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New Tony Peralta Exhibit Explores Racial Beauty Standards

An Exhibit to Make You Re-Think What "Beauty" Really Means


Artist Tony Peralta's new exhibition, "Complejo," focuses on the way we decide what's attractive within cultures. It's a subject he's thought about since growing up Dominican-American in a culture that largely valued light skin and straight hair.

"My mom would say things like 'I don't know how you came out with such bad hair. It must be from your father's side,'" Peralta told NY1. "And she'd say it with humor, but as a young child, that starts picking at your self-esteem. And then there's the color issue, too — me being the darkest one in my family, and so never being the 'handsome' one."

Peralta says he was also inspired to create the exhibition by baseball great (and fellow Dominican-American) Sammy Sosa's significantly lightened skin and straightened hair, and some of the pieces in his installation are posters for a fictional Sosa-endorsed whitening cream.

Peralta is exposing two very specific constructs here, but there are lots of other arbitrary beauty norms, too. What beauty "standard" has always bothered you the most? And if you were going to mount an exhibition like this, how would you handle it?

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CalidaA CalidaA 5 years
This is very interesting! I wish I could see the exhibit too! It was the opposite for me: Since my family grew up Cambodian, I always thought I was too light and all my darker friends were gorgeous brown and caramel colors with big eyes and lovely skin texture~ They'd say that I "glowed" but I felt like a bicycle-reflector in the sun when they said that! After tracing back to my line of ancestors, I found out that I'm ethnically Chinese, which explains my small eyes, light skin (that easily reddens) and my inability to tan LOL. It was a long time after that that I started to embrace my skin color and my thick-thick-thick hair. I love the fact that I'm light skinned, and take care of it now by NOT trying to tan and being very vigilant on the sunscreen applications! I embrace what I have and try to enhance my best features instead of wishing myself to look different. The only thing I'd still like to change: My overall health/figure and my skin's health. But I'm working on those! :D
Annie-Tomlin Annie-Tomlin 5 years
I wish I could see this exhibition. I'm perpetually interested in the way we define beauty in our culture, and how so much of it still revolves around a traditionally white — that is, straight hair and light skin — ideal, despite the racial and cultural diversity in the States. I do think we've made *some* progress toward highlighting a wider array of beauty, but realistically, there's a long, long way to go. A lot of feminists and female artists have already called attention to skin bleaching creams and how they perpetuate the "light is right" idea, but I'm particularly interested in Peralta's viewpoint as a man. It's been a while since I've read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which is about a fictional Dominican-American family, but it still gave insight into what's considered pretty in the DR and on the East Coast. If anyone goes to this exhibit, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
bryseana bryseana 5 years
I think racism is still the biggest problem.
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