The author wonders how much of her own beauty aesthetic has been influenced by Eurocentric standards. Is 'hot' just code for white, mainstream beauty?

This Is Why I'm Hot!

Christina M. Castro
12/4/12

Lately, we as Native people have been bombarded with a constant influx of demeaning imagery in the media and fashion industry. It seems like every other skinny blonde model or pop singer these days is rocking a tacky war bonnet. Yet, change is happening! As quickly as the recent horrid faux pas came onto the scene, they were soon squashed by a swift backlash. Plenty of Native writers, mostly women, have discussed the issue of irresponsible appropriation in numerous excellent articles. Many kudos to those who spoke out in various ways, educating others in the process.  

Now that we are beginning to see our efforts being addressed, I’d like to bring the dialogue inward and pose a question:  What do Native people think makes for a beautiful Native woman?

Some of you may recall a contest last year on Facebook, “Worlds Hottest Native,” or something to that effect. Sponsored by an entity called Native Entertainment, a plethora of contestants entered pictures of themselves in their sexiest poses. Votes were tallied and although I don’t much recall how “The Hottest Native” male looked; mostly a chiseled faced, lean and long haired male of the standard variety, I distinctly recall the contestant who was selected as the “Hottest Native” female. She was some semblance of a Navajo; brown skinned and big breasted (read: fake) with bleached blonde hair; a rez Pamela Anderson.

That got me thinking. Is “hot” just code speak for white, mainstream beauty? Furthermore, how much of my own beauty aesthetic has been influenced by Eurocentric standards? Has our beauty standard as Native people become so colonized that we only recognize beauty if it looks white and thin?

As for me, I’m not going to front about my own colonized insecurities. One of which I encountered the other day at IHS when forced to stand on a scale.  I hate scales and everything they symbolize. I wanted to crush it with a sledgehammer! As soon as I saw those three digital numerals, I felt self conscious in a way I hadn’t moments before. It forced me to ask myself why numbers on a scale bothered me so much. What was I comparing myself to? It irritated me I was so sensitive about it, yet my feelings of inadequacy were so real in that moment, I couldn’t help but ride the emotional tidal wave. I like to think I’m better, stronger than what mainstream media tells me is beautiful, but clearly I too am impressionable.

Recent Facebook observations have also brought my attention to the impact of this ubiquitous Western beauty aesthetic on other Native women.

Interesting Observation I:  It all started with a post by a lovely looking, lady lawyer from North Dakota who was suggesting that women shouldn’t go out in public, in this case, a hotel lobby looking all “rugged.” She said she had been raised to always be “put together” by her Indian mother when you go out in public.  It reminded me of my own mom who, when I was younger would tell me to put lipstick on so I didn’t look “dead” (Gee thanks for the ego boost!). Some healthy dialogue ensued. A handful of women fiercely challenged her notion, including myself. I am guilty of walking down hotel hallways in early mornings, unwashed, in a zombie like state, on a quest for coffee. I am also guilty of going to the store in sweats and big shades, hair in a sloppy ponytail, just to grab some necessities. I don’t know about you but I have no desire to “look good” all the time.

It got me questioning why we as women are expected to maintain a higher level of appearance than men.  Were we always expected to be “well coiffed” back in the day? Seems like a throwback from the boarding school era to me, but what do I know?

Interesting Observation II: A young Native woman I know, a bright college student, was recently lamenting about how she needs, not wants, NEEDS bigger boobs.  She stated she was planning on getting some as soon as she could afford them. Now let me tell you, this girl is stunning! The kind of girl other girls envy. The girl I’d probably have hated in high school when I was rocking the serious commod bod. Yet, in spite of her obvious beauty, she still seemed to be fixated on her supposed flaw; a lack of “suitable” breasts.

Whether in traditional regalia or street clothes, I see plenty of Native women of all ages at pow wows and Indian events all “dolled up.”We’re talking full faces of makeup, stylish clothing and flashy accessories. Clearly we have a desire to be “conventionally” attractive. Did we always adorn ourselves in such a way as to lure attentive glances? Undoubtedly our beauty aesthetic has evolved with time and Western influence.

Which leads me back to my initial question: What, traditionally, made an Indian woman “beautiful”? Adding to that question: how did we as women view our own sexuality and attractiveness? Sure, we can talk about sex in terms of the size of a guys parts, and if he was good in bed or not, but do we ever really talk openly to each other about our own needs, wants and desires? From my experience, it’s something Native women, women in general, barely discuss.

Maybe, back in the day beauty was found in a woman’s sexual prowess and feminine energy and looks were merely an added bonus. Or, a maybe it was a woman’s specific area of knowledge or a certain skill she possessed that made her the desire of many. What if it was one wicked sense of humor? Or…maybe I’m just seriously overestimating our depth as Native people and we were just as swayed by a pretty face as everyone else. I have so many questions about what we were like before all this cold, hard colonization stuff set in.

Which brings us back to the present; the fact of the matter is, as long as we continue to hungrily consume mainstream culture in the form of television, internet, Facebook, music, movies, etc. our women will continue internalizing Eurocentric beauty standards, including those that mock and sexualize the very essence of our womanhood. 

Although it’s great that we are seeing the fruits of our efforts being addressed in mainstream media, we need to start verbalizing what it is we truly value in our Native women. If we can begin to collectively define our beauty standards and sexuality based on our own authentic indigenous values, then we might have a chance of changing our lenses before it’s too late. Or is it already too late?

 Christina M. Castro (Jemez/Taos Pueblo) provides some much-needed female energy to the Thing About Skins fold. She is a writer, educator and community organizer. With degrees in English, Creative Writing and Education, she has worked with predominantly Native American students at schools throughout the Southwest. In 2008, she had the opportunity to work for Barack Obama’s Campaign for Change as a Field Organizer in the eight northern Pueblos of New Mexico. The invaluable experience and training she gained has only strengthened her resolve to continue her work for social change. She currently teaches English at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

 

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Thank you for your interesting and thoughtful words. I want to comment and with respect disagree a bit. You mention defining beauty standards according to indigenous values as if this were possible. I don't think it is. Numerous studies have shown beauty is not culturally determined, even babies can pick it out. People across cultures look for health (indicated by symmetrical bodies and faces) and youth. This is a harsh reality but isn't it better to deal with reality than to fantasize?

MyLadyK's picture
MyLadyK
Submitted by MyLadyK on
Many years ago, I read a quote that said something about attracting that which you project. So, my thought was, "what/who am I trying to attract?" My feeling is that those who dye their hair, wear layers of make-up are simply projecting a false image of who they really are. Why then, are they so surprised to gain the attentions of a man/men who turn out to be exactly the same way? He is not the man you thought he was.... As I entered my 50's, family asked me when I was going to dye my hair? I informed them that I had earned my grey hair and I was going to keep it. I choose not to wear make-up of any kind (except on Halloween when I make a most excellant zombie!) I am naturally tanned, have several tattoos that only have meaning to me and when I tie my hair back I still get proofed at the register for beer! It occurs to me that many native females have fallen for the sterotype male: non-native, financially stable, leads a balenced life with no addictions or obsessions. Okay so, how many males (native or not) do you know who are actually like that? Counter question: how many females (native or not) do you know like that? Spend a bit of time considering the results....

Lamay Darnel's picture
Lamay Darnel
Submitted by Lamay Darnel on
Nothing makes an Indian women beautiful, then a real Indian man looking at her and not through her at the white women on the other side with the blond hair.Nothing worst then a chunky or real fat Indian man oogle a thin woman with a lot of make up.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Thank you! For years I could never understand what is so attractive by a stick figure, with fake boobs and fake yellow hair , who is a total b-----....Thanx for the great article...

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
beauty comes from within. media shouldn't decide what is beautiful cause they only cater to a certain look and if a person doesn't fit into that mold than it affects peoples perceptions blinding them.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
beauty comes from within. media shouldn't decide what is beautiful cause they only cater to a certain look and if a person doesn't fit into that mold than it affects peoples perceptions blinding them.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I don't think this issue is strictly for the Native women but all women. Today we are bombarded by the media from Hollywood and all the models and it has become engrained in our brains (men and women alike) that to be beautiful we have to look like that. I personally am quite happy with how I look, I am 62 years old, partially gray and my body .... well, isn't in the best shape but it is pretty good for 62 years old. I am not about to diet until I look malnourished or dye or bleach my hair, I like my gray!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
it's never too late to encourage our younger generation to be happy with who they are no matter what others may think. i still see our younger native american girls smiling and happy.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
it's never too late to encourage our younger generation to be happy with who they are no matter what others may think. i still see our younger native american girls smiling and happy.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Excellent article. Ahh, the scale. As an RN I have had many people stand on those scales, even the IHS ones. If someone does not want to be weighed, that's okay. I let people know, (almost exclusively women) that it's a measurement, just like blood pressure or pulse to us. Unless it's related to medication dosage, it can be optional or refused. I've told women the weight is not about who they are. I hate to see little girls, take off their shoes before they are weighed, they are learning too early. Weight is a little more relevant for a child since any medicine for them is based on weight. I've had women refuse to be weighed because they are in treatment for eating disorders. Men are totally different. It is very rare for one to fear the scale. Most heard comment is, I bet I'm at such and such weight, and they're usually right! Being over or underweight can be unhealthy, but modern medicine doesn't have all the answers, and weight certainly is not who we are. I see your beauty in your eyes and the music of your laughter and your honor of silence.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Extremely impressed by our common observations of today's Native Woman and other races...We all know it's just a passing image of beauty that is only skin deep...it's the inner's of ones thoughts and compassion that put toppings on ones beauty, that inner beauty holds strong to our death beds. debbie millette-sanchez

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
It's not just a physical attribute to "fix yourself up". Your mind and soul are happy if you feel happy about yourself physically. I like to get dressed up, especially in my powwow outfit. It makes me feel ALIVE and even more so, to dance! But on most days, I don't like to fix up, I just like to be clean and take care of myself for my personal well-being.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
this is so true to the last letter. I am so impressed with this story and how it was put together it is so true that we now see everything differently as time has changed since beauty was considered as "traditionally authentic" as could be, We now try to live the modern version way of life since our elders have passed on who used to judge us in the way of our culture was set. I think now as our culture is rapidly fading before us, our way of teaching our culture preserving is nearly going away and that concludes most of our fashion statements as well

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Great Article!!! So sad but true. Native Women need to love our own reflection. And it is are jobs as mothers to encourage our daughters to become smart, strong and loving. We need to inform them everyday how we value you them and love them. A child who knows they are loved will know their value. So lets remember to praise are daughters daily. Jessica Norte

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Thanks for the great article! I am a white male, grew up in the southwest and in Alaska, and have two Pysch degrees - just so you know lenses I look at the world through. It seems that your article focus mainly on the cultural aspect of beauty. If I had to break down "what a beautiful woman" looks like in general, I think of three things. 1. Biology. Men like women shaped with a “gynoid” body. Hips and curves but not too much – basically a good mate and one who can bear many children. Women look for men with an “android” body – broad shoulders, narrow waist, taller. Generally a fit, slightly older mate, which would imply more protection and resources to provide for her and the offspring. Everyone prefers symmetrical features, it’s why you can’t stop staring at the person you know with the lay eye. Ironically, the Media ideals of attractive are totally bass akwards from how we’re wired biologically. The skinny girls and the really fat girls weren’t getting picked to go to the Neolithic prom. Nor were the short and whimpy guys. Survival of the fittest. 2. Culture. This is why I thought your article was interesting. As a white guy, my culture is the one doing the ‘bombarding’ as you put it – setting the arbitrary message for what “attractive” is according to culture. I’m sure this changes over time, and is the most superficial of aspects. Bell bottoms are now out of style (but who knows?), and most women I see aren’t rocking lots of arm pit hair, but they used to. This is completely arbitrary, and incredibly powerful because we’re exposed to it every day via print, internet, tv, radio, etc. 3. Personal. This is the one we own. I tend to find blondes attractive. Could be because I’m pale and they look like me in general. When I look at women of color, I find Native women and Asian women much more attractive in general than blacks or Hispanics – I grew up around Native Alaskans and Fillipnos. Of course on the personal level, that’s where we take the extra step and see the beauty inside of people and ignore what our culture “says” we should find attractive. This is how we change the culture – by example. Too many words already – thanks for the good read. Oh, as a side note, I have a disagree that men have less work to do than women to be attractive. Sure, women are told to wear makeup, and you’re compared against impossible Hollywood bodies. Men get compared to Hollywood all the time, and if we’re not physically comparable, we darn well better make enough money to compensate for it (all successful, attractive people are wealthy, right?).

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
This is one of the best article on this subject I have seen. We need more of this. B. Rainey Choctaw

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
With due respect, really? It is clear that Native health issues, to a large degree, stem from diet and lifestyle choices that we make. No one forces us to eat junk food and live sedentary lives. No one forces us to drink to the point of self-destruction.The writer's relationship to the weigh scale is troubling. It suggests a reluctance to face our obligation to be the best persons we can be. That's what the creator would have us be, according to my Native spiritual mentors. Let's move away from blaming, and get into action. That some or many of our men and women buy into contemporary notions of beauty is of minor importance, like Tomahawk Chops and the like. We have important work to do in Indian Country, including eating right, exercising, getting sober, getting educated, etc. And by the way, if we are to reject contemporary non-Native views and customs, then should we not quit use of internal combustion engines, go back to a diet of rabbit and deer and buffalo, and sleep under the stars ? I am not worried about a gal who wants bigger breasts.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
If you want to know what you believe about how women should look, have a daughter. I know women who lament the patriarchal expectations placed on women and how we look at ourselves through a white, male filter, and how we should look natural and strong, etc. Then they have a daughter and suddenly everything has to be pink and frilly and they're talking about how she's going to have a lot of boyfriends ... it's pretty sickening. Want strong women who don't apologize for how they look? Have a daughter and don't make her feel like she's less than. That's where it's going to turn around.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
If you want to know what you believe about how women should look, have a daughter. I know women who lament the patriarchal expectations placed on women and how we look at ourselves through a white, male filter, and how we should look natural and strong, etc. Then they have a daughter and suddenly everything has to be pink and frilly and they're talking about how she's going to have a lot of boyfriends ... it's pretty sickening. Want strong women who don't apologize for how they look? Have a daughter and don't make her feel like she's less than. That's where it's going to turn around.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
If you want to know what the White Euopean world thinks Native Beauty should be see Disney's version. Really modesty is beauty or so the elders tell us. We have been defined enough by the white culture. Maybe its time we look back and see that beauty is of the soul and spirit as our formothers would have taught us.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Man what a waste of time and energy if you think big boobs and blonde hair is what makes a woman attractive, especially a native one. Being a native male myself nothing is more stunning than the black /brown long beatiful hair that some native women wear,it is truly mesmerizing(especially on a windy day lol..) as for weight as long as she don't weigh more than me, we good, I weigh 220 so thats a bit of leeway lol...last, if she can cook green chile then it's truly love!!!!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I don't care what anybody thinks, I may be wearing t-shirt and jeans/shorts but I am not stepping out of the house with birdnest hair and smelling like a dog and bad breath.

Barb's picture
Barb
Submitted by Barb on
I am a short, white, middle aged woman and there is NOTHING MORE BEAUTIFUL than Native people, in my book. They don't need anything added to them. Male or female. Their natural beauty is what makes them so nice to look at! There's nothing worse than a person who tries too hard to look like something other than what they were born to be.

Psychobaberachel's picture
Psychobaberachel
Submitted by Psychobaberachel on
Great questions.a beautiful woman is one that is able to hold her head high because she is doing good things in her life.She can make a mean Indian taco, wild rice soup, and knows how to make venison.I have some Cherokee blood, but to Natives I look too white, & to whites, I look too Native,I am proud of who I am & am proud of my Cherokee blood.I do not understand wanting to change your body through surgery unless you have a medically viable reason.Natural is beautiful.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
As an artist, I have a strong appreciation of human anatomy, but I'm old enough that blatant sexist poses and saucy photos don't make me appreciate a woman more. I'm old enough that little things like: is she a nice person, is she trustworthy, does she respect others, does she promote peace among her friends, does she have and return the respect of her elders? Physical beauty always fades with age. The important parts of a person remain unchanged.

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