Submitted by Amisha Upadhyaya
This is “Princess & the Frog” week, a movie starring Disney’s — or any other studio’s for that matter — first African American princess. The US got a African-American President before Hollywood was willing to accept a female beauty outside the mainstream norm. That is how entrenched standards of beauty are.
The famous African-Americans who, despite choosing to identify themselves as “black,” physically are more Caucasian in looks since most are hybrids as 14 and I call them (as we will have someday ourselves), i.e. Halle Berry, Thandie Newton, Beyonce, Alicia Keys, etc etc etc.
There is no problem with this since entertainment, art, modeling, and such industries have to do with aesthetics. It’s only a problem when that’s the only aesthetic and it comes to define “beauty.” Beauty in any country is a rare commodity and a prerequisite as much as talent if not more. But beautiful American women and men of Chinese or Egyptian or Iranian descent are vasty different and would make any audience member swoon equally as much. Exhibit A, Gong Li. Exhibit B, Iman. The list goes on. There is a Top Model Ghana for a reason.
Just saw a wonderful Dove ad and online film (view here) encapsulate the pressures that a girl, as well as a teen and woman faces. Add to those pressures genetically impossible features which a majority of the non-Caucasian world doesn’t have. Add to that, professions built on those cookie-cutter features. Your bread and butter is based on your nose and skin shade.
It isn’t limited to African-Americans; it’s with all hybrids. Anyone who fits the profile of being beautiful in the more Caucasian mainstream way holds sway. Keanu Reeves is Chinese but also Hawaiian and British. Norah Jones is half Indian, half white. Yes, they may also be talented but their counterparts often don’t get the same opportunities when those are the new faces — and stories — of America
This is when we sing a kudos song again to Michelle Obama, as the face of American women to the world. But, where were the kudos to Angela Bassett who had Michelle Obama’s arms long before Michelle Obama? Hollywood, as with the digital revolution, lags behind society’s leaps and bounds. I know…the Hills can be too high up to come down frequently…
Nor is this limited to the US or Europe. This narrow definition of beauty is found in countries such as Africa, Japan, and India, where women destroy their skin and hair with bleaching to achieve a genetically impossible ideal.
In India, you’ll find that those who rise to the top have fair skin and/or non-brown eyes. At least in the US and Europe, they don’t have need for those who look Caucasian since they have their pickings and are looking for “different, ethnic types.” (Producers there also live on hills or faraway beaches so…)
Otherwise stunning models and actresses are not given as much traction or else relegated to “indie” movie halls just as “overweight” (more than a size 2) are relegated to “character roles” here. The supermodel Laxmi Menon, of Givenchy, Hermes, and H&M fame, did not get fame and success until she left India’s borders since she is “dark” for Indian standards.
This foray into a new beauty by Disney is hopefully a harbinger of more movies where beautiful women of all types are cast — and more important, seen as validation for the girls clinging to every pixel on their screens.