Students ‘peel back layers’ to redefine racial beauty at UT

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Photo Credit: Rachel Tyler | Daily Texan Staff

Journalism sophomore Alecsandra Franco faced many bewildering situations in her childhood but having a boy deem her “too fat” to sit beside at lunch sticks with her most.

“I remember that I looked down, and I was like, ‘Really? Am I fat?’” Franco said. “Just because you don’t shape your eyebrows, you don’t shave or you’re a size 6 and not a 0 — all these superficial things in my (Latinx) culture would completely outweigh everything else.”

Franco’s unforgettable memory is only a snippet of what many students undergo everyday. While many students struggle to understand their race’s beauty standards, UT is a turning point in some students’ journeys toward realizing they don’t fit in traditional ideals.

Students point to different reasons for their backgrounds’ ideals. Biomedical engineering senior Gabby Tan, who is half-Chinese and half-Sicilian, tied her two races’ preferences for pale skin to a desire for association with the upper class.

“(For Asians, pale skin) is a sign that you don’t have to work in the sun all day,” Tan said. “For Sicilians, it’s a matter of wanting to pass off as a different (Italian) background.”
Kialond Bronson-Smith, an African-American theatre and dance freshman, explained her culture’s fixation on hairstyles stems from a yearning for loose curl patterns. In her predominantly black neighborhood, most girls possessed curlier hair.

“(The boys in my community) wanted mixed girls because, to them, that’s who had the ‘good hair,’” Bronson-Smith said.

Regardless of reasons behind their community’s ideals, all three students said fitting these standards as a child was no simple task. Franco said she tried mimicking the seductiveness of Sofia Vergara and the contagious energy of Selena Quintanilla-Perez.

“It’s sad to think that at such a young age, (these perceptions) were so instilled into my experiences,” Franco said.

For Tan, matching her cultures’ expectations meant parting ways with some of her most-enjoyed childhood activities. To have lighter skin and silence her family’s comments, Tan stopped swimming.

“Careless remarks left an impression on me that if I wanted to be pretty, I needed to look like my (white) mom,” Tan said.

Because her ex-boyfriend preferred longer, wavy hair, Bronson-Smith recalled walking on eggshells just to achieve her perfect look.

“I wanted to know and make sure that (my ex-boyfriend would) still like me regardless of how (my hair) looked,” Bronson-Smith said.

Coming to UT broadened all three student’s beauty perceptions. Franco specifically remembers freaking out when she saw Latinxs on campus clash with her community’s beauty standards.

“I’d see them walking around and instantly respond in my head, ‘Oh, my god! Why are you walking around like that?’” Franco said. “(Now,) I just see everyone living their truth.”

Following the lead of other students, Franco now embraces her formerly suppressed attributes, including her curly hair.

“I used to hate my curly hair to the core,” Franco said. “Now, there’s so many variations and definitions on what is beautiful.”

All three said UT’s openness to different physical traits has helped them view their appearance more positively. Despite recognizing that UT has made her journey towards beauty acceptance easier, Tan doesn’t wish that such change would have come into her life earlier.

“Even if I had been exposed to the things I have at a higher institution, I wasn’t mature enough (in the past) to interpret it the way I have now,” Tan said. Franco called her evolving beauty perceptions “a work in progress.”

“I think I’m very pretty now that I look like myself and surround myself with people who don’t care what I look like,” Franco said. “I’m peeling back layers of what I’ve felt over the years to (reveal) who I truly was.”