For those of you who know me…or follow me on twitter, you know that I love Tuesday nights because that’s when my two favorite shows come on: Pretty Little Liars and Twisted. Both are ABC Family original drama television series, and both are the topics of my tweets on Tuesdays from 8-10 p.m.. Recently, both series aired its spring finale (*tear), and as I began to reminisce on Twisted’s season, I noticed something about the cast: It was super diverse!
Left to right: Danny, Lacey, Joe
Twisted’s main characters are Danny, Lacey and Joe. The respective actors/actresses who play these characters are part Indian, black and white. Other reoccurring minority characters on the show include Rico (this actor is of Italian and Mexican decent) and Rico’s girlfriend, Andie, who is played by an Asian actress.
With such a diverse cast, interracial couples are inevitable. At one point Danny (mixed race) and Lacey (black) hook up, but then Danny (mixed race) realizes his true love is Joe (white). The actor who plays Danny’s dad, Tarek Jarar Ramnini, is of Palestinian decent and although his race on the show is unclear, Danny’s mom is white. As mentioned before, Rico (ambiguous race) is dating an Asian girl. And lastly, what’s a teen show these days without a gay/lesbian couple? Lacey (black) and Whitney (white) flirt with the idea of becoming an “item.”
I was surprised to find that it wasn’t until the end of the season that I began to contemplate Twisted’s diverse cast. This may be because, so far (we are now awaiting the second season), race has not been mentioned in the series’ story line and many of the character’s races are ambiguous. In fact, for most actors, I had to research their race. This just goes to show how seamlessly the writers and directors were able to incorporate diversity into the show without making it seem forced.
I know first-hand how hard including diversity into a T.V. show can be. For my final project in my “Diversity in Communication” course, my group had to create a pilot show for a new television series with a racially diverse set of characters. This turned out to be a difficult task because it was hard to come up with non-stereotypical characters. With this said, I commend the writers and directors of Twisted for its diverse cast and characters that are non-stereotypical representations of the actor/actress’s or characters’ race.
Shows like Twisted that have a diverse cast are important because these begin to depict the growing diversity in the U.S. population, thus depicting a more realistic representation of our country’s population. By not clarifying or focusing in on the race of its characters, Twisted also begins to discredit racial stereotypes and indirectly address the taboo surrounding interracial dating. So kudos to you ABC family for twisting things up a bit!
A few weeks ago, UNC’s campus rec hosted a body image campaign called Body Beautiful. It partnered with Embody 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!”
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
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:
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.
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.
Aunt Viv from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Claire from My Wife and Kids
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!*