What is the relationship between physical beauty and gender expectations in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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What is made very clear in this book is that it is not simply physical beauty that is important in this novel, but physical beauty as demonstrated by white females. This is what is internalised amongst the female black characters of this novel, as they live in a world where white beauty is constantly presented as being the ideal. The novel is full of subconscious and conscious messages that support this, whether it is in the way that Shirley Temple is adored or the doll that is given to Claudia, that is of course white. What is far more disturbing, however, is the way that adult females are shown to express the hatred they have developed for their own bodies on their children. The novel presents the reader therefore with an incredibly disturbing world, where to be beautiful as a female automatically means being white, and those who are not are left to feel constantly ugly or second best. This is of course why Pecola comes to develop her bizarre fixation on having blue eyes:

It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights—if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different.

Her eyes can only be "beautiful" if they become like the eyes that white people have: that is to say, blue. However, what is interesting about this quotation is that it suggests Pecola believes that not only will blue eyes make her beautiful, but also that blue eyes will give her a different life, changing the "pictures" and "sights" that her eyes had, and giving her a different life where she is not hated and abused.

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