By Sophia Gomez
Magazines, TV commercials, Subway ads, and pictures frames; if you have not noticed all feature some of the same faces. You will most likely find the face of an American White citizen front and center. But what is so ideal about this group of people? Are they truly going to make you more inclined to buy a product because they are sponsoring it? Maybe so, but when thinking about why this may be I have arrived to the conclusion that the beauty standards that were constructed in the past around the skin tone of an individual continue to impede our society today. From the brown paper bag test established in the early 1900’s, to skin-lightening products that just last year were an industry worth 4.3 billion dollars; image and representation have been struggling concepts for the marginalized groups of people in the United States. Generations have been able to pass on the ideals of what beauty and being American looks like since the start of childhood. And unfortunately my childhood was a victim of those ideals.
Growing up, a daughter of two immigrants, my dolls all looked like Barbie or were at least a version of her. Although it was not necessarily my mother who handed me these types of dolls, I was somehow able to decide that Barbie was more sophisticated and beautiful than Dora the Explorer. Barbie herself had the life I wanted, full of friends, wealth, status and of course blonde hair. As a result I began to look at other children as guide of achieving an American childhood. I watched the shows all my friends talked about, I wore all the brands my friends wore, I told my mom to pack the same lunch as my friends, and I even asked for the same toys for Christmas as my friends.
As I got older I noticed the role of image in American society. Not only did I continue to follow my plan of accomplishing an American childhood but I also attempted to distance myself from the heritage that my parents had so kindly open me up to. The warm soothing cups of hot chocolate with melted cheese in them that were typically served at the Colombian breakfast table quickly became into cold cups of Nesquik, and the spanish music that roared in the car converted to Hannah Montana songs on repeat. It was only elementary school when these changes took place. A child of 10 years old, and I already took it upon myself to accommodate others, to please and harmonize with those I saw as American and beautiful. At this point you might be asking yourself, aren’t I at fault for having followed the norms and actions of others around me? But the truth is, by human nature we have the tendency to compare, as well as look to others when in a group of people. Whether it is in moments of confusion or moments when someone or something dominates the other, our bodies and minds find the easiest way to defend itself. If you think about it, isn’t easier to have a unified front of people rather than a conflicted and opposing group of people? At 10 years old you would much rather see yourself included with the majority of your class, tv shows, books and dolls without being asked one of the most harmful questions: What are you?
It is time that the image of beauty and the idea of who an American is are no longer interconnected. That the little girl who one day walked to school with magnificent curls and the next walked in with straight hair will not be more “American” because her physical appearance states it so. That I, nor you, will have to explain to our children why they don’t see themselves on TV without being portrayed as the criminal, dangerous, or unintelligent. We must all take a second look at our privileges and power in society, because alone we will be left running in the dirt for years to come. I do not ask for you to tell me I am beautiful because I am exotic and different, but I ask for you to allow space and light for me to enter the world. It is time for those who have been on stage for years to step to the side and allow those who have been misinterpreted, diminished, and forgotten in our society to take the stage. You and I must forget what was taught in the past, You and I must take opportunities, and You and I must choose for ourselves who we are and what we represent.