Pretty Hurts

Growing up in the United States, I spent my childhood playing with Barbie dolls and American Girl dolls. Every Saturday morning, I sat in my room running a tiny hairbrush through the dolls’ long blonde hair and putting eyeshadow and lipstick on their perfectly shaped plastic faces.

As I got older, my entertainment came from television shows like “Zoey 101” and “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.” I admired these shows’ stars – girls like Jamie Lynn Spears and Ashley Tisdale – for their slender bodies and attractive blue eyes, and they became models for how I should act and what I should look like as a teenager.

Mainstream American media thus led me from a young age to internalized a standard of beauty that focused on slender American girls with wavy blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. But when I moved from Maryland to Hong Kong, I was exposed to a different definition of attractiveness.

The streets of Hong Kong were filled with attractive Asian women, and magazines depicted beauty in a different way than I was used to: these women had long black hair and dark brown eyes. In turn, I started to warm up to the possibility of embracing my own black hair and brown eyes.

Even still, however, my old Americanized standard of beauty lingered. I attended an international middle school where the skinny, blue-eyed American girls formed the “popular clique.” I often found myself coveting blonde hair and blue eyes so I could fit in with them, especially because I identified as both American and Chinese. Moreover, the differences between my appearance and that of the American girls I saw on television and at my school sometimes felt like a failure to live up to the “normal” standard of beauty.
The summer before I arrived at Andover, however, I started watching a Chinese television show that featured characters who were beautiful, funny, intelligent and compelling. Most importantly for me, they were able to be all these things and be Chinese at the same time. While watching this show, I was encouraged by the similarities between my physical characteristics and theirs.

Then I arrived at Andover and was suddenly surrounded by gorgeous girls from all over the world. For me, seeing these girls owning their unique appearances encouraged me to accept my own distinct physical characteristics.

But I’m sure there are still plenty of girls on this campus who, like me, struggle with the concept of beauty. To address this problem, there must be a broader and more prominent conversation about beauty standards at Andover. Furthermore, this discussion must not be limited to issues of beauty standards and body images from an exclusively American perspective. As a student body and as a community, we need to question how various cultures and nations impress upon their women the need to conform.

A workshop was held this past Martin Luther King, Jr. Day that focused on the various beauty standards that women of all races are held to, but one discussion per year will not eradicate the overwhelming issue. Instead, I believe that we should incorporate this topic of conversation into Personal and Community Education (PACE) classes and facilitate conversations about beauty standards during international culture awareness weeks.

In general, Andover’s conversations about beauty must mirror the intentional diversity that is so fundamental to our community. Andover students should leave the school at the end of their time here with a new and more holistic understanding of what it means to be beautiful.

I know that it is impossible for this issue to be fixed overnight, as standards of beauty have been fed to us for centuries. Changing our long established standards of beauty begins with altering our individual activities and daily mentalities.

Seek out movies and television shows starring women who look different from you. Talk about beauty standards in the dorm and over meals. Think about how girls of different races have varying facial features that are each uniquely beautiful. It is time to break through our conventional ideas and embrace the diverse, unique beauty the world has to offer.