I Am Not Her and She Is Not Me.
There has been recent discourse on TikTok surrounding a ‘UK Black Girl standard’, and its implications on the generation we’re living in. Whilst this discussion references Black girls specifically, the article aims to relate this to women of other races and compare the different expectations between them and black women.
Essentially the UK ‘standard’ for black girls refers to the ‘accepted’ – and somewhat expected – look to ‘fit in’ society. The use of quotations marks will be quite prevalent throughout this article, as these views are subjective and are of my own opinion.
The ‘typical’ look consists of: straight black hair (typically wigs), regular maintenance of nails and eyelashes and makeup with a bright under-eye. Much of this standard has been formed in regards to its proximity to whiteness. Specifically pertaining to hair, straight hair has always been more palatable to the white gaze; while natural, afro hair has been frowned upon. This affects Black women in all aspects of life – whether it be in schools, social spaces or the workplace. Over time this expectation has been internalised and is one of the few looks that are viewed as socially ‘beautiful’ within the black community. This poses a problem, however, for those who have not internalised this and do not wish to conform.
Whilst other races have a plethora of subcultures that are widely embraced, black people are pushed into one category, and are often viewed as a monolith – a huge factor as to why black people are targeted based on the actions of other black people – but that is neither here nor there. For white people, freedom of expression has never been an issue as they are the default standard, hence why other races are labelled as minorities; despite making up the majority of the world’s population. They have never been put into a category based on their race and are able to create aesthetics and styles based on their personalities; ranging from the emo and the goth to the preppy girl and ‘clean girl’ aesthetic. Black people however, spend their time repressing their authentic selves, and conform to a standard created by the West.
This ostracizes the Black women who refuse to conform to this standard – whether it be due to the understating of its origins, or the comfort they find in their cultures that incentivises them to find an aesthetic that suits their personality.
The standard that has been created as a result poses many repercussions for black women, especially girls of a younger generation. The standard places importance in material goods such as designer items and other luxurious and high-quality items; but regardless of age is an unattainable expectation for many. It creates an unspoken pressure for black teens and young adults to live outside their means in order to achieve said look with the intentions of fitting in and looking desirable on social media.
This discourse only pertains to black girls, highlighting the issues within the Black community. Whilst there is a supposed ‘UK Black Girl standard’, there has been a progressive change regarding aesthetics and styles that are gradually becoming embraced. With movements such as a the ‘Natural hair movement’, which has emerged in the past few years, there have been a lot of societal changes that allow black women to embrace their true selves, without feeling ostracised by their peers.
The ‘standard’ is dependent on the people you surround yourself with. Yes, you are more likely to feel excluded depending on the company you keep and the people you’re attracted to. The girls that do conform to this standard are unfairly villainised and painted out to be mindless zombies who follow every trend that is started. This view is quite reductive as it is just as condemning as those who feel rejected for not conforming. You’re more likely to emulate looks and styles that you’re inspired by and that you surround yourself with. It is very easy to feel like the black sheep in a group of people that look like each other, whilst you’re the one who looks different; which is why finding a group of friends where you feel comfortable enough to display your true and authentic self is extremely important.
Kesiah Gakpe is a second-year journalism student from East London studying BA Journalism. Her biggest areas of interest in media and journalism are lifestyle and pop culture; in addition to creating safe spaces for black people and making room for difficult conversations. She enjoys reading and reviewing said books. Find her on twitter @kesiahdelali, Tiktok @kesiahreadit and her new blog – ‘Opinionate’ https://kesiahgakpe.wixsite.com/opinionate