Recently, Kiri Davis’ short film, “A Girl Like Me,” has been garnering a lot of attention. The documentary explores the issue of beauty and how it is raced within the African-American community, and how that affects young black girls and their perception of beauty. Here is the film:
Davis recreates an experiment from the 1940’s in which the majority of black children, given a choice between a white doll and a black doll, preferred the white doll–and found that the same results hold true today. This shows that the standard of beauty, overwhelmingly, is still an extraordinarily white one. Blonde hair, blue eyes, long legs–all features that we are all supposed to acknowledge as the ultimate representation of female perfection, simply by the knowledge we accumulate as members of a society. I know from my experience with kids that this standard of beauty can reach the youngest members of our society; I remember an incident from a few years ago, when my little cousin was visiting and insisted on playing with the ‘regular’ Barbie instead of the special-edition Mattel Indian Barbie (who was still pretty pale) because it was more ‘beautiful and blonde.’ And who else can represent the female ideal better to young girls than Barbie can?
So nonwhite women are marked from the get-go as being something ‘other’ than the norm of beauty, as shown by the fact that Mattel has to release a ‘special edition’ Barbie doll to represent them. And even then we know it’s just an effort to get our money (and one that I apparently suckered my parents into giving in to).
So why not embrace our difference in an effort to see ourselves as beautiful? Why not exoticize ourselves? Well, as this post on the Girlpower 1 blog shows, nonwhite women can’t do even that. Angelina Jolie–part Iriquois, sure, but still white as snow–is apparently the ultimate embodiment of exotic beauty, and what most women want to look like. And the nonwhite actresses given as examples of ‘beautiful women’ in the article are Halle Berry–who is biracial, and can be said to have very ‘white’ features–and Penelope Cruz, who is a Spaniard–she’s European!
It seems that nonwhite women/women of color simply can’t win at being beautiful. Even those terms–‘nonwhite’ and ‘of color’ mark them as something ‘other’ than the norm, something that can’t be beautiful. And when they try to embrace it on their own terms, the culture industry only gobbles it up and spits it out, repackaging it as something available for white women to make themselves more ‘exotic’ with–but something manufactured, and so doesn’t actually pose risk for them. And this extremely white standard of beauty trickles down to the youngest girls.