Annie Banks is an organizer/artist in Berkeley, California, on Ohlone territories. Annie is an active member of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners and the Anti Police-Terror Project and is a student at Goddard College. Annie has been a printmaker since high school. 

“The role of cultural workers is important in our movements for justice.” 

ON THE HARMS OF WHITE SUPREMACY TO WHITE PEOPLE, PART FOUR: VIGNETTE 3: “YOU MUST SUFFER TO BE BEAUTIFUL”: GROWING UP WITH WHITE SUPREMACIST BEAUTY STANDARDS.

ON THE HARMS OF WHITE SUPREMACY TO WHITE PEOPLE, PART FOUR: VIGNETTE 3: “YOU MUST SUFFER TO BE BEAUTIFUL”: GROWING UP WITH WHITE SUPREMACIST BEAUTY STANDARDS.

ON THE HARMS OF WHITE SUPREMACY TO WHITE PEOPLE, PART FOUR: VIGNETTE 3: “YOU MUST SUFFER TO BE BEAUTIFUL”: GROWING UP WITH WHITE SUPREMACIST BEAUTY STANDARDS.

“You must suffer to be beautiful”: Growing up with white supremacist beauty standards

My mother used to tell me, “You must suffer to be beautiful”. Growing up I looked to my mother as the most beautiful woman that I had ever seen. She was tall and thin, 5’10” with a lean frame and long legs. Her hair was dyed blonde and had been as long as I could remember, though it seemed to have been naturally blonde for much of her life, too. She had green eyes and was certainly what many people consider beautiful. She was also what some people would consider “racially superior” based on these attributes, according to the pseudo-scientific Nazi doctrines of Aryanism or a master race which posit that Nordic or Aryan people who are tall, fair-haired and light-eyed are racially superior to all other “races” of people (Wikipedia, 2017).  

Author Marimba Ani notes that “similarly every symbol of purity is white, all innocence is blond youth hence the expression “fair-haired boy”. Even the ideal (but unattainable) sex object is blond.” (2014). This racist designation of superiority has extremely sinister outcomes, ranging from the creation of eugenics, or the control of reproduction in order to maintain the “purity” of the Aryan race which included forced sterilization of people considered incapable of contributing to the Aryan race or of being inferior in any way, to the mass genocide of Jewish people, Roma people and Slavic people in Europe during the Holocaust based on their lower ranking in the racial hierarchy that places Aryan people at the top (Wikipedia, 2017).

As a child, I had deeply internalized the scientifically racist values of the racial hierarchy firmly in place in North America. I can remember looking at photographs of my mother and agonizing over why I looked so different. I took after my father very strongly, who was broad-shouldered and darker in his coloring with brown eyes and hair and olive skin. While my mother would always tell me how beautiful my brown eyes and olive skin were, I couldn’t shake the feeling that she was only placating me. I knew, deep down, that hers was “true beauty” – blonde hair, light eyes, fair skin.

Everything in my life reinforced this, from every woman deemed beautiful on television to the different reactions of my own family members to us kids dependent on skin, hair and eye color. I never needed anyone to tell me what constituted “beautiful”, it was as plain as day. I could not change the elements of white supremacist beauty standards that I did not conform to – I could not make myself taller, change my eye color or do more than occasionally bleach my darker hair. I could, however, starve myself in order to at least adhere to the Western expectation for white women to be small, thin and frail. I became anorexic at 16, eventually weighing 85 pounds after a year of barely eating. This brought on its own host of issues, including amenorrhea or the lack of a menstrual period, a medical condition that still haunts me at 32 years of age.

To be honest, I have not yet won this battle with anorexia as I still exhibit disordered eating behavior nearly half my lifetime later. Though I have studied and critiqued the origins of the white supremacist beauty ideals that privilege light hair and eyes, whiteness and thinness, I still cannot allow my body to leave the rigid parameters of the imposed metrics of the Body Mass Index, for example, a system made by and for white European men (Luna, C., 2017, January 22). White supremacist beauty standards have been and continue to be life-threatening to so many, including to me. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa can lead to heart failure, obsessive and compulsive behaviors, depression, inability to concentrate, seizures, hormonal issues, infertility, osteoporosis, kidney failure, anemia, exhaustion, anxiety and death (National Eating Disorders Association, 2016).

References

Ani, M. (2014). YURUGU: an African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior. Baltimore: Afrikan World Books.

Luna, C. (2017, January 22). Your fat stigma is racist – here are 6 ways to shift that. Everyday Feminism. Retrieved from: http://everydayfeminism.com/2017/01/how-to-shift-racist-fat-stigma/

Master race. (2017, May 29). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved May 29, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master_race

National Eating Disorders Association. (2016). Health consequences. Retrieved from: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/anorexia/health-consequences

Modern day slavery is real

Modern day slavery is real

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