This summer, I moved from the UK to Mexico City on an exchange program with a peer from my university. Having clearly over-sold our Spanish speaking abilities pre-arrival, my British friend and I spent most of the first week minimizing our social contact with each other, avoiding any other face-to-face interactions.
We fell into the trap of finger-to-screen interactions instead, and one night downloaded Tinder.
A while into our objectification and swiping frenzy, my Mexican roommate said, “You do realize you are only swiping yes to the most European-looking Mexican guys, right?”
My first reaction, of course, was denial.
A Middle Eastern woman having grown up in Europe, receiver of all malicious European beauty standards, and conqueror of calling out all and anything vaguely racist is favoring those who look most European?
You must be out of your mind!
Lo and behold, after more self-aware swiping, I realized she was most certainly right.
Though the Tinder application on my phone did not last long, my new hyper-sensitivity towards my own internalized colonialism did.
I never lived in Iran.
However, the diaspora did not fail to pass on to me the unachievable, mostly white beauty standards that they had been fed. From my own mother telling me I look wild and unkempt for sporting the facial hair she bore me with, to my grandmother being excited when the Skype camera makes me look as she calls it, “nicer and whiter.”
I never got to experience this phenomenon within a previously colonized country.
For the first time, I am living in a majority non-white country, where the average female height is 5 ft. 1 with figures in all shapes and sizes, and yet most billboards and commercials show tall, light-skinned, light-haired, light-eyed, size 00 women.
Having now had the privilege to befriend many incredible Mexican women, I decided to ask them about their experiences and feelings around this phenomenon.
To my surprise, they were much warier about these dynamics than I had been.
“Within our own country you hear a lot of people saying that northern Mexicans are more beautiful,” commented one of the women. “And honestly, it’s because they are closer to the border with the USA, so some of them are taller, lighter, more European looking.”
“Former colonial influence, paired with brands from Europe and the US constantly advertising and selling clothing that isn’t meant for our bodies leads many people to reject their own genetic disposition. Most of the women in this country are short, tan, probably average around sizes 10-12. Yet young and elder women alike are starving themselves to fit into this extra-small clothing,” noted another.
Another woman shared a more personal anecdote: “My grandma called me ‘Negrita’ or ‘black girl’ since I was a child. My eyes are brown, I have dark hair, but I am still pretty light skinned. I didn’t understand until years later that her term of endearment was an erasure to black women, and was used to put a barrier between me and my other light skinned, more European looking cousins often nicknamed ‘werita.'”
She explained that is this why she finds advertisements in Mexico City like the one by La Costeña for Day of the Dead particularly hurtful. “It makes me angry. Makes me feel like Mexican women like me, of darker skin colors and bigger sizes are invisible,” she said.
A political science student at the National University of Mexico (UNAM), explained it in more economic terms. “I think it’s part of the objectification of women.” She said, “It´s like you are a consumer-good and having features that suit European standards of beauty give you an added-value.”
Yet despite all these insightful and inspirational comments, there are still times when I see these same women, and myself, suffering to achieve all the standards that in our words we have so many times rejected.
And although colonialism has appeared to have ended, I genuinely wonder whether we can ever truly make these changes within ourselves and the future generations of women being raised.
Where will we be if these ideals and standards are still regurgitated by the media and bodies of power that surround us?