 'before' and 'after. Next to this is the text 'New / Fair & Lovely / Our Best Ever Formula / for Our Best Ever Fairness Treatment'
What about ‘exoticisation’ or ‘cultural appropriation’?

Today, there is the added complexity of exoticisation and cultural appropriation. While Eurocentric beauty standards are still dominant, it has also become popular for white women to ‘adopt’ certain features that are considered ‘exotic’. Some examples include the fox eye trend, fake tan, and wearing braids

It’s very harmful to cherry-pick features from various cultures and make them a ‘trend’, as people have historically been marginalised for having such features. 

Why is it considered to be trendy when white women aspire to have slanted eyes or darker skin, when First Nations folk, POC and WOC have been historically marginalised for having such features? This is the problem with exoticisation, and why it is simply not okay. Even when such features become trendy, they still centre white women (so weird, right?). This sends out the (very false) message that these features are only ‘beautiful’ when worn by white women. 

How you can combat harmful beauty standards

There are steps we can take to combat Eurocentric beauty standards and accept our beauty in all our diversity: 

1. Be aware

By learning more about the history of Eurocentric beauty standards, how they are tied with colonialism and power, and why they still dominate, we can begin to recognise its toxicity. This is the first step towards challenging Eurocentric beauty standards.

2. Find your safe spaces

Talking about issues such as microaggressions and internalised racism with others who have had similar experiences can be incredibly affirming. Is there a friend who would be able to understand, empathise and support you because they know what it’s like? 

There are also support groups and events for culturally diverse folk to discuss such matters. In Naarm (Melbourne), try checking out Centre for Multicultural Youth and (in)visible. If you’re a student, there might even be one at your school or university!  

3. Speak out 

Tired of constantly being subjected to Western norms and have something to say? Expressing your feelings and ideas through singing, poetry, art, public speaking, or whatever form you are drawn to can be a great way to  spread awareness, establish empathy, and work towards self-acceptance. 

4. Change the media you consume 

Unfortunately the media can promote harmful messages that make us feel down about ourselves. But remember that we have the power to change the media we consume! Try following people on social media, watching TV shows, and reading magazines that celebrate diverse representation, and that make you feel good about yourself. Thankfully, there are some amazing people out there working hard to spread awareness about racist beauty standards. Some actors, models, and activists you can follow that are promoting diversity in beauty include Zendaya, Adwoa Aboah and Zinnia Kumar

Learn more

Check out these cool videos that look into and challenge Eurocentric beauty standards: 

Where to get help

If you’re struggling with body image and racism, talk to someone you trust about it, like a parent, teacher or school counsellor. 

Need someone to talk to? Free, confidential support is available.

Your say.
Your space.

Write for Rosie today

We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which Rosie has been created, the Wurundjeri Woiwurrung people of the Kulin Nation, and pay our respects to elders past and present. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.

Enter site