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Beauty Standards: We See What We Are Told We Look Like

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCT chapter.

If an individual is constantly complimented on their beauty, they will come to see themselves as beautiful when they look at their reflection. The same is true for someone that is constantly told that they are on the opposite spectrum of beauty. When I say ‘told’, I don’t mean being directly told by individuals around you, I mean the world and its circulation of what must be held as the universal standard of beauty. The social constructs that penetrate our subconscious and affect the way in which we view ourselves. I know that there is no concrete universal standard of beauty, but there are enough common traits surrounding beauty that communicate a general idea of what human beings qualify as attractive and what they qualify as the opposite.




The first is skin colour; there is a very common belief that the fairer one is, the more closely associated with beauty they are. One could argue that this can’t be true because so many white people want to be more tanned so that they can feel more attractive, but the reality is you have more freedom to deviate from societal standards of beauty when your race is the prototype for commercialised beauty.

“In a certain racist aesthetic, which has only recently begun to lose its dominance, black skin is considered to be ugly in and of itself. Individual white people, in this view, may be ugly or may be beautiful; even an ugly white person has some hope of improving his/her looks. But black is ugly by necessity; to be black is necessarily to be ugly.”

This quote is relevant in the majority of the world’s context. This is reflected in the existence of whitening creams and the bleaching of brown skin in African and South Asian countries. Most individuals that do not subscribe to the race that is supposedly inherently aesthetically triumphant fall further and further from viewing themselves as beautiful the darker their hue is.




There are abstract qualities and values attached to skin colour. Regardless of how ridiculous the concept is, it prevails in the minds of most and perpetuates the social constructs of beauty that qualify being dark as ugly.  Pale or fair skinned people are associated with wealth, intelligence and ultimately superioriority. This destructive perception of beauty is not just between white and other, but it exists within ethnic discourses. Lighter skinned black people are treated better than darker skinned black people, the same goes for Pakistani communities:

“There are lots of companies advertising and glorifying the use of fairness creams and lotions basically projecting in minds of people that somehow pale skin is superior. The biggest issue that emerges from this problem is when a family looking for a daughter in law to get their son married demand for a girl with pale skin. Instead of considering her good habits and good education they judge her for her skin colour.”

– Aminah Masroor.

The interesting thing about beauty standards is that there are features that are stereotypically assigned to brown skinned people that are criticised on them but are celebrated on white individuals. Plump lips and curves ‘in the right places’ have been ridiculed, sexually exploited and objectified on women of colour yet they are the epitome of beauty when they are emulated by white women. It is clear that the standard of beauty is attached to something more systemic and deeply institutionalised in multibillion-dollar industries such as the make-up industry and the fashion industry. The othering of individuals that are not blue or green-eyed bombshells with perfect perky breasts, flat tummies, long legs, wavy-haired  and light skinned is something that has been present in our societies for a while now, but I believe that individuals are no longer subscribing to that bullsh*t. My beauty is not constituted by some external force, it begins with myself and the relationship I have with myself. I will not allow the existence of racist, patriarchal and discriminatory aesthetics to devalue my perception of myself. And you shouldn’t either.

This is not to say that if you closely resemble the Western model of beauty that you aren’t beautiful. It’s to say that beauty is way too incredible to be restricted to such a narrow definition. No matter what your body type, skin colour, nose width, breast size or hair texture – YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. Don’t let the world or pop culture tell you otherwise.



Sesetu is a humanities graduate from South Africa. She is interested in writing, reading and learning new languages.