True Beauty, and Race

Howdy Folks!!

I thought I’d start my blog off with some fun, lightweight topics-like race and beauty 🙂 What can I say, I’ve been thinking about them a lot these past few days. Have you seen the Dove “True Beauty” ad campaign? A woman sits behind a curtain and describes herself to a (male) sketch artist. She gets drawn without ever being seen. Then, a friend comes in and describes that same woman, and a drawing is made from that description. The two drawings are hung side by side, and the woman looks at them, realizes she is much lovelier than she thinks, and cries about it. Lather, rinse, repeat.

What’s all the fuss about? I have friends who were all “OMG watch this made me weep-so powerful!” and friends who went absolutely nuts being MAD about it. I fall somewhere in the middle, I guess. #1-I am always, always pro something that makes ladies feel good about themselves. No matter what. So for that reason, I like this campaign. However, I feel like it’s a little skeezy in that it’s message is about outer beauty, full stop. It’s like, “you’re WAY thinner and younger-looking than you think!” which totally misses the point that a)we don’t need to be young and thin to be beautiful and b) being beautiful is not the end-all, be-all we’ve made it into. By pushing youth and thin-ness as the ideal of beauty, but saying “relax, you fit that mold”, you’re just reinforcing the mold. And I am not okay with that. Where were the older gals? Women of color? Heck, where were the brunettes? All of this bothers me.

Now, ad campaigns are not primarily moral vehicles. If I laugh at the Budweiser frogs selling me beer, why not just take this and enjoy it? I think I’m upset about the ad clearly aiming for the high ground. “Trust us, we CARE about you and your real beauty.” Which is made all the more insidious when you know that Dove is owned by Unilever, who sells Axe men’s stuff, as well as some pretty scary “whitening” creams overseas. You read that right-in parts of Asia, you can buy a bleaching cream that will make you look whiter. That grosses me out in so many ways. (Does a corporation have a responsibility to make its message universal across all its product lines? Can you sell Axe and Dove with a straight face? Maybe a topic for another day. But one worth pondering.)

The bleaching creams brings me to my next topic-race. I read a really fascinating article recently about the “white default”-the idea that white people are seen as the norm, and all other races are clumped as other. It’s a black-and-white (don’t pardon the pun, that was unforgivable) duality-you’re either white, or not. I had never thought about it in that way, but once I did, it made a lot of sense. Remember that HUGE kerfuffle when Rue from “The Hunger Games” was black in the movie and some racist jerks got really mad about it, even though she was described as black in the book? If race isn’t mentioned, people assume white. But what does it mean to be white, anyway? I remember very vividly in 10th grade when we were studying the 60s in American history. A girl in my class (one I did not like very much, it should be said-she had bullied me mercilessly years before) asked my teacher, “why is there just a ‘black power’ movement? What about ‘white power’?” I retorted, quite rudely in retrospect, “it’s called the Klan.” White folks (well, educated liberal white folks) are brought up to be slightly guilty of their whiteness. The goal is to become “not” many things-as in, not-racist, not-homophobic, and non-xenophobic. That “not”-being can leave an emptiness as we struggle to belong to something, not just not-to something. White pride to me sounds like neo-Nazis and Confederate flags, and I want no part in that. But can I be a part of something?

Usually, I take refuge in my “minority”-womanhood. I am definitely a part of that oppressed group, and feel the subtle and unsubtle ways we are persecuted daily. But what about white, straight males? Do they have a place to be proud of? I realize this might sound terribly entitled. Boo hoo, poor little rich girl, #whitegirlproblems. I’m not saying in any way I wish to be something I’m not, nor am I looking for a handout. I’m just wondering what a world would look like where every race was equal. A bunch of different small tribes, with their own culture and identity, instead of the monolithic Ivory tower and all the rest below it. And maybe we’re moving there, with an increasingly diverse America. I hope we are. I want equality for all, tons and tons of delicious equality. I wish I knew how to get there faster.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Ideas for a better world? Let’s keep talking? And tune in on Friday as I tackle the F-word-feminism.

Happy trails-

Laura

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