Beauty has changed throughout history but one element of beauty that has not changed is the way in which women are forced to conform to an ideal beauty that has been set by the media. They say looks don’t matter, it’s not what counts. Beauty is on our insides. We hear these saying’s but it’s not reality, cause yet we live in a society that doesn’t really follow up with this saying.
The unrealistic standard of beauty that women are bombarded with everyday gives them a goal that is impossible to reach, and the effects are devastating. In Toni Morrison’s book The Bluest Eye, set in the 1940’s, an African-American woman in the book are under a lot of pressure everyday to conform to the white skinned, blue eyed, blond haired standard of beauty that is set by the Western culture and media. In this paper I will be discussing beauty standars and race relations, these are two outstanding themes in the novel and how the author Morrison is representing these issues.
As many people know, our beauty on the outside isn’t really what counts, it is our insides. The girls in Morrion’s novel are too young to comprehend this issue but as they grow they learn more about real beauty with time, and what the ugly truth of race relations look like in the South in 1940s. The main point of this novel focuses on Pecola’s self-esteem and what race issues affects peoples self-esteem and lowers them and makes them feel powerless, also how the black people of the story in some way allow the idea of white perfection to affect their existence. In the opening of the novel, Morrison writes about the Breedlove’s “home”, “They lived there because they were poor and black, and they stayed there because they believed they were ugly” (Morrison, 1999, p.38) Morrison then writes “Long hours she sat looking in the mirror, trying to discover the secret of the ugliness, the ugliness that made her ignored or despised at school, by teacher and classmates alike. She was the only member of her class who sat alone at a double desk” (Morrison, 1999, p.45). Here is it already apparent that the theme is ugliness and it is what she evaluates throughout the novel.
In The Bluest Eye African-American girls in the 1940’s were encouraged to aspire to not be satisfied with their own skincolour,; all of the female African-American characters in the novel have grown up in a society that did not find any other skin color than white beautiful, they were nothing except ugly. The standars of beauty that are placed on the women of this novel bring forth various characteristics that lead to either acceptance or rejection by society.
The Bluest Eye tells the story of an eleven year old black girl, Pecola Breedlove, who wants to be liberated from the chains of race and constantly being identified by her ugliness. All she longs for and obsesses about is to become the most beautiful person. In order to become the most beautiful person, she fiats what society deems to be a symbol of beauty and purity- blue eyes- this is represented by the white child actress, Shirley Temple, who has the desired blue eyes.
She decides to live in a world in her mind where she has the bluest eye, to help her escape the reality and the limitations that the beauty standards have put in her mind, and is the reason why she cannot see her as the most beautiful person as she is. To help the reader understand how Pecolas thoughts on how society views her, Morrison writes: “She has seen it lurking in the eyes of all white people. So, the distaste must be for her, her blackness. All things are in her are flux and anticipation. But her blackness is static and dread. And it is the blackness that accounts for, that creates, the vacuum edged with distaste in white eyes” (Morrison, 1999, p.49)
The three main characters in the novel are confronted with racial stereotyping which makes them think that they are less worthy, and because fo that they come to the conclusion that: “Beauty is not simply something to behold; it is something one could do” (Morrison, 1999, p.176). Appearance becomes very important for the girls since they listen to adults speak about what real beauty and cuteness is. Claudia, the narrator, then confesses her hatred towards Shirley Temple and other non dark skinned girls simply because they get all the attention of the adults, of all skin colors: “All the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl treasured. ‘Here’, they said, ‘this is beautiful, and if you are on this day worthy you may have it. … I could not love it. But I could examine it to see what it was that all the world said was lovable” (Morrison, 1999, p.14) Claudia’s refusal to accept the current opinion on what is beautiful provides an important sign of becoming rebellious. This can be looked as if it’s an beginning of a new era, where the dark skinned people no longer suffer and can finally embrace their own self-identity and appreciate themselves for what they are. This part shows another way of thinking and the movement to a change and differents views and thoughts.
The Bluest Eye represents the theme of white perfection as a standard of beauty throughout the entire story. The title itself makes it clear what it is that Pecola desires, “A little black girl years for blue eyes of a little white girl, and the horror at the heard of her yearning is exceeded only by the evil of fulfillment.” (Morrison, 1999. p.204).
In the end of the novel she starts seeing through her blue eyes but with her wish came her mental insanity. Pecola ends the novel when wandering by the brown house her mother has bought. “The birdlike gestures are worn away to a mere picking and plucking her way between the tire rims and sunflowers, between Coke bottles and milkweed, among all the waste and beauty of the world- which is what she herself was.
All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us.” (Morrison, 1999, p.205).
Pecola becoming mentally insane was not only caused by her own father raping her and not only the result of seeing Soaphead Church and not even the world telling her that she was ugly and would never reach the idea of beautiful. It was all of these things combined together that was the cause.
Pecola represents desire; desire to be beautiful and if she is beautiful she will become loved. I believe that his novel shows a saying which is clearly expressed by Calvin Hernton: “if you are white you are all right; if you are brown you can stick around; but if you are black…get back” (Ogunyer, 1977). Additionally, Lalami states the deeper reason for the ban of The Bluest Eye is because it makes people uncomfortable. “…that our aesthetics are not entirely our own, but are at least in part a function of the racist culture in which we live. White skin, straight hair, and blue eyes are considered more beautiful and therefore more valuable than brown or black skin, curly hair and dark eyes. (Lalami, 2004).
Overall Morrisson has depicted racial issues in a way that highlights the problems and the impacts that black women can be victims to. Its also eyeopening to the reader about the impacts of society’s beauty standards, that were, and mostly are still affected by the institutionalized racism.