Race And Beauty, Head To Toe


Maureen O’Connor reports on the state of “ethnic plastic surgery”:

The people I interviewed differed in their aesthetics, politics, and medical preferences. But they passionately agreed on one thing: No matter what white people say, this isn’t about them. Plastic surgery doesn’t have to be a sign of deference to some master race, they told me. In fact, it could be the opposite.

According to O’Connor, those most perturbed by these procedures are the people you might least expect:

Why do white people fixate on the “Westernizing” elements of ethnic plastic surgery? While working on this article, I found that people of all races had principled reservations about and passionate critiques of these practices. But the group that most consistently believed participants were deluding themselves about not trying to look white were, well, white people. Was that a symptom of in-group narcissism—white people assuming everyone wants to look like them? Or is it an issue of salience—white people only paying attention to aesthetics they already understand? Or is white horror at ethnic plastic surgery a cover for something uglier: a xenophobic fear of nonwhites “passing” as white, dressed up as free-to-be-you-and-me political correctness?

O’Connor sees a waning centrality of whiteness in beauty ideals, as “the cult of mixed-race idealism promotes racially ambiguous stars like Jessica Alba and Kim Kardashian as avatars for post-racial beauty.” Adding further complexity to questions of race and beauty is Hadley Freeman, who examines the cultural significance of Kardashian’s butt:

Kardashian… is not black – she is half-Armenian, and therefore classified as white European, which presents an interesting opportunity for fashion magazines and pop culture. Here is a woman with the physical attributes associated with sexualised black women, but the skin colour that is preferred by magazine editors. That Kardashian first came to fame via a sex tape also seems to make her fair game to be sexualised by the media. No question, Kardashian does dress in a way that shows her backside’s shape, but I’m not really sure what else she should do, other than wear a wimple.

And on the topic of race and attraction, a reader sounds off on a recent study we posted on interracial couples:

Part of the eroticism of being part of an interracial couple is not being with someone you find exotic, but being with someone who finds YOU exotic. As an Irish-American woman who grew up in the southern suburbs of Boston, a community teeming with the freckled and lily-white descendants of Irish immigrants, my appearance was nothing special to the young men in my town.  The Middle Eastern and Hispanic men I dated in college and after were utterly enchanted by my milky skin and ice blue eyes.  Their view of me as exotic changed my perception of myself.  There is no turn-on like being unique.

(Photo: A an advertisement for a plastic surgery clinic at a subway station in Seoul on March 26, 2014. By Jung Yeon-Je /AFP/Getty Images)