Featurism: Appreciate the unique features of all cultures and races

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Photo credit: Pixy.org

Black women face the majority of backlash brought by featurism.

By Jackson Collins, Rutherford B. Hayes High School

Toxic beauty standards affect people of all races, but they can be especially prevalent in Black and brown communities. The concept of featurism is nothing new, but is recently gaining attention on social media.
Featurism is defined as “a prejudice towards individuals with certain features and a preference towards those with features that correlate with a set beauty standard.”
People of color are particularly impacted by featurism because people’s biases frequently cause them to favor eurocentric, or traditionally white, features.
The concept plays hand-in-hand with colorism, which is when people of color that have lighter skin tones are favored to those with darker complexions.
These prejudices date all the way back to slavery when biracial or lightskinned slaves were seen as trophies. They were assigned lighter tasks like housework while dark-skinned slaves had to do the hard, manual labor outdoors.
Even today, Black people are praised for having looser curl patterns or straightened hair. Styles like afros and braids are seen as unmanageable and unprofessional.
While that much is true, a lot of the beauty standards have changed in the past 10 years.
Nowadays, social media is plagued with influencers like Kylie Jenner who are getting cosmetic procedures to get the illusion of wider hips and full lips, traits that are most common in Black women.
Pseudo-celebrities get to cherry pick the traits that they want from Black culture and make it “trendy,” because their eurocentric features appeal to society’s standards.
It seems like everybody wants to be Black yet nobody wants to stand up for actual Black people. Meanwhile, the people that don’t get to alter their appearance are ridiculed for their looks.
An example of this would be from when journalists bashed Beyonce’s daughter, Blue Ivy, following a New Year’s party last year.
Vanity Fair critic K. Austin Collins commented on how he feels sorry that traits (i.e., her wide nose and large lips) from her father’s side would catch up with her. In reply, a Harper’s Bazaar editor suggested that Blue Ivy get plastic surgery when she’s a teenager.
Colorism and featurism are not exclusive to American society. They also heavily influence beauty standards in Asian countries.
Some Asian cultures have more skin lightening products than one can even imagine, and it is not uncommon for people to get their eyelids surgically altered to match the more European eye shape. The normalization of such procedures can cause insecurity in the impressionable youth.
It’s incredibly disheartening for young people of color to have to see similar images and messages all over the media. Children with similar features to someone like Blue Ivy could be going on their Twitter timeline and see tweets that bash their appearance.
While colorism and featurism run deep in many cultures, there are ways to try and combat it.
Promoting positive depictions of people with diverse features and backgrounds can help people see that everyone can be attractive.
Black and brown culture is beautiful, and there is no reason for people of color to be put down for our natural features that are uniquely ours.

This story was originally published on Hayes Talisman on February 3, 2021.