Allure Marks Shifting Beauty Standards; Declares The “All-American Beauty” Ideal Dead

by Latoya Peterson

In the March 2011 issue of Allure, the beauty bible chose to celebrate their 20th anniversary by looking at the changing ways in which we define beauty.

Two decades ago, Allure conducted a study with 1,000 men and women called “What Beauty Means to You.”  A clear picture of what was considered beautiful emerged – and her name is Christie Brinkley:

But the last 20 years have brought major changes to our nation – and no where is this more evident than our ideas of who is considered most beautiful.  The new celebrity “ideal” according to Allure is now Angelina Jolie:

But here’s what’s really interesting.  Allure also showed photos of non-celebrity models and asked respondents to rank the person who was most attractive.  The top winners? A Latina female and a South Asian male (identified as a person of Indian descent).

 

 

Major takeaways from the study:

  • 69 percent of all respondents believe there is no longer any such thing as the “all-American” look
  • 85 percent believe that increased diversity in this country has changed what people consider beautiful.
  • 64 percent of all our respondents think women of mixed race represent the epitome of beauty, and around 70 percent believe they might well be attracted to those who aren’t of their own race or ethnicity.
  • 74 percent of all respondents said they wanted [their lips] to be fuller.
  • 69% of respondents believe there is no longer any such thing as the “all-American” look.
  • 79% agree that being perceived as beautiful or handsome increases self-confidence.
  • “The regal, elegantly varnished blonde has been effectively dethroned. Not demolished, mind you–she still has access to a pedestal; it’s just not hers exclusively, and it’s come down a few inches.”
  • 46 percent of all women (especially white women) find fair hair beautiful
  • Of those respondents who said they wished to change their skin color, 70 percent reported that they wanted it to be darker. Among women, the desire to deepen their skin tone is especially pronounced.
  • 86 percent of everyone surveyed think that middle-aged women today are perceived as more attractive than they were two decades ago.
  • Members of both sexes say that, most of all, they want their stomachs to be flatter.
  • African-Americans of both genders are more likely than anyone else to say beauty isn’t simply a matter of good looks, that wealth and power enhance appeal.
  • Middle-aged women, 40 percent of them in fact, worry about aging.
  • Hispanic men–55 percent of them–tend to believe that a female stranger would consider them attractive, and they are also the most likely among all respondents to say they use that appeal to attain stature and ascendancy in the workplace.
  • Caucasian men aren’t so sure about their general appeal (a mere 29 percent think a stranger’s verdict would prove positive).
  • “Black and Hispanic men are nearly twice as likely as Caucasian men to view the derriere with the kind of special fondness and rapt absorption once devoted exclusively to D-cup breasts.”
  • 45 percent of black and Hispanic men think a prominent butt is among a woman’s most attractive features (28 percent of white males agree with that)
  • 74% believe that a curvier body type is more appealing now than it has been over the past ten years.
  • “[T]he highest rates of aesthetic self-confidence and pleasure in one’s own body exist among African-American women, and they are the most likely among all respondents to embrace and aspire to curvy hips, as well as a larger, rounder butt. They are also the least likely to be on a diet or worry about weight (Caucasian women are the most likely to focus on weight).
  • [H]ere’s what a third of all black women predict they’ll do to decrease signs of aging: nothing at all. (Just so you know: This kind of attitude isn’t exactly catching on across the spectrum. About 85 percent of all Caucasian and Hispanic women report that they are definitely going to do something to fight signs of aging.)

Interestingly, other outlets have really distilled down the study to “mixed race people are beautiful” which really leaves out a lot of what Allure is saying about the changing face of beauty in America. For example, the “top model” selection contained some major distinctions:

“When shown photos of various races and ethnicities, women found that the handsomest man in the group happened to be of Indian descent.  The most attractive female, in the view of both sexes, was the Latina model (54 percent of all women preferred her looks), followed closely by a model of mixed race.  (African American men considered the black female model the most beautiful.)”

Asian Americans did not appear to make up a large group for the study and were not broken out specifically. Indigenous folks and anyone else that does not fit the Caucasian-Black-Hispanic categorization were also excluded.

The findings have begun to show a clear shift in what Americans consider beautiful, leaning toward browner faces and “dethroning” the blond ideal. However, some things have remained frustratingly the same.

Allure doesn’t really talk about a major issue – the violence of revulsion. While it may appear as those certain types of features (fuller lips, darker skin, rounder behinds) are becoming more mainstream and accepted, the folks who possess these features have not gained the same level of acceptance.  Minh-ha T. Pham breaks down the concept for us over at Threadbared, while discussing yet another blackface focused fashion editorial:

But what is on display in French Vogue and on Diez’s runway is not beautiful black bodies, but what Nirmal Puwar describes as “the universal empty point” that white female bodies are able to occupy precisely because their bodies are racially unmarked: “[Thus] they can play with the assigned particularity of ethnicized dress without suffering the ‘violence of revulsion.’”

The “violence of revulsion” that women of color generally, and black women particularly in the cases of this issue of French Vogue and Diez’s show, experience is not mediated by these “edgy” acts of “postracialism”. In fact, the violence of revulsion is redoubled here. Blackface highlights the privileged universal empty point that white bodies continue to occupy even in this so-called postracial moment, and in so doing, it positions racial difference against whiteness, as the other to whiteness.

Society, despite the changes in individual preference, still posits whiteness as the most aspirational part of beauty.  For decades, Asian Americans were not represented in leading roles on television.  Even now, in a television season full of Asian American characters, no one comes to mind as a dashing lead – most are sidekicks, and relatively few are allowed to even compete with white leads for lines or status.  The runways still default back to a white version of beauty every couple of years – after they promoted some new group as flavor of the month.  African American entrants to the Hollywood elite have stayed at the same levels for decades (one in one out…), and the Oscars remains an overwhelmingly white event.

Allure’s next photo shoot reveals how this type of acceptance plays out, featuring a variety of models from various races and ethnicities…but who all have the same essential look.

Skin tones range from pale to mid brown, lips are uniformly full,  features are uniformly keen, bodies are still uniformly thin, and hair is from straight to loosely curled.  In this way, we acknowledge the world has changed – but swap an old, exclusive beauty standard for a new one.

 

 

 

  • kim

    where is the celebration of non-white biracial black/latina/asian/natives? that this ideal “mixed” seems to be white + “other”.

    and two great. just what WOC , monoracial or biracial, dont need in the world….another fetishization.

  • blakdiamon

    This is pretty interesting to me. But just because the epitome of beauty is now full-lipped Jolie doesn’t make it any less Eurocentric. I think that People of Color have made a cultural impact enough to break in new beauty standards but not enough to completely flip it on it’s head. One example is the fact that a big butt is now fashionable in the mainstream media but only on Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian.

    I think the reason why black women answered that they are not worried about aging is because we are not being marketed with anti-aging products and services as vigorously as white women are. Now, if it was hair…

  • Anonymous

    From what’s been shown in the photos here, the new beauty ideals still center whiteness, with just enough “ethnic” flavor thrown in. Even the Latina and Indian man selected as the most attractive have lighter skin and less round/full features. I won’t join in lamenting the death of eurocentric beauty standards until attractive people of all stripes are equally considered attractie, instead of the ethnic-lite look being the only thing celebrated in concert with whiteness.

  • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH

    I really don’t like this idea of one look being “dethroned” for another…it just reeks of replacing one oppressive ideal for another. Also I feel like Allure is trying to play up the fears of some white people who are already threatened by the thought of becoming a minority in a few decades and of having a black/biracial president, kind of like how mainstream political mags like to come up with a “Whites as a minority” type article every so often…
    Also if the “mixed” look is in right now I’d like to know which particular “mixed” look they’re talking about because there are many different combination of mixed individuals…I suspect they only mean any combination with white ancestry because that’s what mixed has come to be predominantly associated with here in America at least.

    • Grace

      I personally DO like the idea of one look being dethroned. Regardless of what one thinks about how ideals have or have not changed and what this particular article says about it, I don’t think the article is saying that blondes or whites or whatever are being dethroned “for another”–only that its being dethroned. Anyone who has a problem with that being dethroned is a bit suspect in my book. If no one’s getting dethroned, we should at least ALL be allowed on the thrown. I feel as though we were once peasants, but now we’re jesters–allowed inside, but as entertainment, to be mocked.

      • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH

        See to me the way Allure made it seem was that the blonde look is being dethroned (just a little) to make way for the next big fetish, which according to the survey seems to be the “mixed” look. If that’s what they’re trying to imply I am uncomfortable with that new reality because why can’t it be that the blonde look is dethroned and all types of looks are celebrated equally? Why should people have to be pushed to accept another unobtainable ideal (because like we are all not born natural blondes we are not all born first-generation mixed)?

        That’s what I felt uncomfortable about what I believed Allure is possibly alluding to.

  • Anonymous

    yeah..that whole mixed people are the hottest SUCKS if you, like me, are a racially ambigous woman walking around in the world. I’m SO tired of dudes coming at me with some variation of the “damn girl, what are you mixed with” line. Being the object of fetish sucks….trust me its nothing to wish upon anyone.

  • Ladyguerita

    “Black and Hispanic men are nearly twice as likely as Caucasian men to view the derriere with the kind of special fondness and rapt absorption once devoted exclusively to D-cup breasts.”
    That quote rubs me the wrong way, it seems to promote that stereotype that only men of color are more accepting of of a “curvier” body.
    So swap, a blond woman for a Brunette ?
    wow, we are totally post racial/ sarcasm.
    I always hated the term “all American” it was a nice way of saying W.A.S.P blond or Midwest blond. But even if we stop using this term our mentality will stay the same if we keep devaluing people of color.
    “64 percent of all our respondents think women of mixed race represent the epitome of beauty”
    AND THAT’S A GOOD THING????????????????
    I find that heart breaking, I speak as a mixed woman. I wished to be considered human or at pretty for not my racial background but how I treat others. I get the looks from others who find out that I’m mixed and it becomes a main source of compliments. I don’t mind being complimented for my physical appearance but my racial background is not the source of ” my beauty”. We become no longer an individual with interests , hobbies, opinions but put into the same category as fashion accessories. Often I wonder if am I really pretty( because I was lucky that I was born into a culutre were my physical apprentice appeals to the the beauty standard ) or am I considered pretty because I was mixed and nothing else?
    Ugly walks and there is not such thing as a positive beauty standard.

    • Mickey

      “I get the looks from others who find out that I’m mixed and it becomes a main source of compliments. I don’t mind being complimented for my physical appearance but my racial background is not the source of ” my beauty”. ”

      I once had a guy ask me my racial/ethnic background and when I told him, he actually told me that the reason why I was so pretty is because of one of my racial backgrounds. And, as suspected, it was the white background. I just gave him the side eye.

    • Anonymous

      I feel you on how some people only seem to evaluate you based on your racial background and it’s perceived contributions to your overall appearance. I am black self-identified and I have two pretty unambiguous looking black parents but b/c I’ve grown up with eyes that change from hazel to green and I had light skin and natural blonde highlights in my hair. I’ve had people mistaking me for different things. I know I look ambiguous. And I’ve had some people only approach me b/c of how I look. B/c they think that I’m mixed or Latina or something. And then soon after they’ll lose interest if they find out I’m black or if I “play along” they will go on and on about how mixed black women are pretty and exotic. I’ve even been fetishized for being a black woman and that isn’t much better.

      It’s like you said: I want to be treated as human, given that courtesy of getting to know people who are genuinely interested in me.

      I don’t know. I’ve seen mixed people who have what some might consider a “mono-racial” appearance. You wouldn’t know that they were mixed race unless they told you. And that should be the point. You shouldn’t be projecting your ideas of race and beauty onto other people. Popular media images have really done some harm in this area: only some appearances are visible–others are made invisible or even impossible for people to imagine.

      There are just regular people out there. I think that b/c mixed race identity has become so “hollywoodified” people can’t imagine the regular mixed race people among us. Just like everybody else.

      The trend that I see with most so-called acceptance of mixed race people is to laud the ones that look somewhat white or have acceptable Eurocentric features. But mixed race people are not new in the sense that people have never “mixed” before. It’s the fact that they self-identify as such, using our current conception of race. So yeah, mainstream culture doesn’t know it’s history. Mixed race/mixed blood identity has been around for a hella long time and has been defined in various ways in different times and places. For instance, as much as one would agree that a white/black marriage is a mixed marriage, so is one between Yoruba and Igbo, black American and Ghanaian American, Cherokee and Choctaw, Chinese and Mohawk, Hmong and Mien, Muslim and Jewish and so on.

  • http://blackwomengetyours.blogspot.com/ TheVoiceOfReason

    I was just gonna say that this is just more white girls dipped in Red, Olive, Brown, Black, and Yellow paint. There is nothing accepting about this “new” beauty standard just more of the same. Safe.

  • Anonymous

    I believe that people want the “fuller lips, curvier bodies, darker skin” yadda yadda but not to the point where it makes them look too ethnic. That’s why you can have a white model with vaguely “ethnic features” and people think she’s beautiful, yet they will find the non-white person with these same features to be less desireable because that person is actually “ethnic” in the Western sense of the word. This idea was addressed in the white model segment of the article pretty much.

    As for the whole mixed-race=beauty issue: People want to be a little bit of this or that, but not the full thing. I think about this when I see white women tanning on the beach. They wanna look sunkissed, but still white. They want to look more exotic, without compromising their whiteness. Full lips are good as long as they’re not too full, darker skin is good as long as it’s not too dark, curvy figures are nice but you don’t wanna end up with a big ol’ black BOOTY! It seems that for many people, mixed folks fall right into the “a little of this, little of that, not to much of either” area.

    The beauty ideal has shifted somewhat to accomodate non-whites but only as long as they are still pretty close to white or somewhat white. It’s like viewing non-white beauty through a Eurocentric lens. Not much of a view if you ask me.

    • Grace

      “The beauty ideal has shifted somewhat to accomodate non-whites but only as long as they are still pretty close to white or somewhat white. It’s like viewing non-white beauty through a Eurocentric lens. Not much of a view if you ask me. ”

      Wooow. Truth.

  • AJ

    When I no longer hear comments like “you’re cute for a …x… guy/girl” then we can make this claim.

  • Val

    This survey would have been a lot more interesting if they had broken responses down by age. I’m sure younger people in general have a more diverse ideal of beauty but unfortunately younger people don’t control much media. So really it’s what the older folks who control media think that makes a difference.

    As an example; I bet it was older people who selected the models, who all look alike, for the photo shoot. How would that photo shoot have looked if younger people selected the models, I wonder.

    And also if the people selecting the models for the shoot were all White then that sort of makes all of the findings of the survey moot in a way. How would the model selections be different if different people were casting the models?

  • miga

    This article seems like Allure’s patting itself on the back, nothing more. Remember their “Faces of the Future” article? http://www.racialicious.com/2009/10/19/allures-faces-of-the-future-promotes-stereotypes-about-mixed-people/ This seems more of the same.
    Also, the myth that POC women (esp. AfAm women) are so much more accepting of curves is a dangerous one, ignores the fact that there is relatively little research on POCs and disordered eating, and erases those of us who are struggling with body-norms- othering us AGAIN and leaving us without help until it gets to be very serious.

    • Mickey

      I remember Oprah did a show on this issue regarding beauty standards in America and she had some nonwhite models like Alek Wek & Patricia Velasquez along with Miss Universe 1997 Brook Mahealani Lee on her show. She did a survey in her audience regarding self-image between Black & White women and it was noticed that the Black women surveyd had much higher acceptance of themselves regarding their bodies and beauty compared to the White women. Only about 3% of the White women surveyed considered themselves a perfect 10 whereas an overwhelming majority of the Black women surveyed felt the same way. But you are right, people should not just assume that any group is perfectly happy without the proper research.

      • Anonymous

        I don’t know if black women are overall more accepting, or if we are more likely to say we are accepting of our bodies/happy with our bodies/etc. I, along with a lot of women that I know, has said something positive about my body while harboring secret desires to flatten my stomach, get largers breasts, hips and butt. etc. I also grew up knowing that worrying about being really skinny was a “white girl” prblems, and that “real” black women didn’t do that. I also grew up with feeling inadequate because not only did I not have the mainstream’s ideal feminine body type, but I also didn’t/don’t have the black mainstream’s ideal feminine body type. I just didn’t broadcast these doubts as much as some of the non-black women I went to school with.

        • Soulsentwined

          This is my experience as well. Plenty of black women suffer from body image issues as well as knowledge that our hair and skin tone do not conform to the beauty standard in this country.

  • http://DeadAmericanDream.blogspot.com AngryBroomstick

    NO ONE IS ATTRACTIVE BECAUSE OF THEIR SKIN COLOR, ETHNICITY, OR FACE. There are ugly and gorgeous people in every race, every hair color, skin color, eyes, nationality, ethnicity, body size, etc. etc. I must be one of the very few ones who feel immensely attracted to every race (you name it, I’ve had a crush on them all).

    the “All American Beauty” remark has always angered me, I am just as American as any other white blonde chick from the O.C or Alabama or Chicago. so, no, the “All American” beauty ideal is NOT dead! Everywhere you look, my friends, everyone has the All-American looks.

    I’m really disturbed that “mixed people” are perceived as more attractive than anyone else. Great. I’m 100% Indian, so therefore I am ugly. I’m gonna go stand in the UGLY CORNER and cry to myself. What’s up with India’s obsession for half white, half Indian, light skinned models and actresses and beauty contestants???

    the picture square above created by Allure is hilariously funny in a painful way. They all may have different skin tones, but they all share Eurocentric facial features. Nope, I dont any difference there!!!

    “The regal, elegantly varnished blonde has been effectively dethroned. Not demolished, mind you–she still has access to a pedestal; it’s just not hers exclusively, and it’s come down a few inches.”

    yeah right. Tell me why do I still see so many blonde actresses in leading roles in Hollywood films and why are female pop singers so obsessed with being blonde? including non-white pop singers such as Beyonce and Nicki Minaj and even M.I.A who have all dyed their hair blonde.

    • Anonymous

      I agree with your comment and wanted to let you know that the “UGLY CORNER” statement made me laugh aloud.

      That is all.

    • kim

      honestly when i looked at the selected two most attractive models – i thought yeah so? they’re both brunette white people. not to mention the fucking obnoxious comments i’ve heard white people make over the course of my life about their perceived unattractiveness of indian or asian men. and i’m an asian woman. and they’d still say something.

      meh allure. whatever.