Human Interest

Beauty stereotypes in Venezuela tainted by racism

By Sarai Coscojuela

Caracas, Mar 23 (EFE).- When she was young, Eileyn Ugueto always tried to fit into an esthetic that distanced her from the way she was, using light-colored makeup and straightening her Afro hair, but that reality changed when she became an adult and now she proudly displays her dark skin on the streets of Venezuela where – she said – racism exists.

Eileyn, who is also known as “Black Ugueto,” has had to confront racism at school, in her old ballet group and even within her family, all of whom share her same skin color.

“In Venezuela, racism certainly still exists, above all the racism of the very same people within the black community. I experience it more myself in my family or from people for whom I feel an affinity than from other people of African descent,” she told EFE.

She has had to fight against comments about the shape of her nose, her skin color and her hair because “they don’t look professional.”

“It’s always some visual trait that causes you not to fit in, something that’s not right and it always comes from home. Most of the time, my aunts think my way of dressing is extreme, my look, my hair and it’s not because they don’t love me but rather that they simply have the idea that the way I see myself isn’t right, and they have my same skin tone or are even darker,” she said.

According to the Living Conditions Survey (Encovi) conducted by the Andres Bello Catholic University (UCAB), just 4 percent of the Venezuelan population identifies as black, which for Eileyn is an indicator of how people’s “self-perception” works.

Merlyn Pirela, a member of the Cumbe Afro-Venezuelan Women’s Collective, says that the beauty stereotypes noted within a country that closely follows the Miss Venezuela contest each year reveal that “blackness” is not considered good.

“We’re seeing it in our communications media. You can turn on the TV and see what the diversity is that you find in the media on the phenotypic level. You don’t see it; it’s as if we didn’t exist because we live in a country where the patterns of beauty are very delineated, by Miss Venezuela and the fact that there are experts … who say that Venezuelan blackness isn’t attractive,” she told EFE.

Pirela said that there is “differentiated attention” in Venezuela based on the color of people’s skin.

She said that there are also cases of discrimination in local nightspots in eastern Caracas that don’t admit black people using the excuse that they’re not abiding by the locale’s dress code.

“There’s a racism that’s … structural racism. It’s within the structure of society, of a country that comes from that slaveholding past that Venezuela also shares and from which we pull that whole view and perception of Afro people,” she added.

Both Eileyn Ugueto and Merlyn Pirela, however, feel that there has been some progress in Venezuela to reduce racism, including the approval of the Organic Law Against Racial Discrimination.

Pirela said that this law, approved in 2011 and reformed in 2021, was necessary to be able to educate the public about the issue and provide protection to all those people who may become victims of racial discrimination.

In addition, there have been other initiatives to put the discussion of black people on the table, including podcasts or education projects oriented toward teaching people how to style and take care of Afro hair.

Pirela said that to keep on moving forward it’s necessary to promote audiovisual initiatives to show reference points that enable the youngest in society to identify themselves properly and “also grow up happy and free.”

Meanwhile, Eileyn says that society must work on self-recognition because Venezuelans have “too much African descent.”

“I think that very few people in this country can say that they’re not of African descent. Just because I’m more brown than other people doesn’t mean that we don’t have the same roots,” she said.

If this can be achieved, she said, it would create a level of empathy that would permit people to understand one another and “stop looking at each other as different.”

EFE sc/bp

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