New research says Pasifika women must speak out on ideals of beauty and not let whiteness be the only standard to follow

Fakatotolo fakaako ta'ahine ako Tonga kuo pulusi 'i ha tisisi (thesis) 'e he 'univēsiti AUT 'i Nu'u Sila ki he mahu'inga ke ngāue'aki 'e he kakai 'ailani 'enau tukufua ki he me'a ko e talavou pe hoihoifua kae 'oua 'e tuku ke pule e tukufua ia 'a e kau palangi' 'o pehē ko e me'afua ia 'o e talavou' pea ke muimui ai a e kakai kotoa tatau he kili melomelo mo e 'uli'uli'.

Building a good relationship at home helps young Pasifika women establish a balanced view about what counted as beautiful.

Malia Lēsina Kelela Lātū. Photo/Kaniva Tonga News

That is one of the key findings of an MA thesis, Pasifika women, beauty and race, by Tongan scholar Malia Lēsina Kelela Latu, who will graduate from AUT next March.

Latu’s work focusses on Pasifika women’s perceptions of beauty and how the media reinforces white standards rather than reflecting the multi-cultural nature of society.

“Whiteness and western ideology is still privileged,” Latu said.

“In the same way that society privileges whiteness, mainstream media homogenises this notion of beauty.”

This meant the mainstream media promoted the idea that there was one standard of beauty.

For years, the notion of whiteness served as an ideal for women and many women of colour wanted to meet these standards.

Latu said there was concern that Pasifika women were still mostly left out of arguments about standards of beauty, but they needed to speak up.

“There is still lack of diversity when it comes to beauty products and the appreciation of black beauty,” Latu said.

“For years the focus has always been on western beauty and in order for progress to occur, women of colour need to continue being vocal about these issues.”

Women interviewed told Latu they regarded television as having the highest capacity to produce unrealistic beauty standards. As one of them said:

“When I was growing up on TV the main character is always like… white girl, white girl, white girl! You have quirky white girls, white girls with big glasses, big eyebrows, but that is always like the standard and the only coloured women who gets praised are like… you either have to look like Beyonce or Rihanna.

It starts from a very young age and it keeps building up. You start to realise…what does it mean when people are like, “oh you are pretty for an Islander?” or “you are skinny for an Islander?” Like what is that supposed to mean?”

They thought these standards had been held by society for many years.

Although they thought social media also generated negative images of beauty, they thought women had more power to generate beauty standards or ideals because of its accessibility and participatory features.

Latu said it became evident from her research that fostering of good relationships at home helped to balance the negative standards of beauty that are placed on women.

For most participants, the perceived benefit of compliments from family and friends held significant value in helping them feel confident. As one interviewee said:

“My aunty is very important to me because I have always had natural curly hair and I used to straighten it all the time. She would encourage me to be natural. She would say stuff like, ‘your hair is perfect that is who you are, that is your identity so you should keep it natural’ that is why she is so dear to me because she always made me believe that I am beautiful from hair to the colour of my skin.”

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