Thursday, September 16, 2010

In Which CNN Doesn't Get "It"

Liss directed me to an article on CNN entitled “Is Ethnic Beauty the New “It” Factor?” From the article
There was a time when the Caucasian girl-next-door looks of Christie Brinkley, Cindy Crawford and more recently Kate Moss dominated the fashion pages. Then came new fashion icons: Naomi Campbell, Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce - and then Giselle, Kim Kardashian and Shakira.

More voluptuous figures, fuller lips and darker skin, features traditionally associated with women of African, Latin and Asian cultures, are "in." Over the past decade, an appreciation for ethnic beauty has been on the rise, and these natural features are becoming popular among Caucasian women who desire to look more "exotic."

My immediate response was, “Eww.” I’ll give you some reasons why in simple, numbered form.

1) CNN, you’re a little bit late. The New York Times ran a piece way back in 2003 about “Generation E.A.: Ethnically Ambiguous” in which advertising and fashion industry insiders waxed on about the “desire for the exotic, left-of-center beauty.” And you know what T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting discovered when she analyzed the “rise” of Generation E.A. in her book, Pimps Up, Ho’s Down? This:
“Despite the hubbub about Generation E.A., editors and ad executives admit that whiteness continues to dominate the beauty and fashion industries,” (31).
2) There is something creepy and fetish-y and colonizer-y about talking about WoC’s “exotic” beauty, white women’s desire for it, and the commodification of it. “What’s not to love, embrace and emulate about ethnic beauty?” gushes one fashion director. And, yes, the NYT article actually used the word “exotic,” too. They also both, not-so-covertly, define WoC outside the realm of “Americanness.” From the CNN article:
The desire for individuality leads people to embrace the image of ethnic women over typical "cookie-cutter American beauties," said [Marie Claire beauty and health director, Ying] Chu.
And one blogger claimed that “no one wants to just look like the quintessential American girl.”

With regards to the NYT article, Sharpley-Whiting notes that the “left-of-center” designation “still situates whiteness at the center of American beauty culture and darker hues on this schematic shifting to the left,” (31).

3) There is, apparently, “beauty” and “ethnic beauty.” Love that continued disappearing of (the normalizing of) whiteness.

4) This isn’t just about our increasingly multicultural nation. “ ‘Race’ mixing is not a ‘new reality,’” writes Sharpley-Whiting, “America [has never been] as ‘white’ as it believes itself to be,” (30). This is about the beauty myth and those ever-shifting goalposts. Naomi Wolf is right—women are never going to meet the elusive standards. I did agree with the blogger I mentioned in point two that this has less to do with a melting pot and more to do with the “obsession of perfection.” “The beauty standards,” she said, “[are] a bit skewed and contradicting.”

5) To imply that the fashion industry, with its notorious color and race issues is at the forefront of this “trend” is laughable, at best.

6) Speaking of the word trend, now, come on! I mean, the “it” factor? And the claim that the mainstream popularity and visibility of Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez “made the larger, rounder bottom sexy?" This underlying notion, for which I don’t yet have the words, that implies that so-called ethnic beauty needed the affirmation, acceptance, and envy of white people to exist, is infuriating.
Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...