Ideals of Beauty in Indigenous American Culture

Beauty standards in American history have gone through many changes. Nowadays, the beauty standards that are most prevalent in American society stem from colonization in early America. The ideals we see today blatantly celebrate the Europeans' whiteness, as they saw themselves as superior compared to the other races. Pale skin, light eyes and European facial features (small noses, round facial structures) are praised. Indigenous communities have reignited their pride in their features and beauty and reclaimed their ethnic individuality.

Hair is very important to Indigenous America. Although hairstyles differ from tribe to tribe, hair continues to hold a high importance to both their mind and body.

Barbie Stensgar, a member of the Colville Tribe, explains that in tribes, long hair represents a strong cultural identity. Their long, healthy hair exemplifies pride in one's cultural identity and self-respect. Along with the physical beauty of their hair, braiding hair in Indigenous American cultures allows members of the tribe to connect in an intimate and nurturing way. Parents will spend time braiding their children's hair establishing a bond between beauty and their culture from a very young age. Long healthy hair is beautiful and sacred to Indigenous America.

Indigenous Americans’ relationship with their hair highlights an important aspect of their beauty standards. After being shamed for both their culture and outward appearances, Indigenous people kept the belief that beauty is not solely based on their physical appearances. Any Indigenous person, no matter their complexion or size, is beautiful because of the relationship that they have with their culture, body and spirit.

Kelly Holmes, Founder and editor of Native Max Magazine, shared her story of her mother teaching her that everyone is made up of four components: physical, emotional, mental, and spirit. Her mother explained that if we do not take care of these components we will be unbalanced.

“Embrace your Native beauty and Native American culture and carry it with you like the warrior you are. Your culture is what makes you beautiful.”