I’m Brittany and I’m a Youth Development Volunteer serving in Northern Peru. Youth Development is kind of an ambiguous term but unfortunately my region has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS transmission in Peru and so for me it means working with my local hospital on sexual health education initiatives for teenagers. I’m currently serving a regional representative on our Diversity Task Force which we love to immaturely call DTF. The committee seeks to enhance knowledge and encourage understanding of diversity and inclusion through volunteer led trainings. I’ve been out on my own and host family-less for about 6 months now and God, I couldn’t be happier about that!
1) What does feeling beautiful in Peace Corps mean to you?
However, when I moved to my site, I made a conscious decision to change how I made myself feel beautiful. To be 100% real, because I’m Black in a region where a lot of people have never seen a Black person before, I deal with a ridiculous amount of staring and gawking every day and the clothes I would wear during PST, although completely professional, were really different from the types of clothes people wore in my town and it made the unwanted attention that I already loathed so much sky rocket. I learned really quickly that if I wanted to minimize my unwanted attention, I should switch to a more casual jeans and t-shirt routine.
On top of that, my site is extremely hot and some days I sweat so much I could water the empty grass lot across the street from my house so for me, putting on makeup is just a sad, futile mission. Instead, I just try to take really great care of my skin so that I have a smooth, clean complexion. I’ve had all my favorite face washes, lotions, and masks sent over from the States and I really take pride in my skin routine. I have the awful curse of adult acne, but honestly, my skin has never been in better condition because here, I really take the time to make sure that I’m taking care of my skin. Every time I look in the mirror and I just see clear skin, it really does make me feel extremely beautiful and with that confidence boost I’m ready to leave my apartment and face whatever Peru is going to throw my way that day.
2)What are some of the cultural beauty standards at your site? Do you find yourself trying to meet those standards or not?
The beauty standards at my site are very similar to the beauty standards that most Peruvians subscribe too and that’s the lighter the skin, the straighter and blonder the hair the the more beautiful you are. It breaks my heart really because most Peruvians don’t even come close to looking like that. Once, I told a class of students that I loved my skin, my lips, my nose, and my hair and they told me they were surprised to hear me say that because they thought everybody would want to be “mas blanco” or more white. Needless to say positive self image is a struggle bus here.
3)What are some beauty tricks that you’ve learned in Peace Corps?
One thing I was so super big on in the States was always making sure my eyebrows were threaded to perfection. Let me tell you, I never, ever missed an appointment with my threading lady! So when I came to Peace Corps, I knew I would need to figure out how to do my own. So I bought me some tweezers in Lima and I spent all day watching “How to Tweeze Your Eyebrows” videos on YouTube. Now, I’m not saying my eyebrows are as shapely as they are when they’re threaded, but definitely way better than if I just let them be.
4)Have you found it harder to meet American Beauty Standards or the Standards at your site?
Although I think things are definitely changing when it comes to what Americans generally find beautiful, I still don’t think I necessarily fit into the American Standard of Beauty either. People with darker skin tones, kinkier hair, etc have historically been underrepresented in the world of beauty but every day I see more an more products that come out that are marketed to people who look like me – different make up lines, hair products, and nude color products for people with darker skin.
Even though America still has some work to do in terms of having a more inclusive standard of beauty it’s still WAY, WAY, WAY, easier to find products for my hair or make up for my skin tone. In Peru you can’t find those things anywhere really unless you’re at a MAC counter in Lima.