Media and advertising have imposed some pretty extraordinary beauty standards. Certain body types, skin types, hair types, style types – even breast types. I’ve known this, and tried to limit how it affected me, but I always considered that these things were how it was for all women. I never really considered (except in a very distant fashion from a few select articles) that there was an extra layer at work for women of color.
Images like this get into our heads.
Which is, of course, where the short video “A Girl Like Me” comes into play. Here, it’s more than just impossible beauty standards, but also about identity. Really, after watching it, I just felt bad, and a little bit sad; it sucks that this has become something that some women have to deal with just because their skin color has to be different from what is considered in some weird way normal and good. Especially because skin color is really such an arbitrary thing when you think about it, just like hair color is an arbitrary thing. I mean, everyone has their preferences (I suppose) but not to the point that a child would think a doll with black hair was “bad” and a doll with blonde hair was “good.” Those things are so not connected to anything – which is why, I think, it is so incredibly damaging.
You can’t really change your skin color. Not easily, at any rate, and not (I would think) cheaply, and not really in a way that’s healthy. It’s one of those things that is simply part of you, and to be made to felt like it is somehow wrong both in overt and unspoken ways becomes limiting. Unless you’re able to ignore those messages (and, I am sure, there are some who do – I still remember a black girl in high school who was a few grades above me who I thought was the most beautiful, confident, and elegant girl in school. She was, however, the exception), it’s something that will drag at your confidence and undermine how you see yourself in relation to the world. It is very, very difficult to aim high with low confidence.
“Hey, how come I’m the darkest? . . . I used to think of myself as being ugly because I was dark-skinned.”
“I guess I sorta felt that there wouldn’t be any attention towards me because of my skin color, because my hair was kinky.”
“I used to wish ‘oh I wish I was just like this Barbie doll.’”
The section where the doll test was re-conducted, with most of the children preferring white dolls and considering them to be good and the black dolls to be bad.
“[African slaves] couldn’t be like themselves, they had to be like what everyone else told them to be.”
Internalization of Hegemonic Values
I now understand internalization of hegemonic values as taking in beliefs that are imposed by by hegemonic society so that they become your beliefs, whereas you might not otherwise instinctively think in that particular manner. The biggest example from the video was when the children were asked which doll was good and which was bad, and in asked to give a reason for this used skin color as the reason why (the dolls were identical otherwise). In particular, the last girl in the clip, right after saying that the black doll was bad, was asked which doll looked like her. You could see her hesitation – she touched the white doll, likely believing herself to be good – but in the end knew that her skin was that light. Rather than pick up the black doll (as she had done previously when asked to select a doll to answer the question), she slid it towards the interviewer. She looked conflicted and unhappy to me.
That is, to me, what internalization of hegemonic values is. You want to think one way about yourself, and you believe certain things about yourself, but there is an external factor that is constantly telling you otherwise. So, you take it in to yourself and start to believe it as if it is the objective truth.
The biggest hegemonic value I think I have internalized is that education and being educated is necessary to being a good person and a good citizen. It’s one I struggled with, since I chose to leave university after a year at age 19, and chose not to go back until I was 26. I am white and my immediate family is comfortably middle class (though part of that, I think, is due to my parents’ strict management of their money). As far as minorities go, I don’t really think of myself as such. Being Hawaiian might count, but I am only a quarter Hawaiian and the majority of my heritage comes from European countries, so it’s not really something that I count.
As far as higher education goes, it’s certainly made me feel lesser. I instinctively feel more awed and respectful of people who have doctorates, for example, though as time has gone on I have tried to sort of out-think this internalization. While I don’t particularly think less of people without degrees, I do think better of people with them. I don’t like that I think that way, or that it is a sort of automatic reaction; I have known many wonderful and amazing people without degrees of any sort.
Disruption of the value I speak of I think is fairly impossible. One way to lessen it, however, is to place more value on skilled professions that require things like apprenticeships as opposed to college degrees. However, I think across societies there is almost always a value placed upon skills and the acquiring of them. If it takes hard work, it is respected. It takes a lawyer years of hard work to attain that degree and law practice – whereas the intelligent, hardworking janitor didn’t have to do anything tangible besides be intelligent and hardworking. The work done by the janitor is just as worthy as respect, but there was no ceremony, no need to memorize anything, and no pomp to what his job requires. As a result, we take it for granted.
I guess the only thing we can do is respect that hard work is hard work, no matter what certificates comes along with it. But besides that, I can’t really think of any disruptions. I suppose that is a bit of a defeatist attitude, but I have struggled for years against my own sense of lowered self-value due to my decision to not go back to school for so long. Even despite trying to identify and correct instances of negative thinking in myself, some of it still lingers. And if I, aware of it and trying to change it, am struggling so much, how much harder must it be to change an entire society’s thinking?