Factoring Race into Health/Beauty/Hygiene
December 29, 2014 3:02 PM   Subscribe

People of color - what common health/beauty/hygiene axioms have you found not to work for you? Conversely, are there any regimes that you follow that aren't commonly seen as advice online?

Lately, I've begun to realize that a lot of beauty/health/hygiene advice given online tends to trend very white. To an extent, this occurs offline too (for instance, many white people will give well-meaning but flawed advice to PoC since they assume that their skin or hair or bodies are "default"), but since the internet is to a degree race-blind, I find that much of the "general" tips and advice given out there actually is specific to the experiences of white people and often don't extend to PoC.

An example that first alerted me to this phenomenon was a year ago on AskMetafilter where someone asked if they absolutely needed to use deodorant. The majority of answerers insisted that you needed to, or you'd smell, something that left me feeling a little shameful and paranoid for a while since I nor my family had never used deodorant in my life, until I realized that I was East Asian and most of the answerers were presumably white.

So now I want to organize more examples so I can gain a sense of where else I need to be conscious of in terms of race in accepting advice. What beauty/healthcare/hygiene advice have you heard from majority white spaces that don't work well with your race (either culturally or physically)? While I am Chinese, I'm not strictly looking for answers that are specific to East Asians - anecdotes from any other people of color would be helpful as well!
posted by Conspire to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Chris Rock made an entire documentary about black girl hair.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:18 PM on December 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Haha! Speaking as someone else who is also Chinese American and goes on Pinterest, SkinCareAddiction and etc, I end up knowing more the problems of white skin problems than my own. I have to laugh at it or else I'd be too sad.

- "Tribal" makeup trends for music festivals, complete with either white or ethnically ambiguous people dressing up like "Native Americans" needs to go away, now. Same goes for any other "ethnic-inspired" makeup trends.
- Men also are ridiculed for wanting to wear makeup/have skincare tips. Breaking down masculinity is an issue too.
- Constant fetishization of "exotic" skincare items from Asia. Yes, sometimes pearls and animal products are in them and it's very ~*cool*~ but like, stop please.
- Homogenization of entire ethnic identities. African/Asian/Latin@/mixed race/etc is not a monolith with a single shade or makeup or skincare tips for each of them, but I am tired of the internet and online/print publications presenting it that way.
- My thick, long wavy Asian hair will probably never be able to do any of those super fanciful princess hairstyles, due to not being thin or dry enough to do them.
- Makeup tips will always look different, due to differentiation in skincolor tones and hues. What would look like a dark lipstick color on a white girl, would be of medium hue on those who have darker skin color.
- Whiteness as a literal blank canvas affects beauty standards and techniques. I remember reading a blog talking about how tips for contouring and combining that many shades of make-up can be a nightmare for mixed-race folks, unless they find skincare lines that really are catered to them. I can't speak to that, as I am not mixed-race.
- how when I type in "haircare/skincare/makeup tips" - it defaults to stereotypical blonde white girls, and how I have to type in "chinese east asian normal skin long hair, etc" to be more specific towards my result. Norms should also come with naming its own specificity, rather than being given the benefit of the doubt. That silent declaration of blonde whiteness being default is pretty damaging, even to girls who fall within that category but also have differing attributes.

On the skincare front, I try to go with products that are the most minimal, has organic ingredients, and are fair-trade. I also try to be supportive of my friends who have different types of skincare/hair concerns than I do, and listen to them, and try to look out for helpful products that may be helpful. I just gave a bottle of jojoba oil to my friend who has Black girl hair, and it ended up being far too greasy for my own hair. That was definitely a white girl tip when I bought that bottle.
posted by yueliang at 3:28 PM on December 29, 2014 [9 favorites]

Oh also ^^ my particular comment is specific to me. I'm sure there are other East Asian girls who can find a way to make particular tips work, including princess hair, but I always found it very difficult for my own skin/hair.
posted by yueliang at 4:00 PM on December 29, 2014

Best answer: The skin whitening thing in Asia. It's not a western import, although it's certainly not helped by it, but the number of whitening creams my kids have far exceeds my sunscreen moisturizer. There's a huge range of different types of whitening creams from the basic sunblock to the skin peeling ones and they're in everything. It's a whole ecosystem of make-up and skincare products meant only for Asian skin to go a shade or two lighter.

Also, black hair dye is not a single shade, but requires like twenty boxes on a shelf in various related shades. White and grey hair on asian hair tends to require serious dye with frequent retouching, compared to my limited experience with caucasian hair which soaks up whatever colour comes near it. With Asian hair you have to dye it in a matching shade of black to deep browns, or shade it with a red to get a highlight only, or else risk a bleach job prior to the dye which is the equivalent of perming white hair for the damage it can do to hair. And Asian hair gets sun highlights that can look like a bleach job gone wrong, so there's that to dye over too. So much hair dye.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:12 PM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Classic example is the advice to wear a white bra under a white t-shirt (or, conversely, as I learned growing up, a black bra under a white t-shirt). There's been buzz lately of some bra line that's expanding their "nude" line to actually factor in more hues. Huzzah.

Finding makeup to match mixed-race people is a PITA, especially those whose skin tone varies drastically depending on the season. The whole colorwheel/warm/cool tone stuff is, to me, impossible to undrestand because none of the examples ever seem to be mixed-race.

Ditto for hair products: black hair products are often too thick for my hair; white ones too weak or drying.

Totally random/chi chi problem: laser skin treatments are often geared toward white skin--especially best for the high contrast of dark hair/fair skin. There are a couple of skin problems I want lasered and so far three dermatologists have turned me down because their lasers aren't calibrated for a wider range of skin tones (and I'm too cheap to go to the fancy plastic surgeon or whatever).
posted by TwoStride at 5:58 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Monolids. A lot of eye makeup tips are based in eye shapes that have a defined lid crease, which excludes people with monolids, i.e, no crease.
posted by mellophone at 6:00 PM on December 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I remember that I was shocked when I learned that my SO's earwax was not at all like mine.

And like you, I also don't use deodorant.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 6:49 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Curly hair. There is a massive massive bias toward straight hair, enough to annoy even white girls with curly hair (um, *ahem*. And yes, Black girl hair is a whoooole different kettle of fish!). Cup of Jo had a "Hair tutorials styles for curly hair" post and nearly every comment (and my reaction too) was: I'd have to blow dry and iron my hair FIRST and then put the wavy "style" back in (LOL).

Or, as put on the Gilmore Girls - to have "good shiny Harvard hair"...

"Squish to condish" is what works for me - I rarely shampoo, and then only without sulfates. Because of the cultural assumption my mom (and I) always just assumed I had "difficult" straight frizzy hair with lots of volume. Ha. If I squish to condish and have a good haircut it hangs down in ringlets. Would have saved me a lot of angst in jr high/high school!
posted by jrobin276 at 6:57 PM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Absolutely seconding the skin whitening thing. Ads that would be banned in the Western world for being blatantly racist are common in India. One particularly egregious example: the slogan for Ponds White Beauty (no, seriously, that's a real thing) is, and I kid you not, 'Dark out, white in.' And it's everywhere. Even brands that plug themselves as all natural and body positive like the Body Shop have 'whitening' lines.
posted by Tamanna at 7:05 PM on December 29, 2014

Best answer: I was absolutely not expecting it the first time my blonde roommate in undergrad used baby powder on her hair instead of washing it before rushing to class. I thought it was such a clever idea. And then I realized sadly that I would just look like I had baby powder smudged in my dark hair if I tried to do the same thing.
posted by artful at 9:00 PM on December 29, 2014

Best answer: I tried long and hard to get beachy waves, but this stick straight hair doesn't have a bend in it no matter how much salt water I spray into it.
Slightly related: it was really disconcerting realizing that most everyone else had curly pubes that didn't poke through their underwear.

I just bought a tub of Vaseline's Rosy Lips, and was surprised to see that it was basically clear gel on my own pink lips.

Hair waxing and many chemical hair removal cremes do not work on my coarse Vietnamese hair. I've tried so many times to wax my mustache, but nope. I do not have peach fuzz, because of my light skin and black hair I have five o-clock shadow.
posted by flying_trapeze at 12:10 AM on December 30, 2014

Best answer: I had no idea that putting lotion on was not a common thing with white people until my mid-20s. Someone would brush up against my skin and say "Oh my gooooosh, your skin is so soft! How do you do that??!" And I would tell them I put lotion on after I shower. Not fancy lotion, but Target brand "regular" lotion. This, apparently was (and still is) mind boggling to people. I thought that maybe this was just a thing I learned from my mother, but a black male friend was also asked about his soft skin and responded with "I use lotion! Come on white people, it's just lotion!"

This also speaks volumes on white people feeling the need to touch/grab non-white body parts.
posted by thefang at 7:44 AM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, also: I am not 100% sure if this is a thing, but I believe Asian people tend to shower at night and I when I got to college I observed that white people seem to shower in the morning. It was convenient for me, because I never had to wait in line to shower in the dorms!
posted by gemutlichkeit at 11:27 AM on January 1, 2015

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