Pacific Women, Beauty and Race: The Communication of Beauty Ideals and the Experiences of Pacific Women in Contemporary Society
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Contemporary notions of beauty embedded in social ideals and values, can have a significant influence on the lived experiences of women. From social class to skin colour and ethnicity, women’s bodies have been largely “defined through a white lens” (p. 65). Poran (2002) and Aduonum (2004) suggest that if women of colour do not voice their concern about unequal representation, they are unlikely to achieve social change. This study recognises a lack of Pasifika representation in the widespread communication of beauty ideals. It seeks to understand the lived experiences of Pasifika women in relation to ideas of beauty, gender and race, drawing comparison with previous studies that have considered hegemonic “whiteness” (Amigo, Bravo, Secail, Lefebure & Burrell, 2016; Osuri, 2008) and resistant black culture through concepts such as Critical Race Theory and intersectionality. To achieve this research objective, this study applies the Pasifika methodology of Talanoa and the method of thematic analysis to both gather and analyse primary data from 12 Pasifika women. Inspired by Kona-helu Thaman’s (1999, cited in Fuka-lino, 2015) development of the Kakala Framework, this study also utilises the metaphor of the Kakala to interpret the process and outcomes of this research. Key findings identified several core tenets central to the experiences of the participants: Mass media and social media both influence formative experiences and an understanding of race, class and gender, which often perpetuates inequality in the pursuit of self-acceptance, social acceptance and concern for their peers. However, in the Pasifika context, personal relationships between friends and family contribute significantly to the perception of beauty ideals that account for the Pasifika traditions of the home, community and church. This study is significant in relation to the wider experiences of women of colour, because it prioritises the voices of Pasifika women who are rarely identified in existing research. In doing so, it highlights the inadequacies and potential consequences of communicated beauty ideals, challenging the value that is placed upon Pasifika women in contemporary society.