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
December 04, 2012

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.



Submitted by Anonymous on

I happen to be a guy, but I thought this was an awesome article. While much of physical attraction is rooted in genetics (we seek the best mate to perpetuate our genes, though culture and socialization do also play a role), the author makes a very good point about internalization of foreign values and why women are held to higher standards than men in terms of physical appearance.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Very interesting questions. Im going to put more thought into them of what my grandmother who lived over 100 years shared with me. One thing that is clear my grandmother would say and stress that a womens thats how she spoke is to always be clean from head to toe, hair should be brushed with clean clothes she would say even if you had to rinse the same clothes they must be clean because we are our family. She would say to all of us girls that when others look at us they will see her.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Thank you so much for this excellent article!
If I remember my early studies correctly, we are the product of millennia of high protein, low carb diets, and as a consequence our bodies do not manufacture the enzymes necessary to break down carbohydrates (or alcohol) into the sugars needed for energy - so instead of energy, we get fat (and alcohol enters our bloodstream as pure alcohol, rather than sugar, as it does in those of European descent). I would imagine our pre-diaspora standards of physical attractiveness centered around a lean, fit, high energy look, but with more emphasis on "inner beauty" and the qualities that make one a desirable member of the community - the ability to nuture, skill as a provider, compassion, and generosity of spirit for instance...

Submitted by Anonymous on

IN my country its different , I get made fun of for being 'too white' , Its sexy to have tanned skin ( i dont tan , there is no sun here to tan with) . It happens all over .. people will always want to be something else! in general the world needs to change ,but not always blame us blondes with large breasts .. because some of us are born that way .

Submitted by Anonymous on

Hi...I appreciate your article and there are many beautiful native women who don't dye their hair, invade bodies with makeup, but have that inner dignity and beauty that reflects the women of our heritage. I admit that many look fabulous all 'painted' in the norms of today's world....but, a woman who knows who she is, values herself, family, culture, life and shows that with the way she holds her head.

Submitted by Anonymous on

The definition of beauty in the western world still retains disproportionate influence from the textile industry of Great Britain and the Victorian Age. So wedding gowns and other feminine fashions are dominated by Victorian-era floral imagery. When western women want to express their beauty they are often led to express themselves with floral design because that is what is available. Whereas in Native America, historic fashion expressions by indigenous women included not just flowers, but representations of the cosmos, powers of the universe, storms, winds, other living forms, all of this expressed a power and a beauty that was more than the dainty, delicate, and decorative flower. Flowers are fine. But the beauty of woman is more than flowers.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Thank you for your comments. Most of us women have enough natural beauty not to have to resort to bleaching our hair or getting breast augmentation to conform to white standards. Lipstick is probably the last thing I put on, if at all. However, apart from our brains, our feminine energy, and wicked sense of humor, there is nothing wrong with a little makeup.

Don't get me wrong. There is a time and place for everything. If I am going out to run, walk, or a workout, I am not going out totally dolled up. However, our traditions tell us to create beauty around us. If we don't start with ourselves, we are wasting our talents. We just don't have to look Euro to be beautiful.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Might just be me, but not all white people are beautiful,even many who they claim are beautiful. Most are not. Whites need makeup; sometimes by the pound. People of color usually do not. Natives have a natural beauty, that I believe whites are jealous of. I would say that even for many black women as well. Whites are jealous of colorful people, this is why they spend so much money trying to look Indian, and hispanic and black. I do hate when people of color try to look white 1) It almost never works 2) Colorful people have more to offer the eye then whites. This is why people of color were enslaved to begin with so the perverted white slave owners had the women at their disposal. Whites were jealous of everything pertaining to people of color. Even the family structures were better. Whites never really knew how to bond well with even their own, and they seen what people of color had and they wanted it, and felt if they couldn't have it, nobody could. Whites love colorful people, their just jealous. They only have convinced themselves they're superior, and over time, people of color were convinced also. But its a psychological lie.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Thank you for writing this article Christina. I often wonder along the same lines if the whole "beauty" ethic in the America's is just totally off. Beauty and the idea of beautiful is a personal perception. The homogenization of women into an ideal, unfortunately obscures real beauty which isn't in someone's looks, but in their behavior, in their outlook on life and not in the beauty products they have purchased. Honestly, I haven't met a "beautiful" woman in the U.S. who wasn't also afflicted with entitlement issues, narcissism, and a myopic world view. In my opinion, it all has to change.

Submitted by Anonymous on

A true beauty doesn't need to work at 'it' they don't need to plaster makeup on or dress to impress because their true beauty shines all on it's own

Submitted by Anonymous on

as a woman of a certain age (65) who was very involved in the womans movement i can tell u that these "values" were placed on women of the caucasian persuasion as well. we tried to help get away from that by saying that women had value beyond their physical attributes. natural beauty was encouraged. i had hoped that this consciousness raising would work its way to today....but knowing that we are cyclical i'm afraid it's back to haunt matter the ethnic heritage or color of our skin.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I'm not one to let my opinion stick in the craw of my throat. I found your article, and your insights, interesting and perceptive. Myself, I am one of those crazy hybrids--Tohono O'odham (enrolled), Skidi-Pawnee (culturally), White and Spanish (biologically). I'm sure you can surmise by my breakdown where the majority of my understanding of the world and my place in it stem.

I bring up my biological make up because it influences my physical make up. My looks. Admittedly I was heavy most of my life and your personal observation regarding an IHS scale is something to which I relate! Although I am not as heavy as I once was I still refuse to overtly look at the numbers on the scale knowing that they will ruin my day. LOL Of course I cover my face and peek through my fingers because where would I be without self-fladguation(sp) in that case?? Regardless I just wanted to share something that my brilliant 21 year old son has shared with me a lot in the past few years.

Beauty to him--what he is attracted to has more to do with his perception of me. I am both humbled and a little frightened by the power I held when I did not even know it possible. In other words he is attracted to, and finds beautiful, those women who are fairly tall, have something of a figure (fake boobs being a HUGE turn off) a waist, a rear end, and thighs. He prefers natural beauty--he doesn't understand why women put so much gunk on their faces. The other day he was looking at me and said, "It's cool mom that you can just put on eye liner and that other stuff (mascara) on your eyelashes and that's all you need to do and you look good." --I'm blushing.

Of course what I'm saying doesn't mean that I don't put my hair up when it's the weekend and I don't feel like dealing with my hair or U of A game days and I wear U of A sweats, and t-shirts. It also doesn't mean that I don't need to call my local beauty salon and make an appointment to have my hair "done." But what I am saying is that over the years I've seen those folks who are influenced by Eurpean standards of beauty and their aesthetic only goes skin deep. I'm also saying that my son told me too that he's attracted to a woman with an opinion and who likes to "argue" with him about it.

I'm not trying to take credit for my son. Instead I'm going to say that he inspires me and he gives all us Native WOMEN real hope. What he sees is more than fake boobs. Maybe we should take the time to see that too. Anyway, that's my two cents.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I am speaking as a non-Native male. I have seen many photographs of Native women that were taken years ago and I find them to be extremely attractive without any makeup. Personally, I'm not a big supporter of makeup on non-Native women either but I find Native women to have a natural beauty.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Beauty is whatever you define it - beauty is in the eye of the beholder! All Native Women are beautiful - doesn't just mean physical beauty - beautiful soul, kind and generous heart, strong in the protection of their family, caregive, protector of their babies and family - beauty comes in all walks and sizes.

We all have a different standard of beauty - mainstream society defines it as physcial beauty. But as native people we know beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all native women are beautiful; they are the backbone of the family and they take care of everyone; they carry the heavy burdens and deal with everyday life.

My mother was a giving person and was always taking care of people; which she passed on to us, her daughters, it is our duty to take care of our people.

Solute our Native Women; no matter what age or size; they are beautiful in their own right!

Take care of yourself, mind, body and soul to the creator.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Hello Christina. Thanks for giving me the heads up that you were going to write this column and mention one of my Facebook posts in it. That said, I need to clear up a few errors. My mother is non-Indian (you said my mother is Indian)- so there's no way she's a "throwback to the boarding school era." My Dad, a full blood Oceti Sakowin, was in boarding school. He was taken from his parents and placed there when he was four and had no choice in the matter. Also, I didn't suggest women should be dolled up at all times. I was talking about hygiene. Re: being dressed and combing your hair, etc. I usually am dressed up, unless I'm working out or in ceremony- but that's just me and it's a matter or personal taste. I like to look good. So sue me. As far as everyone else, whatever floats your boat.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Due to the boarding school standards & stereotypes that followed, I can personally tell you that I was raised to always look your best and cleanest by my grandmother; she didn't want to be known as a "dirty indian." Sadly many young women today have fallen into that Hollywood standard of beauty: blond hair, big breasts, etc. We need to find a way to empower our young girls to love themselves as they are. Native women are considered beautiful for their humility, strength, & integrity, not just their good looks. It's hard to instill that with the peer pressure and media standards kids are subjected to on a daily basis.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Every native/indigenous girl, teen, and woman needs to read this article! Thank you!

Submitted by Anonymous on

I believe this is a problem all women are facing, regardless of ethnic bloodline. Multi-media, from all facets, has asserted a standard which most cannot meet; therefore affording the cosmetic industry, pharmaceutical empire and surgeons a mind-boggling advertising mecca to play upon what "look" a woman should attain. I fully agree with you . . . let's turn back our eyes inwardly . . . to our roots. We are becoming so homogenized . . . as untethered as everyone else . . . we need to hold to our roots, be reminded of them, cleave to them . . . it's what would carry us through this demanding world.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Wow..Thank you so much Christina. Your article was very insighful.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I was taught at a early age, that even when we were poor, there is no excuse to have a dirty face or clothes, even if they weren't fancy, wash your face and your clothes even if that is all you have. My Mom would say, but do it for your self, cause I was the one that had to love myself first. People may judge you, but thats okay. What matters is if am the one that is pleased. No one else matters, until you have to teach your children, how to love them selves first...I have to this day, am not rich, but I have lots of love to share and will give my all, So on judgement day when our Creators ask me, If I took care of his children?, I can go to bed at night, knowing I did the best I could for everyone that day. Ta-ahh Christina, That was my daughter's name too(RIP).

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