reappropriate

Friday, March 25, 2005

skinny white bitches

In this post, I talked about the Gap replacing spokeswoman Sarah Jessica Parker with singer Joss Stone. The very last line of that post read: "Then again, this is still replacing one blonde-haired skinny white bitch with another." Since that post was put up, it has stirred up a little controversy from some commentors who have questioned why I would use such strongly racialized language as 'skinny white bitch'. Wizard stated, "But to lash out with "skinny white bitch" for someone who, for the most part, has been pretty assuming (sic) in their career, makes it seem more like you've got a problem and not them." If any of my readers were offended by my racialized language, then I sincerely apologize. No, wait, no... no, I don't. Let me let you boys in on a little secret: I do have a problem with skinny white bitches. Not Sarah Jessica Parker or Joss Stone specifically; I don't know them personally, and they can't help being skinny and white. However, as a woman of colour, I'm inundated with Parkers and Stones everywhere I turn. If you thought sexism in America went the way of the dinosaurs, then you might want to turn back now. The bottom line facts are that girls aren't raised like boys; from their very first moments on this Earth, we are socialized not to be all that we can be, but are consciously or unconsciously trained by our parents and by society to view ourselves as physically inferior, emotionally weaker or uninhibited, and, in this looks-obsessed culture, valued based upon our own beauty. BestStart.org said:

Preoccupation with body image is socialized in girls from the time they are very young. Parents consistently describe their infant daughters as beautiful, soft, and cute and rate their sons as stronger and hardier (Rubin, Provinzano & Laria, 1974). When asked what kind of person they want their child to become, parents mention "being attractive" more often for daughters than for sons (Hoffman, 1975). Through socialization, children of both sexes learn girls' bodies are to be made more beautiful while boys' bodies are to be developed and strengthened (Rindskopt and Gratch, 1982; Quoted in Freedman, 1984).
When I was a kid, I was extremely smart (not to toot my own horn). I learned to read while very young, and was always bright, inquisitive, and had a phenomenal memory for math and language. I was enthusiastic about school and most times occupied myself with a book while other kids were watching TV or playing video games. I dutifully practiced the piano and the violin and even disciplined myself at ages of 7 or 8 to do homework before indulging in fun, even when my parents weren't home to make me. But, while my parents might've praised me about my work ethic or basic intelligence, they rarely did, for here's the inescapable fact: I am voluptuous, curvaceous, shapely, endomorphic or any other euphemism for overweight. From my very first checkup, a few weeks after my birth, my doctor has annually pronounced me overweight (hence, also, my deep-seated fear/hatred of going to a doctor... it has always been a belittling experience to have him scold me over my weight); I've battled my weight and subsequent body image issues all my life -- not because I started off uncomfortable with the way I looked, but because my parents emphasized that this was the fatal flaw I possessed. They worried constantly over my ability to attract a man, and did everything in their power to force me to lose weight. I could never have more than half a cup of rice at the dinner table (if I was allowed that), I was rarely allowed more than a fraction of the meat the rest of my family enjoyed, and treats like peanut butter, chocolate, juice or junk food were foreign concepts for me until I reached my teenage years (when they realized they couldn't keep me away, since I was travelling alone to a private school in metropolitan Toronto, where the only nearby food joints were a convenience store stocked full of chips and sodas and a Pizza Pizza). I have never been allowed to eat breakfast, which is why I dont eat breakfast now. Their words and actions caused me to grow up thinking that there was something wrong with me; after all, both my mother and my sister are gorgeous (not just in their figures but also their facial features, their hair, etc) and I supposedly am descended from a concubine of a Chinese emperor on my mother's side, meaning that all the women in my family are the cream of the crop as far as Asian beauty. My parents would nag me constantly about my weight, and they do so to this day: getting into a PhD program is about of equal importance to them as losing five pounds, and most phone calls involve a reminder to exercise, drink lots of 'slimming' teas, and to eat less. And if you thought my parents were insane, my family members were worse, and my friends were inexcusable. Aunts and uncles would forgo the 'hello's' and instead greet me with "you are gaining weight! you're so pudgy!" *pokes my flab, pinches my cheeks, and proceeds to berate my parents for letting such a tragedy occur*. Friends of mine were more subtle but also more hurtful, since I had always wanted them to be refuges from my parents. Friends would make a point of trying to emphasize my 'voluptuousness' or sometimes even make me feel inferior to them for their superior metabolisms and 36-24-36 figures. This sob story all boiling down to the fact that I, along with every other woman in this country, are taught to place an inordinant amount of our self-esteem upon our body image. This is seen as our value in society: we are still told that an index of our success as women is our ability to be attractive and to get a mate, whereas men do not face nearly the same amount of pressure, and indeed men consciously or unconsciously encourage these oppressive attitudes towards women by basing a large amount of their dating behaviour upon conformity to impossible Hollywood images of beauty. (A bachelor is applauded while a bachelorette is viewed as a freak). The same study from BodySmarts.org cites a research which shows that 80-90% of women are dissatisfied with their bodies. The problem is that we're not just unhappy with our bodies; we are comparing our bodies to what society tells us is beautiful. And the truly sinister phenomenon is that we thereby reinforce those standards of beauty. Jane, a girl of twelve sees Sarah Jessica Parker on a Gap ad telling her about how beautiful she is when wearing her khaki two-piece suit, and poor Jane, fifteen pounds overweight, begins to compare her own body to that of Parker's. Jane realizes that she can't wear a pair of size 0 khakis from the Gap, and then concludes that she is not beautiful like Parker. However, since she believes Parker to be beautiful and people tend to buy things that they believe are aesthetically pleasimg, when Jane grows up, she will choose to purchase magazines that feature girls like Parker, allowing Parker to continue to be the standard of beauty for the next generation. Moreover, the preoccupation with beauty places women, socially, in the position of pretty sex object, valued more for looks than for brains; in essence, by overvaluing a woman's appearance, we de-value her smarts, and in the end, a woman's importance is attributable not to her own sense of self-worth but how much she can attract men. But, not only did my body shape not fit into the standard of beauty, but women of colour are also taught, along with obsessing over their weight and figures, to find fault with their racial features. It's not just the image of skinny bitches that taunt us, but skinny white bitches. The Asian American girl will turn to monolid surgery and blonde hair dye in their efforts to look more white, while black girls find comfort in chemical hair straighteners, weaves, and skin lightening. Even in the present, when there are more women of colour in media than ever before, the famously beautiful women of colour also sport traditionally Westernized features: Lucy Liu is actually ugly by Asian standards, with her large double-lidded eyes (which she often opens wider for photo shoots) and large straight and freckled nose, while most African American female models and actresses are extremely light or mixed, like Halle Berry or Tyra Banks. Asian American women are also under greater pressure because Asian women, because of diet and culture, tend to have smaller frames and the geisha girls and prostitutes of Asia have been so hyper-sexualized in America. Being an Asian woman means I am expected even more than other women to be sexual and attractive, since the worth American media places upon me is more highly based upon sexual attraction than with other women -- Asian women are stereotyped as quiet, soft-spoken, and subservient Oriental beauties, and so we feel greater pressure by society to conform to those stereotypes, especially when we're younger. Some might argue that this is the fault of the women -- that our sense of 'free choice' is being ignored in this scenario, and yet I have to ask: if you're never taught there is an alternative, that you could be beautiful when not looking at Parker, is is reasonable to expect a woman to come up with such an idea on her own? A person raised in a room set in complete darkness may never understand the concept of light and never realize they have the option to open the shades. Anyways, I'm not interested in playing the blame game. Who are you really going to blame when it is estimated that upwards of 8 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder, 95% of which are between the ages of 12 and 25, and eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses? Older though maybe not that much wiser, I have come to a minor realization that Parker is not the only standard of beauty -- that being thin doesn't have to be in. A lot of that has to do with electroman, who has spent six years hammering into my head that he finds me extremely sexy despite my own body image baggage. But, even if that has helped me become aware of how society has played me, I still subscribe to those standards of beauty -- I can't help it, those standards are so deeply imprinted from such an early age that I don't think there's any way for a woman to completely erase them from her system. Even if I know I can be attractive without being stick-figure thin, I still spend an inordinate amount of time in front of the mirror scrutinizing the imperfections that prevent me from being society's standard of beauty; I still believe that I would be more accepted and more sucessful if I could be pretty. But then again, I look at Sarah Jessica Parker and Joss Stone, and I wonder why it is that the Gap and other clothing companies, which carry so much influence over young women's sense of beauty, can't promote more representative body types of all colours? Why can't traditionally white magazines like Cosmo and Sixteen feature beautiful, full-figured women of colour? The bottom line is that, in the short term, that would translate into a loss of sales as the women already socialized into hating their own bodies would refuse to buy the magazines. It's like having a Wolverine cover on an X-men comic book-- Marvel will never give up that profit margin if they can sell more copies by plastering Wolvie on yet another cover. So, yes, I have a problem with the way society treats its women. I have a problem with parents who consciously or unconsciously promote a impossible standards of beauty upon their daughters and place a huge emphasis upon success being attributed to attractiveness. I have a problem with companies promoting Sarah Jessica Parker and Joss Stone and all those other women, ignoring all the beautiful women of colour out there. I have a problem with knowing that Gap, right or wrongly, has put another skinny girl on their display windows, causing yet another generation of teens to develop anorexia, bullimia and low self-esteem in an attempt to starve themselves into a size 0. I have a problem with men who, knowingly or unknowingly, encourage those impossible standards of beauty by buying into those images in the dating game, and yes I even have a problem with women who should know better and who don't. And finally, I have a problem with people who have a problem with me having a problem with what is the greatest problem affecting, indeed murdering, all women today. So yes, I have a problem with skinny white bitches. And I do not apologize.

13 Comments:

Blogger James said...

Nor should you apologize!

This is an excellent post - not because of he amazing force of language or your passionate critique of traditional American body image, but because of the intensly personal and compelling references to body image issues in your own life. Here in Chappaqua, I've done nothing but operate around another woman's body image concerns -- reduced fat CHeez-It's, 94% fat free popcorn, Splenda sweetener instead of sugar -- and it's killing me!

I wish women could realize that the skinny white bitiches of our time are not nor have ever been beautiful. Sarah Jessica Parker may be the cat's meow for Matthew Broderick, but she's nothing but the Nose that Inhaled Manhattan to me. I find Joss Stone to be another useless, nondescript heroin chic personall, but then again, as an African AMerican male, I appreciate women who have something to work with. Stick figures are for the Sunday Night Sex Show.

Look, I'm a guy. While I realize that my standards of beauty have been as socialized as everyone else's, I also consciously indulge in the beauty of wmon of color. I'm not Kobe, cave bitches do nothing for me. Black people, outside the mainstream of American life without the possibility of parole, originated terms like 'skinny white bitches' in order to encapsulate the needed feminist backlash toward the body image preference Sarah Jessica Parker's cultivated Candace Bushnell Sex in the City represents. After reading your post, I'm glad someone did.

Great writing. (wit' yo' fine ass!)

3/26/2005 06:37:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

and you're sexy too.

you should ask Maureen why she obsesses. She looks fabulous already, she doesn't need to lose weight. I would kill to be her size (yes, even after that post, I still would).

At the same time, if you're going to eat Cheez-Its, Popcorn, and sugar, you might as well buy the regular kind... what's the point of buying fat-free junk food? It's not gonna taste good...

3/26/2005 10:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a very interesting post... i was just wondering what race has to do with it. surely its not just skinny white bitches being shown out there.

aside from that, this is something that the mass media seems to be picking up on. there have been several critiques of the current beauty standard of late, and its certainly something that is less uniform than it was.

(the most recent In Style had Queen Latifah on the cover... surely she's not one of the 'skinny white bitches'?)

as for james saying that he wishes (that) 'women could realize that the skinny white bitiches of our time are not nor have ever been beautiful,' isnt that a matter of opinion? i cant say that i have my own type, and i agree that sarah jessica parker doesnt appeal to me, but what would be wrong if she did? some people have different body types, naturally. is someone who is thin naturally inferior in your (jenns or jamess) book?

3/26/2005 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Anonymous, yes, James' opinion is that skinny women aren't attractive. While you might disagree with him on that, it's really irrelevant as to whether or not a 'skinny white bitch' is attractive or unattractive to any individual man. They, as individuals, are not superior or inferior... and that really wasn't a point that anyone was trying to make.

I was talking about the effect the skinny white bitch has on society and specifically female body image, self-esteem, and subsequent self-worth. The elevation of the skinny white bitch, as a media image, and the emphasis upon looks and beauty in America is, IMO, the greatest challenge to feminism today.

And regarding Queen Latifah on InStyle, yes, she is a proud, full-figured woman of colour on a fashion magazine. But the very fact that media and commentators picked up on it is testament to my argument. Images like hers are so rare that it actually makes news and people remember it: it's tokenism to the utmost extreme. If you go any magazine rack, you'll find Queen Latifah is too little, too late. The overwhelming majority of magazines show thin white women on their covers, and most female magazines accompany those images with headlines that tell you how to lose weight. Even Oprah, a voluptuous woman of colour, has her weight followed by the tabloids...

Outside of those women, moreover, I have to ask how often you see larger women in magazines? We know that most women are not size 0's. The average size in America is somewhere around a size 8 to 10, and yet the vast majority of images we are fed or women are size 0 or smaller. It's totally unhealthy.

3/26/2005 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

oh and, regarding race: yes, it is skinny white bitches. Again, I can't make a stronger case than for you to take a look for yourself. Just stroll by the magazine rack sometime, and make a mental tally of what images you see on the covers... Also, do a channel surfing during commercial time (just switch channels really quickly during the time when everyone's on commercials), and tally how often you see an image of a white woman selling you something go by.

Compare that to images of larger women, and women of colour. You should find a majority of white women...

3/26/2005 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger phillyjay said...

Ok, I get the explanation and agree with a lot of things you have said.Especially when it comes to the whole body image and race issues.I have noticed these things myself, although I am a man and may not understand the situation completely.But I still wouldn't call them white bitches.Skinnny white women representing what is the ideal image for a woman of any color(straight hair, light skin, size 0 etc)yes.But that's just me :)

3/26/2005 02:51:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

That's cool, I just wonder what the problem is with the phrase?

I mean, in light of the fact that it's meant to be kind of tongue-in-cheek.

3/26/2005 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger phillyjay said...

Eh, I guess it's just the P.C. in me.

3/27/2005 03:20:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

lol, that's cool. it's good to be pc :) it's probably bad that i'm not so pc... i'm liable to get myself in trouble one of these days... :)

3/27/2005 08:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Rae said...

Bravo. And thank you.

Speaking of Americanized women in the media--all Jennifer Lopez did for me was make me AWARE of my latin posterior and thus self-concious.

3/28/2005 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Rae, thank you for your comment and for reading my post!

Absolutely, I was totally sick of the J.Lo's ass thing because it was such a reduction of J.Lo to her feminine parts, like all of a sudden, she brought to light differences in women of colour and made men supremely aware and even fetishized for it. You should've felt self-conscious; immediately after all of that happened, it was like every man in the western hemisphere was looking at Latina asses and trying to figure out where else Latina women were 'different'.

3/28/2005 12:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this was amazing.
thank you.

1/28/2006 01:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Real Deal said...

Where to start? First off, media has also backlashed against skinny women, That Richie girl from the simple life as an example. Furthermore, skinny or in shape is sexier than flabby and overweight. SO, maybe 10-20% of the population fit this category. That means the other 80% of us need to stop complaining and learn to live with ourselves. It's not hollywood's fault you are unhappy. Everyone, skinny and fat, has problems get over it and enjoy life. Bottom line, some people are more attractive than others just like some people are smarter than others. Its a fact of life that will never change. Get over it.

10/05/2006 01:39:00 AM  

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