Tag Archives: beauty

Remembering My Brown-Skinned Dolls

by Guest Contributor Daily Chicana, originally published at The Daily Chicana

Last night, I finished reading Junot Diaz’s The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend. The title character is an obese Dominican “ghetto nerd” obsessed with the “more speculative genres,” such as sci-fi, fantasy, and apocalyptic narratives. One element of the novel that I find I’m reflecting most on is Diaz’s suggestion that the history of rape, genocide, dictatorships and abuse of power that make up the central historical narrative of the Americas–with the island of Hispaniola, today’s Haiti and Dominican Republic, as ground zero of the creation of the New World–are just as fantastical as any speculative novel. In other words, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, and the like have nothing on the true, gut-wrenching tales that emerge from Caribbean history and its resulting diaspora.

One quote in particular stood out to me: Oscar wonders aloud,

If we were orcs, wouldn’t we, at a racial level, imagine ourselves to look like elves? (178)

I love the moments like this where Oscar connects his beloved fantastical creatures to his everyday experience of race. I’m not actually into Lord of the Rings, btw; I never read Tolkien and only understand what Oscar’s talking about because my ex-husband forced me to see all three LOTR movies with him. So in case you don’t know an orc from an elf, Oscar is comparing the orcs, despised and hovering at the lower end of the hierarchy:

to the elite, golden elves, so genteel and immortal:

The question he poses is a sci-fi version of Toni Morrison’s Bluest Eye. It’s about the extreme impact, over time, that racial self-hatred has on one’s self-esteem and psyche. What happens to us when we never see positive representations of ourselves? Continue reading

Dark Girls: A Review of a Preview [Culturelicious]

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

**TRIGGER WARNING**

I recognize the women in this preview: these women were me when I was growing up. The kids at my mostly black Catholic school called me just about every black-related perjorative ever since 3rd grade, letting me know and telling others within my earshot that I was physically inferior solely because I was dark-skinned. I even remember a boy in my 7th grade class drew a picture of me being nothing more than a solid black square. Even though the same kids voted me 8th grade class president…I was still considered in their estimation an ugly (vis-a-vis my skin tone) girl. Even had the only boy who was my boyfriend (we were in 8th grade) dump me for a lighter-skinned and younger girl, to the mocking laughter of the lighter-skinned students.

My mom—a dark-skinned African American herself—told me something that didn’t make any sense through my woundedness: “You know those light-skinned girls people think are pretty in school? Wait ‘til you’re grown and see where you’re at and where they’re at.” Added to this was my mom’s constant admonition to “get an education.” Well, sure enough, what my mom said came to pass. I’ve had photographers approach me and ask to photograph me. I had lovers of various hues—even had a husband. (He was white.) And women of various hues, races, and ethnicities have given me love on the streets, at the job, and at workshops.

I’m not sure how—or even if—some of the women in the clip worked through the pain some black people have inflicted on them. But, instead of the usual devolving, derailing, and erasing conversations of “that’s happened to me, too, though I’m a lighter-skinned black person!” (that’s a thread for another post) or “it wasn’t me! I’m a down black person!” (will be met with an exasperated eyeroll)…it would be a really good thing to simply listen to these women’s truths, as uncomfortable–sometimes, as implicating–as they may be.

Transcript after the jump.

Dark Girls: Preview from Bradinn French on Vimeo.

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Quoted: Miss Navajo Nation Radmilla Cody

The Root: The experience of having your Miss Navajo Nation reign challenged calls to mind the debate over the Cherokee Freedmen. Is this a common issue across the Native community, of African-Native Americans having trouble finding acceptance?

Radmilla Cody: I grew up having to deal with racism and prejudices on both the Navajo and the black sides, and when I ran for Miss Navajo Nation, that especially brought out a lot of curiosity in people. It’s something that we’re still having to address as black Natives, still having to prove ourselves in some way or another, because at the end of the day, it all falls back to what people think a Native American should look like.

But there’s been many times when people have said to me, “Oh, my great-great-grandmother was an Indian.” I’ll ask them if they know what tribe, and they don’t. It’s very important because in order to be acknowledged as a tribal member, you have to be enrolled. So I can see where Native people are protective about defining who’s a tribal member, and are questioning of people claiming Native ancestry.

TR: Were you surprised by the backlash that you received?

RC: I wasn’t surprised. I knew it was going to happen. Right before I left to go to compete in the pageant, my grandmother sat down with me. She said to me, “My child, I just want you to know that there are going to be some people who are not going to be accepting of this.”

Growing up, I was taunted at school with racial slurs and would come home in tears. My grandmother would be there, waiting to console me. She always said, “Let ‘em talk. You are a Navajo woman. This is your land. This is how I raised you. You be proud of who you are.” Every time, that’s what she would say.

So this day before the pageant, when she cautioned me about people who wouldn’t be accepting of me participating, I turned around and told her, “Let ‘em talk, Grandma. I’m a proud Navajo woman, remember?” She had a big smile on her face. I think she felt content that I was ready for what I was going to be challenged with.

TR: Do you have any connection to African-American culture and community?

RC: I spent more time in the Navajo community growing up because my grandmother raised me. When I would come into town in Flagstaff, Ariz., to see my mom, who had black friends, and my dad’s relatives, I was in the black community more. I went to high school in Flagstaff, and one day a friend was wearing a T-shirt with a big “X” on it. I said, “That’s cool! I should get one that says ‘R’ for Radmilla!” I didn’t know anything about Malcolm X. He told me to join the black student organization. I had a lot to educate myself about and embrace, because I come from two beautiful cultures.

In the black community I also had my challenges. I was always told, “You think you’re cute because you got that long, fine hair,” and I would have to stand up for my Navajo side because of stereotypes placed upon the Navajo. When I’d go back to the Navajo community, I would have to stand up for my black side because of stereotypes.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Image credit: unieketrouwringen.nl

Allure’s “Faces of the Future” Promotes Stereotypes About Mixed People

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.
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The Brazil Files: Bela or Bust Part 3 – On Race

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

Continued from “Bela or Bust Part 2 - On Class” . . .

“We always want what we can’t have,” so the saying goes, a saying that is most fitting to describe the intersection of race and the significance of beauty in Brazil. Though many Americans think of a raven haired, dark-eyed, sun-kissed, bronze “cutie with a booty,” the standard for physical beauty in Brazil is anything but. In fact, when it comes to looks, fair skin, light eyes, and straight, blonde hair spell attractive forwards, backwards, and sideways.

When asked of the women by my male friends, as I mentioned in the introduction of this series, my reply was often what they were not expecting to hear, nor were my descriptions of the food, weather, and my ability to walk around freely, unmolested by criminals. The Brazil so many people were expecting could not be found in the stories I told. But even I was in for some surprises, one of them being how white film, television, magazines, and many other forms of media happened to be.

The surprise was not that whites were all over the television. Brazil has a large white population, made up primarily of several generations of Italians, Germans, and Portuguese, not to mention Spaniards, Syrians, Lebanese, Britons, and a few more recent French stragglers. Yet the concentration of said whites is its highest in the southern region of Brazil which, as a result of having a less slavery-dependent more immigrant labor-dependent economy, happens to be more wealthy, developed, and progressive than most of the states in the northern region, where poverty is at its worst. The surprise for me was that in comparison to Brazil’s diverse population, even diverse in terms of what was deemed white, television did not come close. The majority of people who were protagonists on television programs, at least those set in Brazil and not including foreign-based film or television programs (i.e. imported American or European sitcoms and reality shows) were practically Nordic – light eyes, light skin, and light hair.

While Brazilian tv has become increasingly more diverse over the years, as has the business of product promotion and advertising, it nevertheless continues to rely on whiteness to sell an image of success, wealth, and happiness. When coupled with the reality that whites still hold the majority of the nation’s wealth and political power, this image is all the more unsettling. Not only does the whiteness serve as shorthand for all these things, but with class as a determining factor of general worth, whiteness comes at a special premium. It means you’re automatically beautiful as well.

If I had a dollar for every time someone fawned over olhos claros (light eyes) or loiras (blonde women), I would be a billionaire. Bottle blondes, or in other words, women with dark hair who ended up with that unfortunate orange hue on their heads instead of flaxen, sandy, or gold, could be spotted in high numbers, as could the men who broke their necks with their passing. But most of all, there is the business of hair straightening. If one is not already born into whiteness, and cannot fit into the quintessential beauty associated with those on the lightest end of the spectrum, hair is one way to come infinitely close. Continue reading

The Brazil Files: Bela or Bust Part 2 – On Class

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

Continued from “Bela or Bust: Part 1: On Gender” . . .

Author’s note: My apologies for the delay between part one and part two! I have recently moved back to the United States and in between re-adjusting and job hunting, I had not had the chance or the mental clarity to sit down and actually write!

The popular anecdote goes “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” If I were to rephrase this expression to fit Brazil, I’d say “Beauty is next to Wealth.” Though Brazil has grown considerably with tourism, natural resources, and factory-based goods as its largest sectors of revenue, on the ground, the class divide is evident and going strong. One ironic way to overcome class and bridge the class divide, at least superficially, is through a well-kept appearance. I say ironic here because in order to appear a social or economic equal, one must continue to consume, thus depleting one’s income, even if it is far from disposable.

Luckily for many Brazilian women, maintaining one’s physical appearance is not so heavy a financial task. Even in large cities, one can get an amazing manicure/pedicure for less than $20 reais ($10 USD), a facial for $50 reais ($25 USD), a “Brazilian” wax for $15 reais (known there as “depilação de virilha”; $7 USD) and multiple sessions of lymphatic massage for $100 reais a month ($50 USD). In comparison to the cost of aesthetic maintenance in the United States, Brazilian women are the fortunate ones. In some ways, the cheap costs, even for the average Brazilian, allow for a democratization of access to beauty, whereas in the U.S., this is not so much the case. And when one can find cheap beauty related services in the U.S., the question of service, quality, and even employee rights follows the far too reasonable price tag.

With relatively equal access to stellar services, many women have access to maintaining an image that puts them physically on par with their wealthier counterparts. In other words, she may not be rich, but at least her looks are equal to if not superior to someone with greater material wealth. In the United States, this “phenomenon” of sorts, democratization and equality by way of the physical, can be witnessed in the purchase of clothing and vehicles by those of a lower income. As quality attire is not nearly as expensive in the States as it is in Brazil (due mainly to import taxation and trade issues) and the intellectual property rights of high end designers are often violated by chain stores like H&M and Forever 21, people of the working and lower middle classes have greater access to some of the same clothing styles worn by the rich. As wealth, at least in the past, seemed less of a precarious state in the U.S., the preoccupation with “looking rich” was not evident. In fact, I would go as far as to argue that in many cases, the wealthy in the States can be indistinguishable from the general public (look at stores like Urban Outfitters, which peddles the image of tattered, vintage, and reconstructed clothing at a high price). This is not the case in Brazil, where the wealthy can be spotted from miles away. Continue reading

The Brazil Files: Bela or Bust Part 1 – On Gender

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse 

Continued from “Bela or Bust (Introduction)” . . .

Author’s note:
I recognize that to say that the preoccupation with being beautiful for women in Brazil boils down to three separate entities is oversimplifying. Gender, class, and race obviously intersect constantly and are difficult to consider beyond their Venn diagram-like existence. Yet for the sake of clarity and hopefully accessibility, I have decided to discuss this topic in three parts: 1) gender, 2) class, and 3) race.

Despite Brazil being one of the most powerful countries in Latin America, it is still working to develop an image that coincides with the nations with which it frequently interacts for diplomatic purposes and international recognition. While issues surrounding class are certainly a cause for shame to the Brazilian national identity, one of the other issues on its pulse for change is gender. Brazil has undergone rapid change in the last few decades in terms of women’s equality, with women moving from predominately domestic roles to working beyond the home and holding positions of power. Yet even with these achievements, the obsession with physical perfection has not dwindled, though in Brazil’s case, advances in women’s rights and an extensive beauty regimen are not necessarily at odds. In fact, in an ironic twist, what some women in the United States may find as a sign of oppression has become a mark of power and success.

Having grown up in the South, I’m accustomed to seeing women spend hundreds of dollars a month on their appearance and hours on maintaining it, but when I moved to Brazil, I was sincerely shocked to see that in both small towns and big cities, full-service beauty salons were everywhere, including people’s homes. Many Brazilians know someone who knows someone who does waxing, hair straightening, and nails in the back of her house. As Brazil has one of the largest informal labor sectors in the world, beauty certainly makes up a large part of this statistic, mean that many women have additional job opportunities even when they remain in the home. From Avon, Racco, and Mary Kay sales to nail care and lymphatic massage, the opportunities for a supplemental income are endless and easily accessible for women of all walks of life.

An intense focus on beauty has also been a mark of pride for women, especially as they climb socially. With more women each year entering the workforce in Brazil, peer recognition and respect are contingent on appearance. As more women hold positions of power, the pressure to remain beautiful only grows, as it can sometimes guarantee a better position and internal advancement within a company. However, this is not a phenomenon that is exclusive to Brazil, as this situation is often repeated in the United States, yet to a less obvious degree.

At this point, some of you may be asking what exactly I am implying when I say things like “intense focus on beauty” or “extensive beauty regiment.” When I say this, I am talking about what we would consider “high maintenance” in the United States as the accepted norm for women’s appearance. A woman must always be “bem arrumada.” This means that even when one goes grocery shopping, heels, nice clothes, and styled hair is the norm. One of my students once told me that she felt absolutely dirty when her nails were not done, and another informed me she would never leave the house with wet hair because that was super “pobre” (“ghetto”). Sure, some of the beauty norms make total sense, particularly those related to hygiene and personal maintenance (i.e. frequent waxing) considering the heat and beach cultures of some regions of Brazil. There is also a cultural connection in that just as many Americans obsess over cleanliness, Brazilians often obsess about neatness. This desire to be neat and clean goes beyond the household and can be easily observed in people’s overall appearance. But in terms of the daily need to be basically perfect, a pressure that is placed disproportionately on women, there is certainly room for questioning and criticism.

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The Brazil Files: Bela* or Bust (Introduction)

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

“So, are the girls hot?”

This is the most common question I receive from American men when I explain that I have been living in Brazil. These men come from all walks of life, are of various racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds, and of varying levels of education, exposure to other countries, etc. Long story short, this question seems to be on the minds of many men. It is, for better or for worse, a universal curiosity.

But in my response, I quickly put things in perspective.

“Well, for one, Ugly travels. I see just as many unattractive people in Brazil as I do in the States, and equally as many beautiful people on both sides as well. But I can safely say that the majority of women in Brazil work really hard to be beautiful, more so than the majority of American women.”

There are usually follow-up questions about body types (butts being the primary focus, of course) and clothing styles (are the clothes all skimpy?) and I handle those accordingly. The preoccupation with appearance in Brazil-related questions is to be expected considering that one of the primary portrayals of Brazil in the United States relates to beach culture, scantily-clad women, and sex. But when one takes the time to consider the reasons behind the high standards of beauty in Brazil, it is obvious that there is more to being beautiful and participating in the process of achieving that than just a bikini wax or the perfect nails. Beauty in Brazil is a complex matter involving gender, race and, most certainly, class. Continue reading