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Study: Girls feel need to be thin, 'white'


By Alexandria Blute
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, August 26, 2004
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A study recently conducted by members of the UA sociology department seems to confirm that many American women, regardless of race or background, feel pressure to conform to a "white standard" of beauty.

While the study showed that non-white women embraced ethnic features more readily as they aged, most still felt that pressure to conform existed in America.

The project also examined how societal pressure impacts women's self-esteem and how women use beauty as a way to advance in both the workplace and the dating game.

Spearheaded by assistant sociology professor Louise Roth and UA graduate student Rachael Neal, the study included nearly 100 women of varying ethnicities.

Those interviewed - women in their early twenties to mid-thirties - were asked numerous questions about their daily beauty rituals, their willingness to embrace their own ethnicity and their thoughts on how beauty factored into their workplaces and love lives.

Roth said she not only wanted to understand what the women considered beautiful, but also how their ideals dictated the amount of time, energy and money they spent on daily beauty rituals.

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People who are considered attractive are also considered smart and nice and successful and all sorts of things that shouldn't be related.

- Louise Roth, assistant sociology professor

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"What I was initially looking at was women's beauty labor," Roth said. "(We studied) how much time and energy women put into their appearance and how it affects how they feel about themselves."

She also wanted to see how women dealt with what she called a "halo effect" in American culture - the notion that those who are attractive are fundamentally better.

"People who are considered attractive are also considered smart and nice and successful and all sorts of things that shouldn't be related," Roth said.

Roth said she and her colleague were not surprised to find that the majority of women in the study said they prized a thin body type and non-white women said they felt pressure to change their features to seem more Caucasian.

Roth said there is a widely held belief that black and Hispanic women embrace a more voluptuous figure and darker complexion because they are common features of people of their ethnicities.

But Roth said the study showed that non-white women feel pressure to look "whiter." For instance, Roth said, a black woman with naturally curly hair felt compelled to straighten it. In the same vein, a woman of Indian heritage reported feeling pressure from her peers not to tan in order to keep her skin as light as possible.

A large majority of non-white women surveyed said that as they aged, putting aside cultural pressures to conform became easier.

But Roth and Neal discovered that the same women also became increasingly critical toward American beauty culture.

On campus, female students said they could relate to the sociologists' findings.

"I'm so over it," said Sabrina Hayouna, a pre-business freshman, of the importance of being thin.

Hayouna, who is of Algerian descent, said that while members of her family prize a bigger body type, she still feels too much emphasis is placed on thinness in America. She also expressed distaste for young women who jump to conform.

"When you're younger, you wonder if you can be like that too," she said of those who have a very thin body type.

Hayouna said that with age has come more appreciation of her ethnic features.

"You feel more comfortable in your own skin," she said. "(My body type) makes me more unique."

Jasmine Johnson, a pre-physiological sciences freshman, agreed that too much emphasis is placed on having a certain body type amongst women her age. She noted that sometimes even finding clothes that fit in popular stores is challenging.

"It's ridiculous how everybody wants to be skinny," said Johnson. "People should feel comfortable with their bodies."



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