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.