Beauty Is Only Skin Deep

by Alice Zhang | 5/9/18 2:15am

In a world infatuated with photoshopped supermodels and airbrushed celebrities, many struggle with coming to terms with their own sense of beauty and style. But how has the Dartmouth culture shaped the ways in which different people express their beauty and style while at Dartmouth?

Huong “Bryce” Nguyen ’21 is an international student from Vietnam. Growing up, Nguyen regularly watched American television, which she says gave her a perspective on the two cultures’ perceptions of beauty. Nguyen described her style as a combination of Vietnamese and American styles.

“There’s no definite standard that everyone has to uphold because what’s ugly for one culture is considered beautiful in another,” she said. “It’s really about being comfortable in your own skin and knowing that however you choose to look, somebody somewhere will love it.”

She believes that the beauty standards in Vietnam were more restrictive.

“[In Vietnam,] girls have to have a fair complexion, which is near impossible given how hot it is here all year round, and are expected to maintain a high level of maintenance,” she said.

But perhaps because of her immersion in both cultures, Nguyen has come to embrace her flaws. However, she acknowledges that her journey to self-acceptance was a long process.

“I had typically ‘undesirable’ features like a flat nose, small eyes and tanned skin ... I was the center of criticism in the family,” Nguyen said. “But at one point, I told myself that there’s nothing wrong with those things. It’s just all relative, and people’s opinions are really baseless. If I inherently mean no harm to others, then I am a good person, and that should be all that matters.”

As she came to Dartmouth, she realized that people in Hanover and America accept and desire tanned skin because they associate it with an active, healthy lifestyle.

“Most people think I am really confident and bold in my style choices,” Nguyen said. “But secretly, I am really shy and self-conscious about myself, a by-product of my Vietnamese upbringing, which required me to be hypercritical of myself. In a way, the way I express my [Americanized] style is my way to subvert Vietnamese cultural values, which I think are suffocating.”

Vi Alvord ’20 also learned to express their own style and beauty while at Dartmouth.

Toward the beginning of their first year at Dartmouth, Alvord was also involved in varsity sailing. Alvord said that they tried to suppress their gender fluid identity while on the team because they believed that a successful team warranted respect.

“I needed to be as feminine as possible, and I needed to [have] very upper class style,” Alvord recalled. “I remember I was wearing, like, all the most expensive things I owned just because I knew that they would see the brand and be like, ‘Oh, you’re one of us.’”

In high school, Alvord said they weren’t this way.

“I was very self-expressive, like kinda weird ... but very confident in a way that people didn’t actually care,” Alvord said.

After realizing that they were not living a “sustainable lifestyle,” Alvord realized that they needed to rediscover themselves. They said that their roommate at Alpha Theta encouraged them to enforce their use of gender non-conforming pronouns.

But Alvord said that even though they enforced their pronouns, trying to find their place was still difficult.

“Everybody wants the women to be beautiful, lustrous, long haired, angelic,” they said. “But with the men, you want them to be ragey and outgoing and almost to the point where they’re out of control. There’s literally no intersection or in between.”

Nonetheless, Alvord’s decision to enforce gender non-conforming pronouns has caused many to change their behavior toward Alvord. Alvord states that many men will back out of a conversation with Alvord once they find out about Alvord’s gender non-conforming pronoun preferences.

“It’s like somebody who might have previously approached me in a frat basement because they thought that I was a beautiful woman will now see me and be like, ‘What the f*** is that.’ But they would’ve respected me before,” they said.

Alvord believes that much of this issue has to do with the Dartmouth culture.

“It’s not even as much of a conflict as it is just irritation with popular culture here, which is the hookup culture makes self-identified women sexual objects and ... they don’t care who you are ... I think that if you seem down and you seem like a woman, then I think that they’re like, ‘Okay let’s go,’” Alvord said. “And sometimes you don’t even need to actually be down, they’ll just take advantage of you, which is sad, but true.”

Despite these conflicts, Alvord states that their decision was the right one. At Transform, a fashion show part of Dartmouth’s Pride Week celebration of the LGBTQIA community, Alvord shaved parts of their hair off and decided to dye their hair green.

“I’m no longer willing to compromise my identity with my social acceptance,” Alvord said. “[It’s] tough to grapple with, but also there’s no question on who you should choose. You should always choose yourself.”

Marina Liot ’21 has also overcome the struggle of self acceptance. Liot has lived in the Upper Valley for most of her life.

“Growing up in New Hampshire, I was one of very few African-Americans in my school and often felt like I was on other side of conventional beauty standards,” she said.

However, she was able to overcome many of these pressures through the support of her family.

“In my household, inner beauty was very important and offered a counterbalance to the pressure I faced at school to look like everyone else,” Liot said. “[It] forced me to become more resilient and independent and focus on my personal well-being, instead of comparing myself to others.”

Regardless of how people perceive the physical beauty of others, Nguyen states that the most important form of beauty is inner beauty.

“Inner beauty, by definition, has nothing to do with outer appearance,” Nguyen said. “My philosophy is to be as kind as possible. I think kindness really helps not only people around me but also myself. It helps me stay at peace with the world.”