Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the way I grew up, and, along with that, the ideals I grew up with. Being the child of two immigrants, my life was quite different from many of my friends and peers. The way I looked was obviously different, but so was the food I ate, and clothes I wore, and the music I listened to. Actually, compared to some of my other Indian friends, my life was more ‘Americanized’ than average. I held onto my foreign roots, but naturally always identified more as American than Indian. I guess this is why I grew to develop some strong-held eurocentric ideals that until reflecting on, I didn’t even realize I held.
The Collins dictionary defines eurocentric as “centering on Europe or emphasizing the values, history, perspective, etc. of the European tradition.” In those words, being eurocentric sounds a lot like being egotistical or self-centered. In reality, though, eurocentric ideals are not only those held by white Europeans, they are often held in the highest regard by minorities who have simply grown up around a vast majority of what they learned was normal, even right. It’s interesting how one’s entire existence can be classified as wrong, and in my opinion, it is this unconscious classification that can lead to a lot of doubt and confusion, especially in young, impressionable minds.
Eurocentrism often comes up in regard to beauty standards. Nowadays, in 2022, we see large American companies making more of an effort to include a diverse representation of models. Still, the western model of “being thin and tall, having long hair, having light skin, having big breasts, large eyes, a small nose, and high cheekbones” (International Socioeconomic Laboratory) has come to become the ‘gold standard’ in countries all over the globe. In India, people smear ‘Fair and Lovely’ on their skin to get closer to the western complexion. All over the world women get plastic surgery to enhance various parts of their bodies. And, somehow, thinness has become the primal objective in almost every country. The constant repetition of these criteria is nothing new and it probably has affected all individuals, regardless of race or culture, at some point in their lives. Eurocentric beauty ideals exist, but rightfully are continuing to be challenged in industry and media. However, there are also more subtle ways in which eurocentrism manifests itself, often going undiscussed.
For any minority, the easiest way to identify these manifestations is to ask: “when have I ever felt like my existence was abnormal?” I can guess that there are at least a few instances that came to mind. The reason for this is all due to eurocentrism; it has become so ingrained in each of us that the western way of living is the correct one. One western ideal which I held to for a long time is that of health. Until hot yoga and overpriced turmeric lattes became popular, I always viewed healthy as solely American. I guess this is ironic due to the fact that it has been proven time and time again that America is one of the least healthy countries. Regardless, I still learned in school that a healthy plate looked like one with grilled chicken, quinoa, and broccoli, never thinking that my daal and chapatis were packed with plant-based protein, whole grains, and spiced with vitamin-rich turmeric, ginger, and cumin. In the past few years, trends from my culture have waxed and waned in popularity, but I still always had a lingering feeling that my way of eating, with my hands, course by course, was flawed. It is not necessarily because anyone told me it was wrong or outwardly made fun of me, but simply because I idealized what I saw surrounding me. I used this same logic for many facets of life — thinking that my way of living did not meet the perfections I conjured in my head.
As I grow older, having discussions with those of different cultures, habits, and values, I have learned the dangers of a eurocentric way of thinking. The scary thing about it is that living in a western bubble, there is never anyone to challenge those beliefs. Although America is a melting pot, in terms of ideals, the minority will always be the minority. Today I affirm to you that you are not wrong, and you never have been. Just because the way you live does not perfectly match those around you does not mean that there is something you need to change. Instead, what needs to change is our mindset around what standards we hold our lifestyle to. There is no one way to be beautiful, or one way to eat healthily, or one way to dance or dress or live. Not only does each country have its right way of doing things, but so does each individual.
“Eurocentrism is quite simply the colonizer’s model of the world” -J.M. Blaut