by Latoya Peterson
Alongside the tragic mulatto myth, the idea that being mixed is somehow “futuristic” or modern, and the idea that mixed people will be better, faster, and stronger (also called the “hybrid vigor” myth), one of the enduring features about discussions of mixed race individuals is that “hotness” always surfaces.
Allure serves up a double dose of stereotypes, weaving hotness and hybrid vigor into one creepy, objectifying article called “Faces of the Future.” In their November 2009 issue, writer Rebecca Mead fawns over biracial superbabies and more specifically, the wonderful aesthetic of mixed race people. After starting off with statistics about the 6.8 million Americans who self-identified as mixed on the last census, the article launches right into dehumanization:
Take, for example, Alicia Thacker, a 27-year-old public-school teacher whom Marilyn Minter has been photographing for nearly a decade, ever since Thacker completed a painting class that Minter was teaching in New York City. Thacker, who has pale skin, freckles, full lips, and a vast cloud of curly hair, is part Barbadian, part German, part Irish, part Creole, part Scottish, part African American, and part Blackfoot. (People usually think she is Hispanic, the one thing she isn’t.) In short, it didn’t take a melting pot to create Thacker – more like a full scale chemistry laboratory.
A chem lab? Really? She’s a human being, not a compound. And I’m not sure that sex counts as biological tinkering.
The photographer, Minter (who also provided the photos to Allure to accompany the article) also shares some of the fetish-based zeal as the writer:
Minter thinks women like Thacker “are more interesting looking humans – they are extraordinary-looking, and so much more beautiful than the flawless blue eyed blonds,” […]
That was revealing. Minter adds a double reinforcement of the ultimate beauty standard – blue eyed blonds are “flawless” but mixed people are “interesting.” I stopped that quote early, but Mead picks up with:
[…] says the photographer, whose other subjects in the portfolio include Victoria Brito, who is Brazilian and Austrian – and looks as blonde as an Alpine maiden and at the same time as sultry as the girl from Ipanema; Melissa Kurland, who is part German and part Filipina; and green-eyed Nell Robinson, whose name is English sounding but whose heritage is also Jamican, Portuguese, and Hispanic.
After spending a few paragraphs trumpeting the soon to be dominance of the mixed-race aesthetic, Mead ends, saying:
Perhaps a time will arrive when faces such as hers are seen not so much as beautifully extraordinary, but simply as extraordinarily beautiful.
I know it seems a little counter-intuitive to be upset about an article that highlights a type of beauty outside of mainstream ideal, but the overemphasis on mixed race beauty is both a fetish and a positive stereotype.
Also, the tone of the article starts to become a bit more sinister when you like at what type of beauty is highlighted. Almost all of the models featured would easily pass the paper bag test (Victoria Brito is a possible exception), and most boast small noses and full lips, and lots of hair (both curly and straightened), things that still fit into standard beauty ideals. A while ago, Carmen and I discussed body image and race on ATR, and Carmen mentioned something that always stuck with me. She said that one of the things she noticed growing up mixed race in Hong Kong was that many of the compliments given to her were based on her features that were closer to white. In many ways, this article reinforces that idea, especially given the common misconception that mixed race equals white plus other. Not only does Mead erase mixed race people who do not fit these paradigms of beauty, but also feeds the idea that mixed race people are apolitical beings whose main contribution to society is their appearance.
I don’t think its too much to ask to work toward a beauty standard that is inclusive of all types of beauty – not a half-assed acceptance based on fetishes and stereotypes.
(Pictured: Melissa Kurland)
More Myths About Mixed Race People, from the Mixed Media Watch Vault
20/20 Gimme a Break (Tragic Mulatto Myth)
ATR 5 (Carmen’s Rant on the Tragic Mulatto Myth)
Exotic: Nicole Scherzinger (On the overuse of the word exotic)
When mixed race identity is used to further racism (How our discussions about race are inadequate)
What’s black and white and sad all over? (Tragic Mulatto Myth)
Are we all going to be latte? (Representations)
Zadie Smith is ‘not that multicultural’ (Zadie Smith confronts stereotypes)
Cashing in on a mixed kid’s fair skin (Colorism)
“Mixed” = advantageous (On assumptions that mixed people are trying to deny their “dark side”)
Mixed people will fix racism, right?
“Real people” = mixed people? (on ideas of representation)
Half Asian is the new white? (Hybrid Vigor)
Hyphen takes a look at “the Multiracial Dream”
Hybrid vigor in Sports Illustrated
Scientifically beautiful!? (Using “science” to promote positive stereotypes)
And Carmen’s talk, Cute But Confused: Myths and Realities About Mixed Race Identity: