MonthMarch 2014

Mediating Body Image

A few weeks ago, UNC’s campus rec hosted a body image campaign called Body Beautiful. It partnered with Embodydrake Carolina and Carolina Dining Services during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week to raise awareness about unhealthy body image.  To promote the campaign, the hashtag #uncbodybeautiful was used. Posters and signs conveying the following message “Love your body. Change the conversation. #uncbodybeautfiul,” were placed in gym facilities. These posters featured celebrities such as Drake, Ryan Gosling and Portia de Rossi encouraging students to love who they are.

Although these posters were meant to encourage healthy body image, something about them was unsettling. After much thought, I realized it was because these posters were using a premise that is often mediated to us: celebrities are our standard of beauty.  Therefore these posters were relying on an inherently self-judging premise to support the claim that if Drake says “Hey girl, you look good,” then it must be true. This underlying, hidden message seemed counteractive to Body Beautiful’s purpose.

Later that week, I learned about Aerie’s Spring 2014 ad campaign, which features unretouched models, meaning they are not airbrushed or photoshopped. Considering the media has played an integral role in perpetuating unrealistic standards of beauty, I thought it was great that a lingerie line was acknowledging the negative impact the media has had on society’s perception of female beauty. In an industry that profits off of promoting an unattainable image generated by computer software, here was a company standing up and saying, “we want to show our models in all their real and unretouched glory!”

aerie

Excited to share this revolutionary movement with friends, I posted an article about the Aeire campaign on Facebook. However, the response I received from one friend was unexpected, yet appreciated. She posted the following article as a response: “The Revolution Will Not Be Screen Printed on a Thong.” Although campaigns like Aerie’s begin to interrupt the monotony of mediated “skinny girl” images, it also creates a new standard of beauty. In the article my friend posted, the author questions whether this new standard, although attainable, is still “catering to female insecurity.”

Both of my experiences with the Body Beautiful and Aerie’s campaign reminded me to always stay on my toes and to question why. In the Body Beautiful campaign, why were celebrities used to tell me I’m beautiful and to love my body? In the Aerie campaign, although the models had not been retouched and were supposed to represent “the real you”, they still did not have cellulite, stretch marks or blemishes, all of which I have. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad campaigns like these are working to address issues related to unhealthy body image. Acknowledging  that beauty is constructed is the first step to deconstructing traditional ideas of beauty. However,  it is also important to  be aware of the new assumptions being made when old assumptions are being challenged. #StayWoke


Creating a Voice

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. That’s exactly what UNC junior Taylor Webber-Fields did when she created  I, Too, Am Carolina, a social media awareness campaign that allows black students at Carolina to share their experiences I, Too, Am Carolinaon a predominately white college campus. Hearing about this campaign inspired me to think about how social media has allowed minorities to create their own voice in the media, a voice that is authentic and user generated. Take for example, Black Twitter. It has been deemed a cultural force in the new media technology age, one that relentlessly responds to racially insensitive pop culture incidents with hashtags such as #HasJustineLandedYet and #PaulasBestDishes. Not familiar with these incidents? Search twitter for these hastags, and Black Twitter will tell you all about it.

Social media movements, such as I, Too, Am Carolina and Black Twitter, allow black people to voice their opinion. This is important because, historically, black people and other minority groups have been underrepresented in the media. I’ve experienced this underrepresentation first hand with the Daily Tar Heel (DTH), UNC’s student ran campus newspaper. In the past four years that I’ve spent on UNC’s campus, I’ve seldom seen black students featured in the paper or events hosted by black student organizations covered. As a result, I feel disconnected from the paper because it does not reflect my life at Carolina and what I’ve experienced. If an issue concerning the black student population is written about, it is usually found in the back page of the newspaper on the opinion page and is written by a black columnist or student reader.

The lack of diversity I’ve seen in the DTH can be attributed to the fact that, in the past, there has been a lack of black staff writers. Although the number of black staff writers has recently increased, the editor’s staff remains predominately white. Until there are black people at the table making decisions about the content of the paper, the black voice will continue to be silenced.

This is why I find the I, Too, Am Carolina campaign so important and relevant to this blog; it acknowledges the fact that the black voice is underrepresented and gives black students on campus the opportunity to be heard via social media. Why wait on the media to cover your story when you can create your own?

Tweet 1

“Because my issues are not verbalized” #itooamCarolina

Tweet 2

“AAAD, my dept of academic scholarship is constantly the scapegoat for a broken ed system and te NCAA machine?” #ITooAmCarolina

twitter2

“Just because I’m the only black person in class doesn’t mean my opinion represents my whole race’s opinion.” #itooamCarolina

As I come to a close with this blog post, an ominous question rests in the back of mind. If the media has historically been able to successfully marginalize black people, what’s stopping the internet from doing the same? So as I wrap up this blog post, I’d like to leave you all with some food for thought, “How has new media technologies marginalized minorities?” One way I begin to scratch the surface of this question is by looking at the digital divide  and how economic inequality (which inherently sparks a conversation about race) between groups has affected access to the internet and other communication technologies. This is something to think about and be aware of as we move from old to new media.


If you’re White you’re alright; If you’re Brown stick around; If you’re Black get back…

For me, the most memorable moment of the Oscars  was Lupita Nyong’o’s acceptance speech. She was beautiful, successful, and black, very black. The fact that a dark skinned black woman was receiving recognition for her acting role was a big deal in the black community…but why? A few days later, I saw a Facebook post from a friend of mine addressing this question and  the issue of colorism. Here’s what Julia had to say:

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Colorism: the discrimination in which someone is treated differently based solely upon the color of their skin due to the social meanings and assumptions attached to their complexions.

This “-ism” is one that plagues the media and the Black community. It’s no debate that there is a national preference for light-skinned Black women in the media, if Black women are included at all.

girl

Recently, Pharrell has been heavily criticized for the exclusion of a Black woman on the cover of his new album Girl. But in an interview with TheYBF.com, the (legendary) artist claims that the woman in the middle of the trio is in fact a Black woman. He says she is simply light-skinned and has extremely European features, as some Black women do. However, the issue is not that this woman is light-skinned — the problem is colorism and the systematic exclusion of darker skinned women by the media.

But, before we get into all that, let me provide you with a little background on colorism and the role it has played in the Black community.

Colorism has created a hierarchy that dates back to slavery. Light-skinned slaves received preferential treatment — usually due to them being the offspring of the master’s extramarital affairs with other slaves — and were stationed to work in the house. Dark-skinned slaves, on the other hand, worked in the fields and were treated more sub-human than their lighter peers. Post-slavery, lighter complexioned blacks tended to hold a higher socioeconomic standing and held more access to the resources required to move up the ladder.

This is due to light-skinned Blacks being closer to whiteness. According to this article about colorism in advertising, Ronald Hall, a sociologist at Michigan State University, told The Washington Post that people are less threatened by those whom they perceive as being closer in racial proximity to themselves. This sentiment makes sense if you look at who controls the images that are proliferated in the media and those affected negatively by these images.

Colorism in the media presents itself not by excluding dark-skinned women, but by associating them with negative attributes. For instance, dark-skinned women are painted as less desirable and intelligent then juxtaposed with their lighter skinned counterparts (think Shelia versus Trina in Why Did I Get Married?). Additionally, successful Black women are almost always lighter complexioned (Olivia Pope from Scandal, Dr. Miranda Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy, Jacqueline Broyer in Boomerang, etc.).

But light-skinned women are negatively affected by coloristic stereotyping as well. Olivia Pope is a mistress while Dr. Bailey often comes off as bossy. Leticia (played by Halle Berry) in Monster’s Ball was disgustingly hypersexualized as was Rosario Dawson in Alexander. Stay Trippy — rapper Juicy J’s most recent album — features a nude light-skinned woman holding onto his leg. Kanye West’s Gold Digger video also predominantly featured light-skinned women.

Colorism, essentially, turns light-skinned women into objects of public affection while marginalizing darker complexioned Black women and deeming them undesirable. These sentiments are further reinforced when you have television shows and films that replace dark-skinned characters with light(er)-skinned ones.

viv

Aunt Viv from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

claire

Claire from My Wife and Kids

zoe

Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone. Saldana is so light in comparison to Simone that her skin had to be darkened

These beliefs that lighter complexioned Black women are better are engrained —either consciously or subconsciously — into the minds of Black people. Lots of little girls are told that they are inferior or lesser than because they are dark. Equally as many are doted upon simply because they are light with a looser curl pattern. When you throw in the media, you’re left with light-skinned girls who do not feel beautiful enough, brown skinned girls who feel dissociated from the products being advertised, and dark-skinned girls who do not feel beautiful at all.

Our society has to cease inflicting European beauty standards upon women whose beauty is not rooted in European genetics. Lighter skin tones are not inherently more beautiful just as darker complexions are not ugly. Quite frankly, have y’all ever LOOKED at dark skin? It’s damn near flawless and it’s just amazing.

The hierarchy of colorism in the Black community must go as well. Light skinned women should not be viewed as uppity, snooty, bad texters, conceited, hypersexual gold diggers. Dark skinned women should not be called ugly, tar babies, nappy headed, and ratchet.

Recently, Black America has been praising Lupita Nyong’o’s beauty. We need more of this. We need more celebration of dark skin. But that does NOT mean we should tear down light-skinned women in the process (see this article which addresses this concern).

We are all Black. We are all beautiful. We all have color complexes. We all need to work together to rid ourselves and future generations of these complexes. The buck should stop here.

“What up, cuz? It’s all Black. I love US.” – JAY Z

*Liked this post? Check out more of Julia Craven’s infinite wisdom on her blog!*


Va-Va-Voom


While watching the Oscars on Sunday night, I thought of the perfect blog topic when I saw a commercial for Sophia Vergara’s Rooms To Go collection. Immediately, I thought about the hypersexualization of Latinas in the media. I pointed this out to my best friend as we sat together on my futon watching the Oscars. She seemed slightly annoyed and began to explain how she thinks it’s unfair to criticize Vergara for showing off her curves and being presented as a sexy Latina.

“Women should have a right to be sexy if they want to and express their sexuality,” said my friend.

I told her I agreed, but my issue wasn’t that Vergara was presented as a sexy Latina in a short, tight dress with high heels, and literally grrr’ed to explain how she likes her furniture. My issue was the overused image of the sexy Latina; it is often the only representation of Latina women I see in the media.

Last semester I took a class called Latino/as in the Media. In class, we discussed the hypersexualization of Latinas and the affect it has on media audiences. For non-Latino/as whose only exposure to Latinas is media representations of this group, they may think that all Latina women are sexy and voluptuous. And what do these types of images do to Latina women who feel like they have to fulfill these stereotypes? Hypersexualized media images can affect their self-esteem, especially young Latinas, by confirming the old stereotype that woman’s main worth lies solely in her appearance.

Not only is the hypersexualized depiction of Latina women in the media, stereotypical, it also over-simplifies a diverse group of people. For example, Vergara mentioned in an interview that when she first started auditioning for American acting roles, they didn’t know where to put her because she was a blond Latina; directors were used to casting women that looked more Mexican. So it’s no surprise to me that she is now featured on Modern Family as a brunet. All Latinas are not brunet, Mexican, and sexy.

With all of this said, I think it is important to question the assumptions that are being made in the media when it comes to the roles minorities are casted in. With this commercial, it was assumed that because Latinas are sexy, a commercial that features a Latina should be sexy too. This was no coincidence. If we are going to be completely honest with ourselves, how often is it that you see sexy furniture commercials? Think about that for a moment, and while you do, I’ll be busy writing my next blog post. In the meantime, leave your comments below! I’d love to hear what you all have to say about this commercial!


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