Light skin and silky hair has long been the standard for beauty across many parts of the world. Entertainment and fashion industries tend to promote Caucasian features, either choosing models that fit that image or using technology to remake them.
Critics say such choices have created a racialised perception of beauty, along with a multi-billion dollar market for chemical products that alter skin tone and hair texture.
In the United States, African-American women have increasingly been dumping harsh chemicals and embracing natural hair. Some call this a liberating movement; others say the trend is simply another standard to meet.
US ideals of beauty have long been dictated by Eurocentric standards and norms.
This has led many within the African-American community to alter their skin tones and hair textures with potentially dangerous chemicals. Skin and bodycare brand Nivea was at the center of controversy last year for running an advertisement implying that wearing unaltered hair is uncivilized.
Many fashion magazines have also been criticized in recent years for “brightening” pictures of African-American celebrities on their covers. These “before and after” photos, courtesy of Beauty Redefined, illustrate this practice.
Similar controversy surrounded the recent film “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” over the choice to give the part of American abolitionist Harriet Tubman to mixed race actress Jacqueline Fleming. The picture below shows the discrepancy between Fleming’s skin color and that of Tubman.
In recent years, more African-American women have begun defying standard notions of beauty with their fashion choices. In particular, more women are now keeping their hair in its natural state, rather than using relaxers, chemical treatments and straighteners. The “transitioning movement”, as some call it, has been captured by photographer Glenford Nunez of the TYP photography studio in Baltimore.
Earlier this year, the altered photo below made the rounds across the internet, depicting US First Lady Michelle Obama with natural hair.
A recent survey by Allure magazine found 64 per cent of people think that mixed race women represent the epitome of beauty. However, while traditional standards of beauty may be changing, some remain sceptical of the reasons behind the shift.