Adults, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers, window signs—all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasured.
Here, Claudia describes what everyone seems to believe to be the standard of beauty: a white girl with blue eyes and yellow hair. This standard is perpetuated not just by advertisements but even by members of Claudia’s own family and local community. Frieda and Pecola both love playing with dolls that fit this description, and they both admire Shirley Temple. Accepting those qualities as the only traits that make someone beautiful is so ingrained in their society that they do not question whether anyone else can be beautiful.
But their ugliness was unique. No one could have convinced them that they were not relentlessly and aggressively ugly.
The narrator describes the appearance of the Breedlove family. Although they are not objectively ugly, their deep-seated belief that they are ugly has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In their world, whiteness is associated with beauty; thus, they believe that, being black, they will never be seen as beautiful. Such a powerful belief in turn seems to alter their appearance. The Breedloves’ conviction that they are ugly demonstrates how appearances run deeper than skin. As they have internalized their ugliness, they can never be happy.
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.
As Pecola reflects on how relentlessly the other children at school tease her about her appearance, she thinks that if she could have blue eyes she would be an entirely different person and would be beautiful. Perhaps if she were beautiful her pain would go away. Rather than focusing on changing the color of her skin or her hair, she only wishes to change the color of her eyes. As she says at a different point in the novel, her eyes function as her windows to the world, and if they were more beautiful, perhaps the world would react more kindly to her.
A little black girl yearns for the blue eyes of a little white girl, and the horror at the heart of her yearning is exceeded only by the evil of fulfillment.
After Pecola goes mad and thinks that her eyes have turned blue, Claudia reflects on how her transformation happened. Claudia, who appears to be the only character in the novel who does not value whiteness and other widely accepted standards of beauty, sees the danger in wishing to change one’s appearance. As Pecola now believes she has blue eyes, she talks with an imaginary friend about her blue eyes incessantly. Once a sweet, quiet girl, Pecola becomes vain and shallow once she believes she has become beautiful.