The Three-Headed Dragon: Colourism, Featurism and Texturism


Graphic by Tania Habib


Colourism, featurism and texturism work together collectively under the guise of racism, but society tends to fail to associate how these three acts of prejudice affect Black and Brown communities in all facets of life.

Colourism is essentially discrimination based on colour; texturism may be equated to discrimination based on hair texture; featurism is the preference of Eurocentric features. Now, how do all of these three products of racism work together in media and society? And secondly, how did they all come to be?

Colourism

Colourism is defined as discrimination based on skin colour. It is a form of prejudice or discrimination in which people who are usually members of the same race are treated differently based on the social implications which come with the cultural meanings which are attached to skin colour.

We should think of colourism as the daughter of racism and needs to be combated alongside it. It is a topic that is often brushed over and ignored and many don't even believe in its existence, but it's evident that it is real and that is an issue. The colonization of our minds by Western beauty standards, Hollywood and our internalized colourism are strong enough to defy all claims of it being an illusion.

To understand how colourism came to be, we need to first look at its roots in colonialism. Colonialism is understood to be “a political doctrine promoting and justifying the exploitation by a colonizing power of a territory under its control either for its benefit or for the benefit of the colonies settled in this territory” (Fourchard, 2011). In simple terms, the act of a foreign entity settling and proclaiming an area its own.

When colonialists arrived, they found fertile land, terrains that were rich in natural resources and saw an opportunity in these resources that would benefit their homelands. They saw this as a reason to exploit their newfound ''territories'' and enslave the indigenous population as a workforce, as they saw them as inferior.

As the Europeans continued to colonize land for economic gains, they needed to come up with various explanations as to why they were justified in doing it, including, of course, the inferiority of the ethnic minorities whose land they colonized.

Now, how does this factor into the present?

As an example, we can assess colonial indoctrination as it pertains to colourism in India. India is a vast nation, comprised of wide-ranging cultures, features and identities. Despite being home to a wide variety of varying skin tones, the media often shuns us from seeing that diversity from the outside. This is illustrated by how Indian society has been primed for years with the notion that fairer skin is simply better. This notion is further perpetuated by the influx of lightening creams serums present in the state such as “Fair & Lovely,” and “Pond’s White Beauty”.

After India became a British colony, the image of a “Black coloured” Indian was projected as inferior by British public officials. Darker-skinned Indians were less likely to be hired by the British empire and were given odder jobs and more tedious work, while lighter-skinned Indians were perceived as “allies” of the British and were hired more frequently for government roles. Through this, the ideology of being closer to whiteness, and having a lighter skin tone, was seen as more desirable and acceptable in society.

Let's dive into colourism in Hollywood.

Typecasting for music videos and movies is real and colourism is apparent throughout. Black women, of different shades, are subject to being restricted to one type of role. For example, the light-skinned Black woman is usually cast as the smart, alluring and calm protagonist in movies. Whereas, the darker-skinned Black woman is submerged into a plethora of condescending stereotypes when they are cast. This goes for roles such as the strong Black woman and the loud and angry Black women. For, darker-skinned black women, are not given the opportunity to be the lead. When they are subject to these condescending tropes they are limited to being the side character that usually poses a challenge to the lighter-skinned woman.

Due to the narrative that darker-skinned Black women are unattractive, rude and bossy, we see that in movie genres such as Bipocis, Black women that are being portrayed are mostly played by lighter-skinned women. It is clear that casting someone of a lighter shade gives into the desire to have actors that fit Eurocentric standards and appeases the audience. This causes an underrepresentation of Black women in the media - we rarely see ourselves on the big screen. This only feeds the three-headed dragon of colourism, featurism and texturism by perpetuating our shunning of darker skin in favour of racial ambiguity and eurocentrism.

Internalized colourism

Thanks to imperialism and colonialism, we have held or continue to hold a bias that lighter skin, slimmer noses and higher cheekbones are the pinnacles of desirability. This conception is fuelled by the constant anti-black rhetoric that we hear and absorb from a young and tender age.

The phrases ''Don't stand in the sun for too long, you'll get darker'' or '' dark skin women are so angry and difficult'' are just a few examples of the normalized colourist talk we dark-skinned women have to endure daily. What society fails to realize is this internalized colourism within our communities stems from a place of self-hatred. It stems from the want to be closer to western beauty standards and thereby whiteness.

From a young age, we dwell on why our skin isn't fairer. We scratch our skin to see who's goes to the most visible shade of crimson to evaluate who is the closest to whiteness. We beat ourselves up wondering why our knees and knuckles aren't as light as the rest of our bodies, only fuelling the notion that whiteness is superior. Without acknowledging the racist roots of colourism, the tradition of self-hate will continue. Kids will grow up to internalize the stereotype that being darker-skinned is a bad thing when in reality it is a constructed ideology.

Featurism

Featurism is society accepting or preferring certain features over others (i.e. European features over African features). Of course, it isn’t just any type of features but features that uphold the Eurocentric standards of beauty. The concept goes hand-in-hand with colourism. It's the same ideology, just in a phenotypical context.

Imagine living in a world where broader noses, fuller lips and kinky hair were regularly celebrated. A world where these features were always on display as one of the diverse faces of Blackness. In contrast, we see these features being ridiculed. Black women's nostrils have been compared to dogs, our lips to those of monkeys, and our bodies have been objectified to the point of drawing us as beastly animals.

Singer Ari Lennox was one recent victim of this in January. She was repeatedly bullied on Twitter, specifically about her nose. Various Twitter users likened the artist to a dog and called Lennox dehumanizing names.

There have been shifts in this as well. Over the past few years, I have noticed that the features that black women have always had are started being treated as an "aesthetic" when a celebrity decides to adopt a given facial feature. When I was younger, having bigger lips was seen as unattractive and unsightly. Often — being the only black girl throughout most of my academic life in primary school — I was bullied for having lips that were larger than my classmates. However, in 2015 I noticed a monumental shift in which the way larger lips were viewed when Kylie Jenner, a white woman, publically got lip fillers society revised its attitudes towards bigger lips. Getting lip fillers and injections became normalized and, for the first time, accepted by society as a feature of beauty. It wasn't until someone who was non-black got their lips cosmetically altered to appear fuller that society praised it. Meanwhile, Black women have had full lips all along.

As Black women, we have grown up hearing that our features are overly large and masculine. But now, with the emergence of cosmetic adjustments and alterations in non-black women, they're percieved as alluring and beautiful. Black lips are not a trend.

Fox eye trend

"Fox eyes" is a look that involves: shaving off the tail end of your eyebrows (eliminating everything from the arch to the tail) to draw on a straighter brow; using a brown or black eyeshadow to create a sharp, cat-eye flick up towards the temples; and then, adding a touch of the same eyeshadow to the inner corners of your eyes pointing towards the bridge of your nose. The final look aims to create the illusion of upturned, slanted eyes ( — Via HelloGiggles).

On Tiktok, the hashtag #foxeye has already accumulated 72.8 million views, while on Instagram, the hashtag #foxeyes has more than 70,000 posts.

The fox eye trend and eye gesture mimic the eye shape Asian people have been ridiculed for.

This trend is evidently racist towards Asian people, as many have spoken out of, especially given the gesture that is often made when posing for a picture while wearing this makeup look. The pose is achieved by holding the skin up by your eye to create a slanted look. It has been popularised and expressed as ''quirky and pretty'' when a white person does it. For many Asian people, this action triggers memories of ridicule.

Society, again, fails to acknowledge that for centuries, Asians have been bullied and harassed for having smaller and slanted eyes. Asians have grown up hearing songs ("Upward for Japanese. To the side for Chinese. Downward for Korean"), that mock their eye shape and are asked if they are able to see. Now, white celebrities and influencers use this as some sort of racially insensitive "look".

Asian people aren’t applauded for their genetics, but when celebrities like Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner used the fox eye look and gesture did society shift their perception of Asian eyes. Asian eyes are not a trend.

As a society, we must acknowledge the simple fact that BIPOC have been subject to years of mockery because of the features they were born with. Ethnic features are only popularised when non-BIPOC adopt them into their "look" and turn them into trends. These features have been present all along - just not in those considered "beautiful".

Texturism

All hair is not created equal; let's discuss.

Texturism is the preferential treatment of people with looser textured hair and the prejudicial treatment of people with kinkier hair within the same race.

Type 2-3 hair is considered to be ''good hair'', a loose and bouncy curl is considered to be done-up and beautiful. Yet, Type 4 hair needs to be brushed, tamed and slicked back. Coily and Kinky hair needs to be handled as it is "unkempt and untidy". Those with Type 1-3 hair don't face this kind of ridicule as this hair texture is closer to straighter hair; due to its proximity to straight hair that being the display of Western beauty standards being at the top of the hierarchy.

A real-life example of texturism, working together with colourism and featurism, is when it comes to how "presentable" we look. Picture a chilled and relaxed day, one may think to put their hair up into one of those aesthetic Pinterest ''messy buns'' coupled with sweatpants and slippers. Nothing is wrong with this right? Well, it's safe to say that, that view is not maintained when it comes to Black women.

A Black woman has her hair up in a bun, her edges aren't gelled back into presentable swoops, and she has some flyaways. A non-Black woman has the same look, and it is perceived simply as a relaxed outfit. Her bun is messy, but it's aesthetic, it's presentable. A Black woman who steps out of the house dressed like this has the words and phrases ''untidy'', ''unkempt'' and '' you look like you just woke up'' thrown at her.

There is a double standard when it comes to Black beauty. A Black woman will be heavily criticized for her natural features when a non-black woman is essentially in the same state.​

Her hair texture, her skin tone and her natural ethnic features clash with our colourist, featurist and texturist societal standards, working together to perpetuate racism. It is an expectation for Black women to be made-up all the time because society has believes that Black beauty is conditional. We have to give our 110% to make ourselves acceptable to society's eurocentric mind.

Colourism, featurism and texturism work together to actively uphold racism by consistently creating a divide within BIPOC communities, upholding whiteness at the pinnacle of beauty and maintaining Eurocentric features at the top of the hierarchy.

To combat the three-headed dragon of colourism, featurism and texturism we must decolonize our minds and make them free of the idea that white is right. We have to see ourselves as worthy and desirable in our own light, away from the ideas spread by colonial and imperialist influences.