Beauty, especially physical beauty, is often dictated by universal standards. But the particular culture, history and social sensibilities of a community do also play a role in defining beauty. In the modern social context, the public relations industry plays an influential role in setting and imposing standards of beauty weather people agree with it or not. Hence, there is a dialectical engagement between ethno-centric sense of beauty and that offered by the consumerist model. Often, it is the financial imperatives of mass consumerism that gains the upper hand. As a consequence, ethno-cultural idea of beauty is in a process of losing its prominence. This essay will further substantiate this claim, namely, that ethnic identity mediated notions of beauty is challenged and weakened in contemporary America.
To begin with, let us take the case of the United States which has evolved as a melting pot of cultures, races and ethnicities. As a result, American society has developed the aesthetics that is based on inclusiveness as opposed to exclusiveness. While this inclusiveness is a sign of racial equality in one sense, it has less noble connotations, too. In other words, the assimilation of African Americans into mainstream culture is as much a reflection of social progress as it is a measure of commercial opportunity.
“As minority spending power and social interactions of different racial groups in America have increased over time, advertisers have increasingly been concerned with reaching minority ethnic groups through visual inclusion. With minority purchasing power increasing, this contingency could no longer be ignored by marketers. However, many companies were initially leery of offending the White majority that was their consumer base. In a 1953 study, only 0.6% of ads contained African Americans. By 1980, that frequency had increased to approximately 5.7%, indicating that the country was becoming more comfortable with the use of Blacks in advertisements.”
One of the key features of ethnic identity is skin tone. It is also a key factor in racial classification. Skin tone is not merely a statistical or academic detail in practical life. For an individual, his or her skin tone has implications in all realms of life – be it social, official or political. Skin tone is also identified as a specific variable at the root of racially related issues. Hence, while universality of beauty is a laudable idea, the flip side of it is discouraging. For example, researchers have correlated skin tone with “feelings of self worth, attractiveness, self control, satisfaction, and with quality of life.” The theory of ‘colorism’ is of salience here, which states that people of lighter-skin tone (across ethnicities) are given privilege over dark-skinned members of the same community. The interesting finding here is the applicability of this concept across and between ethnic groups. For example,