According to new research, there is a growing trend among teenagers that is by no means new (or news) to most black women. A study, by the University of Birmingham, showed this week that British youth are feeling pressured to acquire the popular “slim thick” body shape – an impossibly small waist, paired with a bum as large as it is pert.
“Slim thickness” was previously popularised within the black community, and then brought into the mainstream by the pop-culture juggernaut that is Kim Kardashian.
Kardashian and, subsequently, her family have quite literally changed the face of beauty. Thanks to them, the prevailing eurocentric standard of beauty – blonde, busty, blue-eyed – has simply been replaced with another one. And, this time, it has been adorned with the best bits of those lower on the “pretty” pecking order. Tina Fey puts it perfectly in her book, Bossypants: “Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits. The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes.”
The deviation, from the blonde bombshell of the nineties to the ethnically ambiguous enchantress of today, is viewed by some as the broadening of a rigid standard, and therefore more inclusive. It’s the amalgamation of all peoples, in one bronzed, bootylicious demigoddess. Black, Asian, Latina and white beauty influencers on Instagram now often blur into one, doing identical tutorials for the same type of face, with different shades of contour.
We balk at stories of women spending thousands to resemble Kim, but barely blink at the army of us spending a decent amount to do the same thing on a smaller scale. The mainstream beauty standard has converged into something that almost everyone buys into. But this diversification hasn't made it any less exclusionary.
Black, Asian, Latina and white beauty influencers on Instagram now often blur into one, doing identical tutorials for the same type of face, with different shades of contour
Kim Kardashian’s ubiquity hasn’t occurred because of its inclusive nature. It remains a standard as unattainable as Baywatch’s Pamela Anderson. The difference is that very few black women even bothered trying to look like Pamela Anderson. We have sat through every exclusionary beauty phase the Western world has gone through, from Twiggy’s svelte frame to “the Rachel” of the nineties, and we sat so far outside of it that the black community created its own (albeit still informed by wider society). While white people sought blonde hair and blue eyes, the black community fawned after women who had light skin, loose curls and were “slick thick”. Black women grew up aspiring to the looks of Beyoncé, not Britney Spears.
But the sudden popularity of a handful of the features lauded within the black community – caramel coloured skin and big bums – leaves the majority of black women as alienated as they were before. And, since Kim is racially ambiguous, black women feel that hers is a standard they must also adhere to, as do many women of colour.
Major brand models are often simply Kim clones, and are able to pat themselves on the back in the name of diversity. And it’s not just her – Fashion Nova, PrettyLittleThing, Boohoo and hundreds of other e-tailers would rather cast several dopplegangers of her younger sister Kylie Jenner than opt for real inclusion. The Kardashians may have rendered blondes redundant, and shifted the implants from the boobs to the buttocks, but it’s business as usual for those who have never come close to fitting the ideal. They aren’t any closer – the new standard is brown(er) and curvy(er), but there are limits, of course, to how dark and curvy you can be.
On one level, things may have perhaps been democratised by the rise of Kardashian-face – everyone is now aspiring to be the exact same person, as opposed to standards set both within and outside of a community. But a standard remains just that – and true freedom will only come when they don’t exist at all.