She dreaded walking through the school’s double doors each morning. She dreaded walking the half-swept halls that led her to classroom after classroom of people who didn’t accept her and her appearance. She spent most days alone, being ignored, which she preferred because when she wasn’t being ignored she was being teased. She was constantly bullied for the way she carried herself. She was laughed at. She was called names. She wasn’t pretty enough, tall enough, slim enough, and her skin wasn't the right color.
Many women have experienced the same ridicule she did, because they grew up in a world that was survival of the prettiest. At the end of the day, she and women like her were picked on because they didn’t meet the standards of beauty; the same standards of beauty that society has lived by for decades.
Eff Your Standards of Beauty.
We’ve continuously equated beauty with an ideal face and body. That ideal face being symmetrical with sultry eyes and nice bone structure, while that ideal body is some interpretation of thin. These beauty standards remain unattainable for most of us. The mainstream ideal beauty is almost exclusively white, making it more unattainable for us women of color.
The issue with beauty standards is that they’re non-inclusive of many and leave room for comparisons, and those comparisons have unfortunate consequences. Those who do not fit the beauty standards can feel dissatisfied with themselves for not achieving the ideal beauty, but can also suffer mistreatment from those within their communities.
Thankfully, we’re starting to see a shift. We've started to say "Eff your standards or beauty." We've started making the unattainable more attainable, making unconventional beauty more beautiful. The standards of beauty are slowly but surely changing. Women are no longer required to have the perfect face and body to be considered attractive. They no longer need to have white or a light skin complexion to called beautiful. They no longer have to be tall and thin to be placed on the cover of a magazine. Women of varying shapes, sizes, and shades are gaining recognition for their imperfect beauty.
Tess Holliday, the plus-size model who continues to take the world by storm, is a great example of a woman who’s changing beauty standards with her unconventional beauty. She was named one of the Faces of Plus-Size Fashion in 2012, and was featured on the cover of People magazine this year. In 2013, she started her #effyourbeautystandards movement on Instagram, with the goal to show women that they do not have to be a certain size to love their body and that their size should not dictate their fashion choices.
Tess is the first size-22 woman to receive a contract with a well-known modeling agency. Throughout her career she's discussed her struggle with being a teen who was constantly bullied. She admits to being shoved in lockers, being called names, and receiving death threats. She also opened up about her struggle with becoming a model, claiming that it was hard for her to get her foot in the door because she’d get responses that she had a pretty face but was too short and too big.
She said it best in a blog for People. "There is no one way to be a woman, or to be beautiful. We all deserve a place… I have this passion inside of me to help other women feel confident and comfortable in their bodies regardless of their size or what society tells them is beautiful.”
Tess is absolutely correct. Every woman is different, and every woman possesses her own beauty. There is no right and wrong way to be beautiful, and society is beginning to accept that fact as well.
Leah Vernon is another beautiful woman who’s gained recognition for possessing atypical beauty. Like me, she's a Detroit-native and is also coined as a plus-size hijabi model, blogger, activist, and public speaker. She has been devoted to promoting body positivity and inclusive representation. Last year she published a memoir, Unashamed: Musings of a Fat, Black, Muslim, which delves into the struggles of living in a marginalized body and her journey to self-acceptance. Leah has also reclaimed the word “fat,” denouncing its negative connotations and embracing it as a simple, descriptive word.
There are a number of beautiful, body positive women I would fawn over. If you're looking for some influential ladies to follow, I have recommendations that I'd love to share.
Many would kill for a certain level of confidence, but they no longer have to. Tess, Leah, and other plus-size women are paving the way for women of all shapes and sizes to be recognized as beautiful. They are acting as role models and encouraging women to be comfortable and love the skin they’re in. It’s great to see a beautiful plus-size woman grace the cover of a distinguished magazine.
It’s great to see another beautiful plus-size woman write a book that’s not only successful, but speaks to so many women in so many ways. Overall, it’s amazing that big and beautiful women are finding the courage to share their painful stories with the hopes of helping others find the same confidence they struggled to find. They are shifting the beauty and model industry’s standards of beauty, and it’s absolutely refreshing.
Women of color in media have increased over the past decade as well, and we’ve seen beautiful women including Jennifer Lopez, Tyra Banks, Halle Berry, Beyonce, Rihanna, Sofia Vergara and Queen Latifah gain recognition. What we didn’t see a lot of was beautiful dark skinned women gaining the recognition they deserved. That’s changing as well. In today’s society, many of these women are being recognized for their beauty including Brandy, Gabourey Sidibe, Gabrielle Union, Kelly Rowland, Lupita Nyong’o, Tika Sumpter, and Naturi Naughton.
Black women have also gained recognition for their unique look. They have physical attributes that many wish to obtain. Black women are known for beautiful, curvaceous bodies and full lips. People often make alterations for the things they want that are not natural to them. Kylie Jenner, for example, wanted fuller lips, so she had temporary lip fillers. Iggy Azalea underwent breast enlargement surgery and K. Michelle, though already possessing such attributes, wanted to enhance them. She had her breasts enlarged and transferred fat from her stomach to her butt. Things like full lips, defined hips, and large behinds have, over the past decade, been equated with beauty.
African American women are changing beauty standards with another unique look, hair. Natural hair has become a trending style that more and more women are adopting. Society is recognizing women with natural hair, braids, and other protective styles, and accepting the fact that having straight hair is not the only way to be beautiful. Black women are gaining such recognition because their beauty is something so unique to them. It is one of the few things that cannot be mimicked by another race. They can mimic the body through various surgeries, but no one can mimic a black woman’s natural hair. Thus, black women shine in that area.
Women including Janelle Monae, Solange and Tracee Ellis Ross have flaunted their beautiful natural hair for years. They’ve never needed to alter it to fit society's standard of beauty, and instead shifted the beauty standards. They’ve shown that natural hair is beautiful, and are role models for women of all ages who struggle to embrace the hair they were born with.
We are influenced by what we see in the media, and use what we see to determine what is or is not beautiful. The aforementioned women encourage us to love ourselves as we are and to not feel pressured into altering our bodies to fit in or be beautiful.
Thin or thick, short or tall, dark or light, curvaceous or not, we all need to remember that there is no set standard of beauty and we are all eternally beautiful.