I said in one of my last posts that something pretty shocking happened to me while I was in Spain. In truth, there were a lot of things that happened during my time there that have opened my eyes and given me new perspectives, but this experience that I’m particularly referring to made me feel very isolated. Like an American whose been gone too long.
This is part 1 of that experience, and you can ultimately thank Beyonce.
I was in Spain to teach English at a project outside of Madrid. I flew into Barcelona, partially because I love the city, partially because I have an acquaintance studying there who told me I could crash at her place. Upon arrival, she told me that actually that plan wasn’t okay with her host mom, but I could stay with her “friends”, no problem. This is one of the many reasons why she’s an acquaintance.
Still thinking about the free accom, I took it. We spent the day together, sight seeing and catching up, but what really struck me was how much she complained about the girls I was going to be staying with. It made me really nervous.
“They just say stupid things.” She told me. That could mean so many things! Can you give me an example? “Not really,” She told me, “But you’ll see.”
When it came time to head over there, I had an ache in my stomach. I was so nervous although I had no idea what to expect. If I’m totally honest, the word “white” was thrown around a bit, but I never really know what to think when someone says to me, “They’re white girls.” I’m familiar with white people. Umm, I’m half white. I have white friends. These people are cool, honest, open-minded, and educated so whatever emotion or understanding “white” was supposed to evoke in me was totally lost, and just left me to more anxiety and confusion.
Walked through the door – yes, okay, they’re white. There was no loud screeching, the walls didn’t crumble… Just some innocent, polite small talk. I began to ease. What’s the trap?
There was this cool Venezuelan girl with us, Francie, we’ll call her. Francie also lived there although my acquaintance hadn’t mentioned her at all. Francie rolled a jay. She was the first and only person I liked right off the bat.
We all sat together and smoked, kept talking about life abroad, at home, in general… when the conversation took a strange turn.
Something prompted the conversation onto Beyonce.
Now, this was not long after the “notorious” unphotoshopped pictures of Beyonce were published by one of her fansites. Naturally, we began talking about it.
Let’s get something straight. Beyonce is obviously a gorgeous woman. She’s 33, which is by no means old, but 33 is not 16.
This is Beyonce’s face, so why is Loreal trying to sell us someone totally different?
When I look at these pictures, the only thing I see that’s ugly is all the gunk that Loreal has smeared all over this beautiful woman’s face. There was never a moment where I thought, “Beyonce is ugly” but I was overwhelmed by the thought, “That make up is a lie!” And clearly, the photoshopped pictures prove it.
Looking at the photoshopped pictures, I would want to run to my nearest Target and get the new foundation! Get that new eye shadow. Get that new lipstick! Of course, I know in the back of my head that Beyonce uses different make up on a daily basis, but for the Loreal campaign, she looks great!
Those unleaked photos shatter this belief. It shatters your trust in the shitty make up you can afford, and forces you to take a look at a beauty icon for what she really is — a human. This doesn’t have to be devastating. This can be empowering. Seeing Beyonce covered in the make up she doesn’t need forces us to confront ourselves and our own make up rituals that we do day in and day out in order to “be” beautiful. In order to keep our heads high when we claim, “I woke up like this”.
Beyonce sets two beauty standards. A realistic one. One that’s fierce and sexy. One that dances and sings with confidence, and walks through the streets with a bright smile and a gait of charisma. That’s beautiful!
But the other beauty standard Beyonce has set is not realistic. It’s the one that tells us if we just do this, if we just wear that, if we just LOOK like this, we’ll be beautiful and everyone will think so and tell us so too. The Loreal pictures are the best thing that’s happened to us in a long time. It shows the farce of it all. Not just the farce of the make up, the farce of the standard.
The sham of the expectation.
And that’s all I said to the American girls in Barcelona.
But they heard something else.
The unleaked Beyonce photos make a mockery of the beauty industry, but for many women, the beauty industry has succeeded in convincing them that their untouched faces are not beautiful at all, and so in return the beauty industry has become a self-esteem life saver for these women. To crush the beauty industry is personal.
To those girls, the unphotoshopped pictures of Beyonce did not directly challenge them, they directly attacked them. These were girls who believed the lie. They wore thick make up. Their hair was burned with bleach. They talked about their insecurities as though swapping juicy secrets.
I should have picked up on the social queues, but, I was high.
On a final limb, they claimed, “Those pictures were fake!”
Even if they were, it forces us to think about these things, isn’t that great? Isn’t that what our hyper-materialistic culture needs?
No. Not for them. Not at all.
What my acquaintance had meant when she said, “They’re white” was really “They’re extremely privileged and have never had their bubbles popped.” (That sounds kind of weird to write out, but you know what I mean). I walked into their lives, with a giant backpack and an open mind, and gave them a reality check they won’t soon forget. And it wasn’t even on purpose. At some point, people of color and/or LGBTQ people face this sort of reality check… That the main narrative isn’t for them. That they’re different. Or weird. Or ugly. These white American girls never had to feel that until I dismantled the power of the beauty industry before their eyes, after which they were left questioning the beauty of their faces without the Loreal bandage I had shamelessly ripped off.
Unfortunately, the conversation didn’t end well. I feel strongly about this issue, but ultimately I’m comfortable in my skin. None of this was personal for me. Their responses evoked genuine curiosity from me and feeling the effects of the jay, I really just wanted to understand them. It ended with them saying to me, “Are you still talking shit about Beyonce?” That’s when I realized that we could never find each other if we’re on totally different planets. I let it go.
My acquaintance and Francie clapped for me, telling me this is what they’d been dealing with and what bravery it took for me to actually take those girls on. But in all honesty, it had nothing to do with feeling brave or confrontational. It was just that I was in a state of mind where I really just wanted to sit back and talk about the bigger issues in our society… I was in no way prepared to give a lesson on the importance of body acceptance and body-image positivity that unrealistic beauty standards undermine for the sake of profits. I was not ready to go into why Beyonce’s fake-me-out Loreal campaign is a capitalistic ploy to make you feel uncomfortable with how you look, finding contentment only behind chemical-laden lipstick or in a bottle of cheap foundation.
The girls went to bed angry that I’d poked them to wake up. I went to bed confused that such a deep mindset can really exist among my peers.
It was an important experience for me. Truly shocking. Truly eye-opening. Or am I just so out of it in Germany where people aren’t so duped?
I could hear the girls talking from their room while I lied on the couch. “Oh my god. Sean just face-timed me!” “Why didn’t you answer?” “Ew because I’m so ugly right now!”
Are you fucking serious?
There are a lot of ways that we are breaking down these social constructs that make us feel insecure.
Barbie sales are on the decline. More people are publicly identifying with feminism. In 2012, two girls from Maine successfully campaigned to change one of the most popular teen magazines in America to show real girls. The internet is flooded with movements against the social sources of debilitating self-esteem, from the unapologetic campaign of The Body is Not an Apology, to Twitter’s #bodypositive, to the amazing women who take the Ted stage to demand change.
It’s not okay that the two young women I met in Barcelona are the rule and not the exception. I guess when I think about my friends, I realize it’s in them too, only surfacing in the passing comment. When I want to meet society’s standard of beauty (at least in my mind), my under eye circles feel like two dark demons hanging on my face. We all have insecurities, but they shouldn’t debilitate us into consumerist slaves. We shouldn’t feel sub-human if we’re not “flawless”.
I mean, hey, this is me writing this blog post right now.
And yes, yoga pants are on.
I do not believe make up in itself is bad, but I do believe that the way it is marketed is shaming… and that’s shameful. Perfection is a disease of a nation. Just ask Beyonce.
*Stay tuned for Part 2: They Kylie Jenner Experience