In my most recent philosophy class discussion, we focused on plastic surgery.
Although normalized in American society, we discussed the morality of changing your appearance to submit to the societal pressure of Eurocentric beauty standards, ultimately imposed by the colonization of the Americas.
As I entered the classroom, I glanced at the board in preparation for the discussion and found my instinctive thoughts protected plastic surgery with the idea of feminism behind it. I believed plastic surgery should be up to the client — if it makes them feel better about themselves, so be it. We often allow people to do potentially harmful things that make them happy, like taking a one-way flight to Las Vegas and gambling their retirement on a deck of cards, so why can’t people manipulate their body in ways that bring them joy, even if it means silicon implants? The challenge to this is what motivates the choice to change your physical appearance for aesthetic purposes.
One may question the relevance of this discourse in a philosophy discussion, since neither Kant nor Bentham ever mentioned or indulged in the wonders of plastic surgery, but there is a more contemporary philosopher who has. The reading due for this discussion was Margaret Little’s claim about cosmetic surgery and how it is a restrictive cycle of modern society and its popularized beauty standards.
A trend is not only led by the most valuable player of capitalism; it can also be the motivating root of many insecurities for marginalized youth and teens.
My philosophy class discussion on plastic surgery was only the beginning of my concerns about beauty standards. It is a given fact that there is more to changing your physical appearance to appear more Eurocentric, such as removing the ethnic bump of an Indigenous nose or middle-aged mothers posting their recently bleached hair on Facebook with the caption “la comadre,” inevitably followed by a hairstylist emoji, two grinning faces and three yellow hearts.
It is not a challenge to point out these aspects of many marginalized communities when light-skinned and blue-eyed mestizos are praised more than those who look Indigenous for beauty standards that colonize us to this day. It is something we all know as people of color; we know it in moments of daily life, like when we skim Aviso magazines in laundromats as we wait for clothes to dry. All the tummy-tuck advertisements and blonde Latines with a tan (hinting that they are part of our community after all) were internalized in the minds of not only mothers doing the laundry, but their young daughters helping fold the socks.
I watched as my brown-eyed peers in middle school ordered blue color contacts online to attempt to mimic the whitewashing Instagram filter in real life, or when the hazel-eyed student body would insist their eyes were actually green, especially in the sun.
These indications of Eurocentrism influencing even the most colorful communities in the Americas to this day, was quite evident, especially for members of those communities. It was a given fact that we all aspired to look whiter and whiter everyday, because that is what we were trained to believe was beauty.
We were trained to believe that our characteristics that made us who we are and different from white Americans were ugly and should be hidden from society.
This was not what shocked me. What shocked me is the sudden realization that it took a random discussion in philosophy class to talk about these aspects of our communities, even after living in them for the entirety of my life, even with the awareness of Eurocentric beauty standards. Sure, some of us retweet or post on our Instagram stories short comments about how Kim Kardashian is secretly making us all insecure, but it was never acknowledged more deeply.
Although most people of color don’t reach for the extremity of plastic surgery, there are times when we attempt to make our nose thinner or bleach our hair or hate on our curves for not fitting the Instagram model criteria. It seems to be a silent rule to never admit we felt ugly within our ethnic features, even if we did and even if it wasn’t even our fault. Even when we are newborn babies, our parents mention how pale and pretty we are, emphasizing on the adjective “pale” used as if it held the same status as being “pretty.”
Eurocentric beauty standards are inevitable because of how deeply rooted they are in our society. The trends used by white Americans haunt our communities as young girls and daughters are taught that they have to be like their white counterparts to be pretty or attractive enough.
Although I do believe in the choice of a woman and doing what makes them happy. I do not believe that whitewashing our communities will be what makes us happy. There will always be la morenita who hates herself because society tells her that she is not pretty.
This is a call for people of color to remember our ethnic features are pretty enough and to enforce the normalization of our own beauty. It has to be not only a reminder brought up in a college class, but a conversation to use in the upbringing of our descendants to remind them that we are more than enough.