A Rise in Ethnic Beauty

Women who desire a more "exotic" appearance are looking to the fashion world's growing multi-culturalism for inspiration.

There was a time when the Caucasian girl-next-door looks of Christie Brinkley, Cindy Crawford and more recently Kate Moss dominated the fashion pages. Then came new fashion icons: Naomi Campbell, Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce—and then Giselle, Kim Kardashian and Shakira. More voluptuous figures, fuller lips and darker skin—features traditionally associated with women of African, Latin and Asian cultures—are "in." During the past decade, an appreciation for ethnic beauty has been on the rise, and these natural features are becoming popular among Caucasian women who desire to look more "exotic."

Dr. Nancy Etcoff, a Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital psychologist who studies the science behind the brain and beauty, believes that the shift in our perception of beauty is a sign of the times. "Our standards of beauty are changing and ethnic women are at the forefront today," she said. "It emulates our growing sense of cultural awareness."

Etcoff, who also authored Survival of the Prettiest, adds: "If you study plastic surgery textbooks, the notions of an ideal feature have changed. In the 50s, the ideal look featured thinner lips, upturned noses, smaller eyes and paler makeup," Etcoff said. "Now you see broader noses, darker skin and larger eyelids. All these attributes suggest shifts in demographics and an appeal to a more multicultural look instead of an overly Caucasian appearance."

With companies earning more than $3 billion between 2005 and 2009 in the US multicultural beauty market, it seems ethnic women are not just embracing the trends, they are setting them. "What's not to love, embrace and emulate about ethnic beauty?" said Us Weekly fashion director Sasha Charnin Morrison. "The use of curvier, more rounded figures looks refreshing."

Celebrities and the media, Etcoff said, have helped promote ethnic beauty. One trait in particular is the larger bottom. Susan Bloomstone and Lisa Reisler, co-creators of Booty Pop panties, a form of padded underwear used to give an illusion of a larger rear, said their product was inspired by ethnic women in Hollywood, such as entertainers Beyoncé Knowles and Jennifer Lopez.

"Magazines, music, and movies have really created a window for more ethnic women to be noticed for their features," Reisler said. These women, she said, have made the larger, rounder bottom sexy.

Lip plumping and injections, techniques used to achieve fuller lips, remain popular among Caucasian women, said Dr. Ashkan Ghavami, a plastic surgeon based in Beverly Hills, California. "Fuller lips are definitely associated with ethnic cultures, and I don't think these trends are going to fade away too quickly," Ghavami said. "What we are starting to see now is that curves on the body and fuller features on the face—traits that were once deemed unappealing in our society—are becoming more attractive."

Ronald Gavin, a 32-year-old single man from Tampa, Florida, agrees. "I mean let's face it, ethnic women have this exotic appeal—it's the curves and the fact that they don't have this carbon-copy look like anyone else," Gavin said. "That's definitely sexy in my book."

Bottoms and lips are not the only ethnic features women are raging about, according to Ying Chu, Marie Claire beauty and health director. An obsession with rich, brown-skin complexions have boosted the sales of self-tanning products, and aspirations for bouncy, silky straight hair has attracted women to Brazilian and Japanese hair straightening, said Chu.

The desire for individuality leads people to embrace the image of ethnic women over typical "cookie-cutter American beauties," said Chu. "It's this open acceptance to diversity that we are seeing in the younger generation and the longing for individuality that is really transforming our standard of beauty."

Dark, thick eyebrows, most notably associated with Indian women, have become more desirable and natural brown hair tones, as opposed to bleached and platinum blonde hair colors, are among the features highlighted in today's culture, she said. And the practice of sewing in wefts of hair extensions, a technique popularly used for African-American hair, is being adopted by Caucasian females, according to Roy Teeluck of Roy Teeluck salon in New York.

Linda Wells, editor-in-chief of Allure magazine, said ethnic beauty is being embraced because of changing demographics of America. Between the years of 2000 and 2008, the mixed-race U.S. population grew by nearly 32% to nearly 5 million, said Wells, citing U.S. census bureau estimates. "Our concept of beauty will always reflect culture," Wells said. "Beauty standards don't exist in a vacuum. Our standard of beauty today is definitely representative of America's melting pot." The belief that certain ethnicities retain a youthful appearance longer may be attracting women to these trends as well, Wells said.

Sasha Muradali, author of littlepinkbookpr.com, a blog that follows pop culture and beauty trends, believes the need to achieve certain standards of beauty has little to do with race and ethnicity and more to do with the obsession of perfection. For Muradali, a 25-year-old working woman of South Asian descent, the current standard of beauty is still a bit blurry. "We have definitely come a long way because people are embracing Middle Eastern, African-American and Latin looks and no one wants to just look like the quintessential American girl," Muradali said. "But I think we are subtly staying in the past."

"I mean, we are all raging about the curves of Beyonce and Kim Kardashian, but at the same time the media is telling girls that they need to be a size zero. That's what makes the beauty standards a bit skewed and contradicting."

Etcoff, though, is impressed with the recent trend to a more multicultural definition of beauty. "Our changing standard of beauty shows a form of growing cultural acceptance," Etcoff said. "We can't just wipe away the inequities and the attitudes that exist amongst races. But it's the beginning."

By Liane Membis, CNN.com, September 13, 2010 

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