Women Studies

Assignment Question â??Beautyâ?, as a concept, is widely accepted to be subjective and open to interpretation. We often hear the cliche “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Why, then, do many feminist theorists argue that the notion of â??beautyâ? in our culture has come to oppress women? What do they say abouthow andwhybeauty oppresses women? This is a broad question that you should make specific by focusing on an answer presented byone of the theorists commenting on this issue. Your answer should demonstrate your ability to summarize their ideas and arguments. After offering commentary on one theorist’s work, present an example you have found on your own supporting or illustrating her critique. Where is the example from? What is your analysis of it (i.e. “messages” about gender, beauty, race, power, ‘value’, privilege?) Why does it fit into her discussion? Your response to the following assignment should consist of two parts. The first should be a paragraph or two addressing the question below. It should demonstrate your understanding of feminist critiques of “beauty culture”, and your ability to describe one of the key theorists’ work in response to this issue (i.e. Naomi Klein, Jean Kilbourne, Tracy Sharpley-Whiting, Kiri Davis). The second should exemplify some of the criticims you summarize through the presentation of media you have researched yourself. This can include a still image from an advertisment (TV, internet, magazine, newspaper, etc.) or moving images (i.e. advertisements on YouTube or other video sources). So for example, if you choose to address the question below by exploring Kiri Davis’ concerns about how oppressive beauty standards can be to teen girls of color, you should present an image you found depicting or exemplifying the problem with “white beauty culture” and make clear in your discussion of it how you see it relating. All the videos, readings are uploaded. 2 pages, single space (must meet the requirements asked on the assignment). Cite the sources (APA format), must include the video link/ images of the finding
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https://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=125533

Films


R E A D I Ng GS
7.DeneonShorPleY’Whiting
“l Seethe Sfrme
BeautyCulture,
Ho”: VideoVixens,
frndDiasporicSexTourism
EtterYotheraideo. . ‘
I seethesameho
-Tupac (featuringNateDogg,
“AII AboutU”
YGD ThaToPDawg),
Watchingthe rtideos,you seethe long curly hair

[and] think, Man that wouldbeniceto hattesome
hair.”
Iong,curlY
-S ela,eighteen-y
ear-oldundergraduate
Brazilian womenare usually desirable,as often
u)omenof mixedethnicitiesare. . . ‘ Our leaders
should make a la’w demanding intercultural
breedingtot’iII our planet’ . . thus endingall the
world’sProblems-askmin.com, Top99 MlostDesirable
Women2005
“Micki” Burks decided to take on the
When Michelle
role of eye candy in the now-defunct rap-reggaegrouP
“Stick by Me”
Ruff Neik Sound System’smusic videos
“Luv Bump,” little did she know that her decision
and
“video
would land her years later in the category of
ho.” Her performances in the music videos did not
involve provocative backside acrobatics,but her video
“Luv
transmogrified
p”rro.tul.,
-into “hoochie”Bump” is interestingly
to fast-living
due
end
video’s
by
the
a
and hustling men. Shot in New York, the video aired in
1995on the Rachel-hostedBlack Entertainment Televi5’8″with long brown
sion format CaribbeanRhythms.At
skin, Micki attended
honey-toned
and
highlighted hair
in Boston from
Music
of
School
Berklee
thi prestigious
1986to 1990.A soprano with a superb vocal range, she
toured Europe and ]apan, releasing an album called
Inca, and then took up modeling with Models, Tnc’in
162
Bostonas a side gig until her music careertook off’ She
met the Ruff Neck crew in the Boston music scene’Her
then-boyfriend, Chris, was a well-known producer
who had teamedwith such venerableacts as the late
Donnie HathawaY’s daughter Lahla. “video
ho,” she
Mhen asked about the moniker
emphatically rejectsany description of her experiences
asdegrading. Shedoesnonethelesslament the portrayals of women in hip hop videos of late, stating lhat”‘It
is unnecessary.They don’t have to treat the women like
that.” When asked if she would work in the emerging
lucrative music video industry today if the opportunity presenteditself again,the still-lithe thirty-six-year”Yeah,if I were thinner [and] as
old sayswith a laugh,
‘video
ho.”‘
a model not a
While sales,inthe music industry continue a downward spiral tl*t err”tt the gestali of rapp-er50 Cent’s
TheMissacre(which moved over one million units in
video
iust under (6ur flays) cannot break, the music
bVp nur emergpf,as a boon to the recording industry’
In an Aprii 7, i004, press release,Jay Berman, Chairman of IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry), an affitiate of the RecordingIndustry
Association of America (RIAA), the organization
responsiblefor the world’s iargestmusic market, noted
that music video salesare rapidly becoming an important revenue stream for the industry’ The music video’
popularized by the launch of cable television stations
in”t ut Black Entertainment Television (BET), Music
Television MTV), and Video Hits 1 (VH1), represents
the lion’s share of formatting for these stations’
Launched in 1980, 1981, and 1985 respectively, the
first popular music video to debut on MTV was The
“Video Killed the Radio Star,” a video that
Sugglei’s
prJdlcted rather prematurely that the music video
genre would supplant the radio. Music videos have
ixpioded, with budgets as large as some indie film
SHARPTEY-WHITIt’lG
/ ‘1 SEtIHt SAI,|E
H0″:VlDt0
lllxEt’|S,
BEAUTY
CUTTURE,AttD
DtASpoRtC
SEX
ToURtsn
projects,more developed narratives and sets,and digital technology,which has also allowed for a clearerpicture and a larger than life celluloid image.i The hip hop
musicvideo in particular also provides brand product
placementwith a bumping beat. Like a four- to sixminute advertisement, the music video DVD sells
music and the fabulous lifestyle signified by whatever
material acquisitions are worn (or not), driven, or
drank within its frames-all at a general sticker price
betweenthirteen and eighteendollars. Borrowing?ro*
cultural critic Greg Thte’sobservationson hip hop cul_
“Nigs
ture in
R Us, or How Blackfolk BecameFedsh
Objects,”the hip hop video has ‘,collapsed arr, com_
merce,and interactive technoiogy into one mutant animal.”‘ Similar to the film industry, which ties its
potential box office take to A{ist stars as well as weli_
known directors, the directors of music videos have
become,a highly sought after group, particularly veteranssuch as Hype Williams, paul Hunter, Little X, and
Chris Robinson.3Recording artists recognize that the
music video can make or break a career,and heavy
rotation on MTV, BEI and VH1 all but guarantees
break-out success.Indeed, Z0 percent of BET,s pro_
gramming,the go-to stationfor urban hip hop genera-And
tioners, is music videos and infomercials.
the
cablestation reachessome eighty million homes.a
“All
In
About U,” a Tupac Shakur,Nate Dogg, and
YDG Tha Top Dawg collaboration,the rap artists bond
over their disdain for “video ho,s,. anb ,,groupies,,
who they encounter in every ciiy they tour ind video
they see.Like Micki, many of thesewo*”. u.” singers,
professional models, dancers, and aspiring actresses,
earning their rent, tuition monies, or Commercial
exposurefor a day’s work on a shoot.And some dance
and shakefor free for their five minutes of fame,jump_
ing in front of the camerawhen young Buck or any one
of the St. Lunatics roll up on a No-rth Nashville or
North St. Louis block with a film crew in tow As
Atlanta hi_phop industry insider and videographer
liona McClodden suggests,,’Many of the backlround
video models use their bodies as demos becauie they
know that much of what is shot will be left on the floor
of the editing room. They have one opportunity. If they
do something provocative enough to stand out, they
anticipate that the shot just may remain in the final
uiq*.”t That the impact of these sexually suggestive
videos is undeniably regressive in terms oigender
politics and young girls and women,s self-identiry is
revealed in 2003 year-long study conducted
by the
3
uenter for AIDS Research(CFAR)at Emory UniversiW.
r63
Tiacking 522.Alabama girls’hip hop video consump_
tion and behaviors, the study revealed that a higher
consumption of hip hop videos corresponded nega_
tively with higher frequency of sexually transmitted
diseases, alcohol and drug abuse (60 percent), and
multiple sex partners (twice as likely).
But just as important
as the complex
motivations
behind
ro,.r'”o*”,i,,j”*t*$11,.T1i1″””,,”
hog_hopvideos-rumps
moving with the alacrity of a
jackhammer, hips gyr.ating like a belly dancer on
amphetamines,limbs akimbo, mouths agapein a per_
petual state of the orgasmic “oh’,-is the repetition of
particular ideals of femininity. Hip hop is now asmuch
about images as it is skills and beats. That the vast
majority of the young women in thesevideos are either
fairer-skinned, ethnically mixed, or of indeterminate
ethnic,/racial origins, with iong, straight, or curly hair
would suggestthat along with the stereotypeof hypersexuality and sexual accessibility,a particular type of
beauty is offered up as ideal. In some respects,the
majority of these women represent what historian
Tiffany Patterson calls “ascriptive mulattas,,, that is,
those whose physical beauty transcendschart, acteristics such as darker hues, full lips, and the like, historically prefigured as lessthan ideal (non-European).The
“mulatta”
figure, a pejorativeterm if ever^therewas
one, is typically depicted as tragic becauseof her ,,inbetween” racial status.Yet the “mulalta,’has also been
deemed in literary and film annals as the most ideal in
the arena of feminine beauty, and the secretly longed
for in the heterosexualmarketplaceof desire.This status comes about precisely becauseof her mixed-race
heritage involving some configuration of ,,black,,and
“white,”
which in the European and American male
imagination signals the perfectblending of skillfulness
in matters of sex (read: black) and physical beauty
(read:white).
The physical appeal to both white and black men of
Gabrielle Union, Ciara, Beyonc6,and Tyra Banks falls
into ascriptive mulatta territory, as did that of Lena
Florne and Dorothy Dandridge–just ask the men at
askmen.comwhere Union, Ciara, Banks,and Beyoncd
are ranked among the 2006edition of the top ninetvnine most desirablewomen. On any given segmentLf
MTV’s Top Twenty, or BET’s Rap City and 106 â?¬t park,
roughly 70 percent of the videos feature superbly
toned,
-nubile, hybrid flesh. One could ceitainly
argue that practically all seemingly black flesh in the
154
StCTIOII
3 REPRTSTI|TATIOI{.
I.ANGUAGE.
AtlDCUTTURT
“New World”
is a hybrid given the history of transracial contact.But it is preciselybecauseof the enormous
rangeof blackness(as a result of consensualand nonconsensual)sex that the incredibly narrow prototype
of beauty is even more troubl-ing.
As writer Kevin Powell argues in Who’s Gonna
Takethe Weight, hip hop generationers still do not
fully appreciate the range of black women’s beauty.
Even the fallout in the hip hop community from the
2002 Grammy Awards ceremony over Alicia Key’s
multiple Grammy wins over India Arie hinged unfortunately (and mistakenly I would add) for some on
the issue of color. Another example is the ruckus over
the fall 2004 season of America’s Next Top Model
(ANTM), a reality show that attempts to demystify
high-fashion modeling by demonstrating that models, while born with certain assetslike height, are primarily talent-developmentprojectsand that “can-do”
attitudes go the distance. The show is undeniably in
the service of beauty culture, which in general has
been less accepting,if not hostile, to black women.
However, in the 2004 season ANTM was UPN’s
highest-ratedprogram among women ageseighteen
to forty-nine as well as teens.As the network’s newest cashcow, it was also one of the top ten programs
among African American adults, and the highestrated reality show among African Americans. Its
host, tibermodel Tyra Banks,consistently emphasizes
personality over a particular “look.” Nonetheless,
the conclusion of the fall 2004seasoncaused viewer
squabbles regarding the hair and skin color of the
final two contestants,Yaya DaCostaJohnson and Eva
Pigford. In an interview with TV Guide’s Daniel
Coleridge, the runner-up,Yaya, a Brown University
graduate, respondedto the interviewer’s perception
of her “look” as “Afrocentric,” aperceptionthat may
have contributed to her loss:
I’m not Afrocentric,I’m just natural.But in this country, black women who don’t straightentheir hair with
chemicalprocessingare stereotypedand labeled.Not
allblack women with straighthair needchemicalprocessing,but I would have to to achievethat look. Just
becausewe don’t straightenour hair doesn’t mean
we’re trying to be anything else-we’re being ourselves.If anythinghurtsme aboutthat,it’s that I wasn,t
allowed the luxury of being myselflike the other girls
were.Nobody asksCassie,Ann or Amanda to be “less
white.” I’m used to having to defendmy very being.
That makesme a little sensitive.6
DaCosta Johnson’s browner skin and unprocessed hair
moved her into an Afrocentric space when compared
to Eva Pigford’s African American girl-next-door look
with chemically straightened hair, light eyes, and
lighter hue.
DaCosta Johnson’s predicament on Top Model nises
old questions in this new era on assimilation, identity,
and beauty. And yet, the mixing bowl with a wee bit of
nutmeg and cinnamon standard of beauty endorsed
ostensibly by American culture (more specifically on
Madison Avenue) parallels the shifting ideas of beauty
in hip hop videos that are, some would argue, necessarily still derivative of a white ideal.
“Generation
In
E.A.: Ethnically Ambiguous,” a feature in the Fashion & Style section of The New York
Times, advertising executives and fashion magazine
editors offered running commentaries that ranged
from disquieting to just plain dim on marketing trends
“tweens,”
to
teens, and hip hop generationers in both
the mainstream and high-end markefplace: “Today
what’s ethnically neutral, diverse, or ambiguous has
tremendous appeaL”; “What is perceived as good,
desirable, successful is often a face whose heritage is
hard to pin down”; “V,{e’re seeing more of a desire for
the exotic, left-of-center beauty. . . . tltl represents the
new reality of America, which includes considerable
mixing. . . . It’s the changing face of American b eauty.”t
That racial categories are social constructs rather than
biological realities-though
this does not alter the lived
experiences of those who occupy those categories”considerable” “race”
“a
that
mixing is not
new reality” but has been historically widespread in the United
States, and that America is not as “white” as it believes
itself to be has been duly noted since at least the nineteenth century by writers and activists such as Frances
Ellen Harper Watkins in her novel IoIa Leroy. Even in
The Birth of a Nation, a racist film posing as an American cinematic masterpiece, racial amalgamation is a
core preoccupation because of its prevalence. The contemporary scholarly writing of philosophers of race
Kwame Anthony Appiah and Naomi Zack are only a
few examples of our awareness of the power of social
constructs. Both Appiah and Zack have argued that

race” and therefore categories of race are biologically
non-existent, dishonest, and in bad faith. That we as a
culture cling to them relates more to our desires to
enact and maintain social, political, and economic
powers and privileges.
In effect, racial categories are themselves racist. ln
her 1993 book Race and Mixed Race, Zack argues
TOURl5l4
Cul-IURt.AilD
DIASP0RIC
SE)(
BTAUTY
Sl|ARPtEY-W}|III}tG
I “l StElllt SAI’ltH0”:VIDEOVlXtt.l5.
presciently for the category of gray, an almost uncanny
“ethnically ambiguous.” Therefore,the
predecessorto
“Generation E.
Lxcitedtone of discovery evoked in the
A.” article seemsmore than a bit out of touch. The rhetoric that still situateswhiteness at the center of American beauty culture and darker hues on this schematic
shifting to the left (one wonders what right of center
beautylooks like) quite simply reinforcesa hierarchy of
beauty,as well as the notion of fixed racial categories.
Indeed, ettmic ambiguity does not guarantee racial
ambiguity,particularly in relationship to thosepossessing “African” ethnicitiesand origins. One may be ethnically mixed (ambiguous)but racially marked as black.
Despite the hubbub about Generation E.A., editors
and ad executives admit that whiteness continues to
dominate the beauty and fashion industries. Where
does,pray tell, such a hierarchy leave GenerationNonE.A. (non-ethnically ambiguous)black women? In her
widely read book Beauty Myth, Naomi Woif relates
how the beauty industry essentially createsangst in
women regarding their choices-Yaya DeCosta
Johnson,for example. While not a treatise against the
beauty industry and practices of adornment (though
some critics have reductively read the book as Wolf’s
feminist cri de coeur against lipstick wearing), The
BeautyMyth in fact argues for something very basic: a
women’s right to choose.WoIf makes the radical assertion that women should choosehow they want to look,
without fear of employment discrimination, or of being
castigatedas unfeminine, or of being subjectedto the
litany of other chargesleveled at those whose beauty
practices (or lack thereof) run counter to dominant
ideasabout what it means to be a woman.
Women who choosenot to indulge in beauty practices are often disadvantaged and made to feel
guilty for their lack of conformity in a culture that
overemphasizes physical appearance. Simultaneously women who embracebeauty products and their
images still “second guess” themselves and are sub”high maintenance” and
iect to descriptions such as
“not
natural.” And those’womenwho embracebeauty culfure and also fall outside the current rage over
Generation E.A. or Ascriptive Mulattas are left to
endlessly negotiate u ^uri of images and ideas that
arenot especially affirming and seem,at each turn, to
lead to a dead end.
As with the behaviorar r*O*”,r””,
for hip hop video
consumption, the collision between hip hop culture
|65
and beauty culture, the marketing and packaging of
the “same” video girl who resemblesthe high-fashion
“It” girl,
model who resemblesthe latest Hollywood
also has a clear and deleteriousimpact on what young
black female consumerscome to identify as desirable.
And the desire to be desirableseemsespecially costly
and laborious for young btrackwomen, as the producthawking, image-projectinghip hop video pumps cash
into the mainstream and hip hop’s multibillion-dollar
fashion and beauty industries. In effect, what young
black women cannot be, they now buy.
Who can forget the purchasedartifices of Lil’ Kim?
FIer “so unpretty” motivations for doffing and donning colored contact lens, purported skin-lightening
procedures, nose contourings, platinum hair, breast
augmentation, and liposuction. The visceral pain she
articulated watching her Svengali-lover-fatherfigure
and public and very private abuser, the Notorious
B.I.G., marry the lighter-skinned, fairer-maned hip
hop/R&B singer Faith Evans nine days after meeting
her.8 Or the cracks of insecurity seeping from her
admission: “Halle Berry,Sally Richardson,StacyDash,
JadaPinkett? I used to wish I looked like them motherfuckers!”?eOn the question of breast augmentation,
she says,”I laughed at first. But then I went home and
really thought about it. I went to the best, most expensive doctor available,but that was the most pain I ever
felt in my Iife.”lo
As with Lil’ Kim, the overwhelming majority of us
black and Latina women offer our labor in a
marketplace-one that still does not pay us equallyin order to purchasesomehappinessthrough beau{r.1l
(The median weekly earnings of black women who
worked full time in 2001was $451compared with $521
for white women, $518 for black men, and $694 for
white men; these figures are for non-college-educated
black women; in 2004,college-educatedblack women/
roughly two million, outearnedboth the white women
and Latinas.) Using data -from over three thousand
householdssurveyedby the Department of Commerce,
marketers and corporations have determined that
black women, with their increasing income, have the
most influence on the growth in African American
spending. Between 2001 and 2002, our spending
on personal care products increased (by 18 percent),as did our expenditureson women’s apparel and
footwear (2 percent and 13 percent,respectively).Our
generositywith ourselveswas rivaled only by our generosity with others, as gift spending spiked by 155
percent.12
156
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3 RTPRESEI’IIAIIOI{,
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AI{DCUTTURT
The ]uly 2004report releasedby TheU.S.Multicultural WomenMarket suggests that the buying power
of multicultural women (defined asAfricanAmerican,
Asian American, and Hispanic American) will exceed
$1 trillion by 2008and African American women over
eighteen years of age will keep the dominant share of
the market. African American women’s educational
attainment is high; we are more confident and secure
with ourselves, and one in four of us occupy professional or managerial positions. Yet, we are simultaneously least likely to be married (as our race loyalties
tend to constrain our options) or even in fulfilling
relationships with a female partner; dieting and exercise appear less of a concern while health risks are
high. We are also very brand conscious, loyal, and
receptive-or
vulnerable, depending on your
interpretation of the data-to media, and particularly
to television.
Savvy marketers will continue to pitch products
that seem to tap into our greateststrengthsand deepest insecuritiesabout beauty and desirability.Hair-care
products accounted for 9174million of our disposable
income in 2002.13
Plasticsurgery,oncethe stri …
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