Esther “Queen Esie” Calixte-Bea on Embracing Black Beauty and Pushing Against Societal Ideals
February 17, 2023
In a society where beauty standards are constantly changing and evolving, Black women have had to navigate the pressures of fitting into Eurocentric ideals. The stigmatization of body hair in particular has been used as a tool to propagate a hierarchy that places women of color at the bottom. This has resulted in many Black women feeling the need to conform to these standards through various procedures and practices. We sat down to speak to Esther Calixte-Bea on the pressures, the destigmatization of natural beauty and pushing against beauty indoctrination.
Discussing beauty standards and body image concerns amongst Black women
There are pressures of beauty standards within our community and outside. Years ago, having big lips and a big butt was undesirable. As trends change and invisibilize black women-- one day our bodies are trendy and the next they aren’t. When it became trendy to be curvier, skinnier black women exercised and ate more to fit the standard. If you were a plus-size woman but didn’t have an hourglass frame you weren’t fitting the standard. In our community being skinny isn’t the beauty standard and we tend to be teased by family members who want us to gain weight while being skinny is acceptable in white society. When I was in high school, the natural hair movement helped black women embrace their natural "coily" hair but the texture was still an issue, making looser curls more beautiful and acceptable. But straight hair continued to be the most acceptable hairstyle. Colorism is also a prevalent problem in BIPOC communities where being lighter is praised.
How has Eurocentric beauty standards harmed Black Women and how does it contribute to the stigma of body hair?
Our beauty is copied while we are being ignored. Eurocentric beauty standards pressure black women to assimilate and fit in in order to be acceptable in society. White supremacy has used body hair to propagate the idea that if you are hairless you aren’t dirty or primitive compared to their counterparts (BIPOC). These terms are used to create a hierarchy by placing women of color at the bottom, making them feel dirty or they’re compared to animals/ primitiveness if they chose to keep their body hair. As a black woman or POC, you do not have the same privilege or choice to embrace your body hair or the same experience once you decide to embrace it. Some might argue that it is harder for women with thick dark body hair to embrace it without being noticed and given dirty looks. Eurocentric beauty standards and white supremacy has created self-hatred within the black community, with people going through numerous procedures to appear more “white” (having Eurocentric features) or closest to the current beauty standard.
What advice do you have for Black women in regard to accepting themselves and breaking those beauty standards?
Don’t be a slave to beauty standards, whether it comes from our own community or outside. It will leave you unsatisfied and unhappy. We are not objects and our value does not depend on how attractive we are. “Black is beautiful” is the slogan and movement that helped us embrace our blackness in a society that called us ugly and the fight isn’t over. Accepting yourself will only allow you to change the way you see your body and help the younger generation to be strong and not destroy their natural bodies to conform to the forever-changing beauty standards or pressures of their family members. I’ve embraced my body hair and understood that it was something beautiful in the time of my ancestors and simply represented that I was a woman, no longer a girl. In the past, it was a sign of maturity and fertility. I wear it with pride and will no longer shave away who I am.
As a society, what solutions exist so we can learn to accept, showcase, and most importantly respect Black women?
Instagram & Tiktok give us access to different perspectives and stories. We can practice empathy and listen to black women’s concerns instead of gaslighting them. Supporting your friends and creative black women online is easy by simply sharing their content and standing up with them when fighting for a cause. You can reach out to Black women not only on Black History Month, and not just on a panel discussion on racism but their experiences in life also as a woman or based on their degrees/job, AND also compensate them for their work. It’s important to not constantly use Black women as tokens and to actively listen.