SF State women of color discuss pressures of beauty standards

Patricia Valladolid, center, presents "Las Dietas Sagradas" (The Sacred Diets) at Questioning Race, Size, and Gender in Beauty Standards Thursday Mar. 11, 2011. Questioning Race, Size and Gender in Beauty Standards is a discussion group including film screening, student presentation, and discussion presented by the A.S.I. Women's Center and the Richard Oakes Multicultural Center. Jon Weiand / staff photographer

The unique societal pressures incurred by women of color involve facing intersecting oppressions of race and gender within the stereotypes prescribed by the mass media.

In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s Herstory Month, SF State hosted the Questioning Race, Size and Gender in Beauty Standards workshop inside the Richard Oakes Multicultural Center March 10. Students were able to learn about the negative and inaccurate labels that women of color often absorb from both peers and the media.

“These labels aren’t who you are,” said Genne Scott, an English major and student speaker. “But you have to fit the portrayal just to survive in society.”

Scott defines herself as a “boi,” a gender identity in which a woman feels comfortable acting and appearing masculine. Growing up exposed to images of “bois” with similar lifestyles, she questioned if her personality originated from life experiences or from societal expectations that were pushed upon her.

“As a ‘boi,’ I have to always define myself as masculine,” Scott said.  “There’s always a performance and this pressure to be something that I couldn’t.”

Scott said that from a young age, women are taught they should adhere to society’s demands instead of letting others accept their individual lifestyles.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with you because these labels were created before you were born,” Scott said.

Patricia Valladolid, an SF State graduate student and fellow speaker for the event, also said those labels had a strong affect on women.

“We’re hyper-exposed to these images,” Valladolid said. “There’s always this constant negotiation within yourself, a constant struggle. There’s never going to be a way to portray who you really are.”

Valladolid, who said her thesis subject is nutrition of Latinos in the U.S., questioned the obsession of dieting among women and the practice of shifting from living a healthier life to improving one’s appearance.

“Losing weight has some sort of social advantages,” Valladolid said. “Dieting is as much a part of the American culture as eating.”

Valladolid also said women of color have even more pressure to look a certain way, with voluptuous hips and a curvy backside, they are often neglected in the narrow beauty standard that constantly shadows them.

Many speakers agreed that women of color should engage in an open conversation about their bodies when particular questions arise.

“Just tell them about yourself and educate them,” Valladolid said. “Open that gate so people won’t jump to assumptions.”

Similarly, Dr. Francine Shakir, moderator for the workshop, said women of color can positively change the perception of others collectively.

“It’s a complex process,” Shakir said. “We have work to do as women and need to be aware of how women are shaped.  We are struggling to get past these limitations. We have the power to change that and what is fed to the media.”