“That’s what boys want these days, blonde haired blue eyed white girls!”
“Natural afro hair is so ugly”
“I wish I was as skinny as Cara”
All of the above comments were seen on various Youtube videos. The western world has long seemed to accept unquestioningly the caucasian beauty ideal of aryan women - with boyish figures and sculpted cheekbones, but in recent years this trend appears to be fading out and harking in a new era of appreciation for non-western physiques and faces.
The Big Booty: Curvaceousness has long been seen as unsightly by the fashion industry, that has historically only used nymph like models that “most closely resemble the flat sheet of paper on which the original fashion design has been created.” Kim Kardashian has successfully introduced the idea of curves as not only beautiful, but she has systematically demonstrated that curves are not incompatible with high fashion outfits. This sudden rediscovery of the buttocks as a fashion accessory (last spoken of around 2004, when J.Lo’s behind appeared to be bigger news than her own music) is also caused by a worldwide movement for fitness and health, with gym subscriptions being hastily taken up by people and protein shake sales going through the roof.
Mixed Race to the Fore: Mixed race models are being seen more and more on the catwalks. One of the most popular models of the moment, Jourdan Dunn is the typical model success story - spotted in Primark in 2006 and now a supermodel walking the world’s catwalks, she has many younger admirers who thank her for showing them that “Mixed IS beautiful.” Beyonce and Rihanna are similar examples of coloured women with fairer skin tones who have turned into fashion icons.
The issue here is that although mixed race women are being lauded for their beauty and strength (as they should be) there is still a distinct lack in women of colour with darker skin-tones in fashion and in mainstream media. Sales of highly toxic skin bleach still occur in almost every independent beauty shop in London and across the UK, and acclaimed actor Lupita Nyong’o explaining in a powerful speech about perceptions of beauty and self worth, ‘my only prayer was that I would wake up lighter-skinned.’ As caucasian women are buying more bottles of fake tan to darken their skin-tones, the opposite is true for women with darker skin. This “meeting in the middle” of skin colour encourages a society in which acceptance and embrace of ethnicity is shunned in favour of safe (tanning lotions) and very unsafe (Sun-beds and bleaching creams) ways to alter ones appearance.
#GirlsWhoSquat: The cult of the instagrammer has significantly helped to move this trend forward, globalising and democratising the “selfie” phenomenon in which anyone who owns an iPhone can become a model and fashion icon. The “selfie” in the mirror has also allowed more images of the body to be taken from different angles, given the highly portable nature of the iPhone, which has contributed to increased scrutiny of figures and to the cult of fitness, “gym selfies” and the rounded butt, a body shape which has long been seen as the beauty standard in many african countries but shunned in the west in favour of girls with boyish slim figures.
Discouragingly, the fact of the matter is that the numbers do not add up, and according to feminist website Jezebel, black and mixed race models make up only around 20% of the bookings at New York Fashion week in 2014, making Sudanese model Alek Wek a relative anomaly. It would seem that although a positive change is occurring that includes more diversified cultures in the cult of mainstream fashion and beauty, they will still need to shout louder and work harder than their caucasian counterparts to be seen and heard.