It’s a White Woman’s World After All

By Guest Contributor

A sea of blonde and brunette ponytails filled the social space for a discussion on body image disorders and ideals for women led by Courtney Martin, author of “Perfect Girl.” She argued that a dire consequence of college women pursuing the image of “the perfect girl” is the self-hate of the “starving daughter”: formed from frustration with having dark circles under one’s eyes to eating disorders and compulsive fitness habits. Martin called on women to take action by using campus resources and surrounding oneself with positive-minded people.

While Martin seemed to skirt describing any characteristics of her “perfect girl” — she seemed to imply that any type of woman can strive to this ideal — to me she named the most important feature of all by not mentioning it at all: whiteness. By not meaningfully engaging with the way that race shapes her analysis, she fed my skepticism of mainstream feminism.

The standard of beauty in America is the skinny, white, blonde woman. It is a heteronormative ideal that women should strive to embody and men should strive to conquer. Martin’s “starving daughter” is this woman.

She is all around us, although in reality is very few of us. Take a quick flip through fashion magazines or a stroll through beauty parlors at a department store. If you search the word “beauty” in Google images, chiseled chins and rouged cheeks grace the page. This lack of diversity in women’s body shapes and skin colors reinforces what I perceive as a type of beauty that women are conditioned to strive for in America.

Growing up in a community as a black male and in a household where my mother and other black women earnestly invested in perms, hair relaxers and weaves, I interpreted these actions as attempts to skip the negative labels created and associated with the innate quality of knotty hair. While some women might argue that they are doing it for self-satisfaction, I feel that there is a strong media influence to assimilate into the white standard of beauty.

Of course black men are not immune from white standards of beauty, even if sexism keeps us from acknowledging it. We claim we keep our hair close-cut because it looks good, when in reality, racism likely taught us it looked good because there was not enough length to form a nap. I change my appearance to combat and flee the negative portrayals of black men in the media. If I dressed and spoke in a certain way, I assume a lot of the people I currently interact with at Middlebury would feel unsafe and be hesitant to approach me.

During my brief time here at Middlebury, I have found that feminism embraces white women’s privilege, championing a cause driven by a certain group of women for the benefit of a particular group of women. While I want to fundamentally champion the rights of all women, the contemporary mainstream feminism movement in America seems only to embrace the white woman’s narrative, as the only narrative victim oppressed by the hegemonic, patriarchal forces that be. I cannot support a feminism that is led exclusively by the women who crowded into McCullough; a feminism that, while aiming for total equality, does not acknowledge itself as a political sphere entwined with racism.

CHRIS GRIGGS ’16 is from Chicago, Ill.