Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Core Post 2: Big Women - Femininity and the Fifties


This week’s reading was relatable to me on a personal level on so many instances. Being a woman who doesn’t identify as straight, is not white, and is not traditionally ‘feminine’ by the traditional 1950’s model of femininity mostly captured by Marilyn Monroe, I’ve struggled a lot with accepting myself for not being a shining model of what Western culture idolizes. Surely this idea of not feeling desired/wanted can be applied to essentially any other ethnicity and/or sexual identity, etc. - though I can only speak for myself and my own experiences. I bring this up not to pity myself, but to put into perspective exactly how and why I feel this way, and to investigate how these structures affect my life, to ultimately figure out how I can work to change those for future generations. Dyer mentions in Heavenly Bodies that, “The white woman is offered as the most highly prized possession of the white man, and the envy of all other races. Imperialist and Southern popular culture abounds in imagery playing on twentieth century. Thus there is the notion of the universally desired ‘White Goddess’”(40). Tracing back to the foundation of America (and Western Imperialist culture, for that matter), the white woman has been seen as the token of desire and the ultimate pedestal of attraction that a man, and all of society should strive to be. Clearly, this isn’t attainable for anyone who isn’t white. While you can bleach your hair and potentially your skin, too, that is NOT something I’m about to do, because I am in the process of embracing my own beauty and individuality as a queer woman of color. When it comes down to it, Caucasian people / those of European descent are really just another race of people. The only reason they’re idolized is because of how our society has been programmed through years and years of reinforcement to teach new generations that that specific race is beautiful. In other cultures, beauty is defined in an entirely different way.

In the context of the entertainment industry, I’ve realized a lot of connections from the readings to the diversity crisis happening in The Academy. Dyer’s book was first published in 1986, and, unsurprisingly, not much has changed about the entertainment industry’s inclusion crisis. Similarly derived entirely from Western Imperialist culture, minorities have been shut out (as if it weren’t obvious enough already). I’m not going to emphasize this point even further - though I was very interested by his reference to the career of Lena Horne, who was a very light-skinned black woman. Dyer writes that, “she was unplaceable except as the ultimate temptress in an all-black musical, Cabin in the Sky, where the guarantee of her beauty resides in the very fact of being so light. Otherwise she could not really be given a role in a film featuring whites, because her very lightness make her an object of desire, thus confusing the racial hierarchy of desirability” (40). Though Lena Horne was very light-skinned and could pass as white if no one ever mentioned it in Hollywood, the mere fact that she was half black prevented her from getting roles because it could disrupt and confuse the entire social structure of desire within America. While I do think our perception of beauty is slowly being guided away from this traditional model from the 1950’s, I do think it’s still there. These are not issues of the past. After all, Marilyn Monroe’s career really only happened 60 years ago or so. I do think that the conversation is there, and we are living within a window of incredible opportunity. Things are currently changing, and I hope to be a part of this wave of change, though ultimately this systematic issue will be solved with time.

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