Beauty Standards for White Women in the Mainstream

Covers of Vogue from January through March of 1983, respectively. Depicted are three white women with Eurocentric features and expressionless faces. The mainstream journal caters to younger women who are interested in trends in fashion and beauty, however it exclusively featured white models during the 1980s.

Vogue was among the most popular journals in mainstream media during the Second Wave of the feminist movement, making it highly influential to the women who read it. The covers of three consecutive issues of Vogue from January through March of 1983 consist of white women with doll-like features such as blue eyes, upturned noses, a defined bone structure, and straight hair. Additionally, the women are expressionless, emphasizing that blank eyes and pursed lips need to mask their authentic personalities because women’s beauty should be their sole defining factor. The lack of smiles shows that a woman’s happiness is never made a priority, and further proves how the objectification of women serves to please men, not women.

“Every Woman Dreams of Having Beautiful Skin” advertisement in Vogue, January 1983. The woman in the photo is also expressionless and white with Eurocentric features, further objectifying women throughout the issue.

The beauty standard in the form of a single type of woman is not only seen on the cover pages, but is reinforced throughout each issue. The page from the January 1983 issue presents a woman of the same type, and accompanying it is a caption that reads “all women dream of having beautiful skin.” What makes the line especially jarring is the claim about all women, as if not dreaming of having beautiful skin makes a woman inherently flawed. It is explicitly projecting the wrong priorities onto its readers by claiming that women should exert all of their energy on improving their physique to meet this standard of beauty. By isolating women who have other ways of valuing themselves, these magazines make them feel alone. The advertising companies take advantage of this vulnerability, and they work by setting unrealistic expectations for women that make them feel like they need to invest in the advertised products in order to be on par with other women.


Works Cited

“Vogue,” Condé Nast. Jan. 1983, pp. cover, 22.

“Vogue,” Condé Nast. Feb. 1983, p. cover.

“Vogue,” Condé Nast. Mar. 1983, p.cover.



Beauty Standards for Black Women in the Mainstream

Front cover of Ebony Magazine issue from February 1973. The mainstream journal is geared toward African Americans. Pictured are a man and a woman, both wearing afros, and a headline that asks “is the afro on the way out?”

European beauty standards were also imposed on black women, evident in the February 1973 of Ebony, a mainstream journal that catered to African Americans. The question “is the afro on the way out?” on the cover of the issue drew attention away from the significance of the afro, which was “a hairstyle [that] quickly emerged as a symbol for Black beauty, liberation and pride” (Ebony, Vaughns). It dismissed the natural African American hair texture as a trend that needed to be moved on from. This issue came out long after the start of the Black is Beautiful movement, which began in the 1960s, where women began to actively resist the European standards they had been subjugated to, and embraced their natural hair texture (Vaughns). Ebony Magazine took the first opportunity they had in the 1970s to draw people away from the afro. Only later in the decade did the afro actually lose some momentum when braids and cornrows received attention, but it wasn’t until the 1980s and 1990s that those hairstyles replaced the afro entirely (Vaughns).

“Beautiful Hair Is a Give and Take Proposition” advertisement in the same February 1973 issue of Ebony. The advertisement is sponsored by Posner Bergamot, a haircare line for African Americans, and shows a woman’s straight, ironed hair as the result of using the product.

This 1973 issue of Ebony undid some of the progress made by the Black is Beautiful movement by reverting to the straightened hair standard despite the introduction of braids. For instance, the page from the issue shows a light-skinned black woman with processed, ironed, almost doll-like hair. This feature is inherently European, since African Americans typically have thick, curly, and voluminous hair. Under the image reads, “beautiful hair is a give and take proposition,” which makes a bold generalization of what beautiful hair constitutes. The “give and take” line implies that a black woman’s natural curls need to be effortfully worked on in order to attain unnatural straight hair that looks like that of a white woman. In the image, a man is embracing the woman and providing his validation of her beauty, suggesting that if black women want to be appealing to men, they must alter their natural features. The colonialism and sexism that motivate the beauty standards subjugates black women to a constant feeling of inferiority and need for improvement.


Works Cited

Vaughns, Victor. “The History of the Afro.” EBONY, 17 Dec. 2018,

Ebony, Johnson Publishing Company, Inc. Feb. 1973, pp. cover, 8.

The Longing to Be White

A scanned version of “When I Was Growing Up” poem by Asian American feminist Nellie Wong, published in 1973. The poem was featured in an anthology of works by radical feminist women of color called This Bridge Called My Back, co-edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua.

Nellie Wong is an Asian American writer, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, and her poetry concerns issues of racism and feminism. Her poem “When I Was Growing Up” was published in 1973 and featured in an anthology titled This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. It describes her struggle as a “yellow” woman who “longed to be white” while growing up because she believed that being white would make her beautiful, desirable, and “clean.” She starts the poem off by narrating, “people told me / I was dark.” The separation of the lines shows how after being told so often that she was dark, her darkness became adopted into her beliefs about herself, and after a while became her truth regardless of what others said to her. This highlights the effects of colorism, which teaches women to aim for looking as close to white as possible. She saw how separated she was from her “sisters / with fair skin / [who] got praised for their beauty.” Her identity became centered on her skin color, which became the distinguishing factor between her and the women valued by society. Growing up she “read magazines / and saw movies, blonde movie stars, white skin, / sensuous lips” and believed something was wrong with her due to lack of representation of her race. This led Wong to believe that “god / made white people clean” and she “began to wear / imaginary pale skin.” She didn’t want her skin color to be associated with “Filipino, Polynesian, [or] Portuguese,” she wanted it to be associated with the white race, because that would grant her beauty and value. Nonetheless, she would always be inherently different from “lucky girls” who were rich, beautiful, and white. They contributed to her poor self image by being living, breathing versions of women depicted in the media, and they could easily conform to what society expected of them while living seemingly easier lives.

As a woman of color who attended predominantly white institutions growing up, I empathize with Wong’s feelings of worthlessness. I felt the need to overcompensate for my darker color and forced myself into circles of white women because I wanted to be one of them. I didn’t want to be known as hispanic even though I am, so I taught myself to do everything in my power to be white-passing. This is the sad reality for many women of color, who are still haunted by the effects of colonialism––a system that has historically put white people on a pedestal at the expense of people of color.


Works Cited

Moraga Cherríe, and Anzaldúa Gloria. “When I Was Growing Up.” This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, SUNY Press, Albany, 2021, pp. 5–6.


Fat Liberation

Testimonial in The Broomstick by Mickey Spencer, 1983.

Testimonial about shopping while fat by Mickey Spencer, published in The Broomstick, vol. 5 no. 1, in 1983. The feminist periodical is written for and about women over 40 years of age, who believe that the societal systems in place render women powerless.

Similarly to how women with darker skin are discriminated against because they are not white, the value given to women who are thin is problematic because of the effect it has on how fat women are treated. A testimonial of a woman named Mickey Spencer was included in a January 1983 issue of feminist periodical The Broomstick. In it she states, “I was greeted by a very tall, very thin, very young woman who called down to me from her platform shoes, ‘We don’t have your size. What do you want?’” (The Broomstick). The description of the woman emphasizes how thin women were granted authority and power over fat women by society’s implications. This standard of thinness creates a huge division between women who meet it and women who don’t, inevitably leading to the mistreatment of fat women.

A typed transcript of the “Fat Liberation Manifesto,” originally published in November 1973, but reprinted in vol. 9, no.4 of Off Our Backs, a radical feminist periodical. It was written by Judy Freespirit and Sara Aldebaran on behalf of fat women.

Angered by the intolerance of a skinny-centered culture, “Judy Freespirit and Sara Aldebaran published their ‘Fat Liberation Manifesto’ in response to Susie Orbach’s book Fat is a Feminist Issue” (Gerhardt). The repetition of the word “WE” throughout the manifesto enforces a solidarity between the women in recognizing that they themselves are not flawed, but rather the system that propagates unhealthy lifestyles onto them needs to be reformed. They recognized the problem with the impositions of the media and its degradation of women to promote products and services. In response, they demanded “equal rights for fat people in all aspects of life” (Freespirit and Aldebaran). The Fat Liberation movement called out those who use someone’s unattractiveness as a way to justify their mistreatment of them. The writers called out advertisers and so-called scientists for antagonizing them for their own profit. This once again points out how the media propagates “commercial and sexist interests” (Freespirit and Aldebaran). The needs of women are never taken into consideration, but instead their vulnerability and insecurities are exploited for money. The Fat Liberation Manifesto is their way of changing the narrative in order to “reclaim power over [their] bodies and [their] lives” rather than being “subjugated to the interests of [their] enemies” (Freespirit and Aldebaran). Fat liberation is important to the feminist movement, since it is a key example of women reforming a system for long term change instead of changing themselves to achieve satisfaction in the short term.


Works Cited

Freespirit, Judy, and Aldebaran. “Fat Liberation Manifesto.” Off Our Backs, vol. 9, no. 4, off our backs, inc., 1979, pp. 18–18,

Gerhardt, Linda. “The Rebellious History of the Fat Acceptance Movement.” Center For Discovery, 5 Feb. 2020,

“The Broomstick.” Broomstick, The, vol. 5, no. 1, San Francisco Women’s Centers, Jan. 1983, p. 7,


Barbie Beauty

Barbie Fashion Face Toy Commercial 1977

Screenshot from Barbie Fashion Face Toy Commercial, 1977. Depicted is a young white girl playing dress-up with a Barbie.

White women who didn’t have the same European features as the women on the covers of Vogue magazine were discriminated against. The “Fashion Face Toy” commercial from 1977 advertised the popular Barbie doll brand. The video stars a young white girl with defined, dainty features and straight hair, who says “let’s get you beautiful, Barbie” at the start of the commercial. This indicates that Barbie, a character that was inherently blonde, symmetrical, and conventionally attractive, is still not beautiful enough in her natural state. The girl in the commercial proceeds to apply eyeshadow and lipstick on Barbie, curl her blonde hair, and dress her up with jewelry. This further promotes commercial interests by teaching women that they need external products to make them “beautiful” because their natural faces, natural hair styles, and the clothes they are comfortable in are not feminine enough. The girl in the video later invites her friends over to see Barbie dressed up, and once they arrive they tell the Barbie doll that she is beautiful. By having the girl dress Barbie up for the sole purpose of seeking approval from her friends, the commercial is teaching women that the desire to please others should drive their actions. This creates a culture where people seek external validation and conform to standards of people in order to do so.

A typed transcript of “Barbie Doll” poem by feminist Marge Piercy, published in 1971. The poem originally appeared in an issue of Off Our Backs, a periodical by radical feminists.

In feminist Marge Piercy’s poem Barbie Doll, written in 1971, she describes how these Barbie standards affected her while growing up as a white woman. She opens the poem by describing how at one point Barbie was simply a doll “that did pee pee.” Barbie on its own was not problematic or a source of insecurity until “a classmate said: You have a great big nose and fat legs.” The comment undermined the subject’s important qualities–she was “healthy, tested intelligent / possessed strong arms and back” yet she had different features than Barbie and was deemed not enough. She was “advised to be coy, / exhorted to come on hearty / exercise, diet, smile and wheedle”––essentially to devote her existence to being the perfect object and to live her life in accordance with the patriarchy that wants to make her small. In order to do so, she metaphorically “cut off her nose and her legs.” This act killed her, and what was left of her was placed “in the casket displayed on satin” for others to see. Her lifeless, pampered body only then warranted “doesn’t she look pretty?” as a reaction. This is commentary on how society teaches women that their life goal should be to attain beauty, and how dying for such a cause is deemed honorable. The irony in the line “To every woman a happy ending” reflects how women in the end either chose to conform, and as a result lose a part of themselves, or “die” trying.


Works Cited

Barbie Fashion Face Toy Commercial 1977. Youtube, uploaded by Retropolis Channel, 17 Dec. 2018,

Piercy, Marge. “Barbie-Doll.” Off Our Backs, vol. 1, no. 19, off our backs, inc., 1971, p. 7,

Redefining Beauty in Feminist Media

Front cover of Amazon Quarterly journal, vol. 2, no. 4, published in July 1974. In this issue, the feminist periodical is addressing ageism towards older women. Pictured is a statue depicting three women embracing each other while nude.

As feminists became unsatisfied with how women were portrayed in the media, they resisted the normative beauty standards with art that celebrated more diverse kinds of women. The 1974 volume 2, number 4 issue of Amazon Quarterly centers around ageism and rights for older women. This once again resists another beauty standard––the appearance of youth. There is artwork depicting three older women warmly embracing each other while nude, providing a stark contrast to the body language and expressions on the faces of the stoic, young, and pampered women on the covers of Vogue Magazine. Additionally, each of the women pictured have different hair textures, face shapes, bone structures, and curvy body types. The race of each woman is also unspecified, meaning no skin color is being gloried over another. This resists the conventional beauty standards of small, defined features, white skin, thin bodies, and straight hair. Refreshing imagery of a woman comfortable in and proud of her nude body promotes a healthier standard by celebrating body types that are representative of more realistic, larger women. The women touching and embracing each other’s naked bodies also show resistance to the patriarchy and takes back power from men, since it is removing the pornographic connotation of nudity and turning it into a symbol of divine femininity.

Front cover of No More Fun and Games journal, published in October 1968. This journal deals with issues surrounding women’s liberation. Pictured is an abstract drawing of a nude, unshaven woman lying on a bed of plants.

The cover of the first issue of No More Fun and Games from the year 1968 similarly contains artwork representing a kind of woman who does not conform to conventional beauty standards. The woman is lying naked, revealing her unshaven self, even though the socially acceptable standard calls for her to shave her entire body for men. Conventionally, an unshaven woman is depicted as dirty, which has caused shame surrounding body hair. However, the plants in this image reinforce the idea that growing out body hair is natural. Having a feminist journal as a platform for self-expression allows her to very openly and vulnerably display her body as it is without the intention of advertising beauty standards or products. This emphasizes how important it is for women to not feel obligated to change how they are naturally for the purpose of being more appealing to men. The purpose of this kind of art in feminist media is to redefine beauty on the common woman’s terms in a way that makes no woman feel ugly or worthless the way they are.


Works Cited

Ellen O’Donnell, et al. “No More Fun and Games.” No More Fun and Games, no. 1, Cell 16, Oct. 1968, cover,

Martha Courtot, et al. “Amazon Quarterly.” Amazon Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 4, Amazon Press, July 1974, cover pages,