Last year, the marriage of Priscilla Chan and the founder of facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, brought up lots discussions. Some people argue that Priscilla is not pretty enough to marry Mark Zuckerberg. This claim indicates discourses that men are consumers and women are commodities in the marriage market and that “men act, women appear.” Many people have unconsciously internalized these ideas and thus fail to understand why as one of the richest men Mark did not marry someone who is astonishingly pretty. Priscilla received the gazes as many other celebrities’ wives did and was unfortunately criticized as appearing old, fat and having bad fashion taste. Nowadays, if one searches Priscilla Chan under Google image, the second popular collection blatantly featured “Priscilla Chan Fat”.
Following scrutinizing at Prscilla’s appearance, more doubts arose in terms of Priscilla’s marriage purpose and potential benefits. Similar topic has been studied scholarly. Schaeffer-Grabiel used her tour in Colombia as ethnographic to study how women use beauty, or their body capital as a form of mobility. In her model, men are seen as the consumer who trade commodities in the market while women are seen as commodities being trade. She brought up this idea of International Matchmaking Industry to explain women’s marriage migration. Priscilla is definitely perceived as receiving huge social migration through the marriage.
In response to the concern, supporters of Prascilla find evidence to show that she is indifferent with the power of her husband. They emphasize that Priscilla started dating Mark way before he became a billionaire and that Priscilla herself is smart and well educated, which to some extent compensated the lack of a beautiful appearance. Another story shown in the New York Times more directly justified Priscilla’s indifferent to Mark’s financial power: Once Mark Zuckerberg’a sister Randy shopped with Priscilla during which Priscilla stopped to admire a pair of shoes that cost $600. When Randy told Priscilla that they had enough money to buy the shoes, Prisicilla simply said: “It’s not my money”.
Yet most people disregard the weight of what “true love” plays in the relationship as the financial consequence of their divorce surpass the role “sincerity” plays. As a result, concerns about if Mark can protect his property if they get divorced become the center of the conversation. Once the couple finished the ceremony, discussions about whether the couple signed a prenup pervaded on the Internet. Celebrity divorce attorney Raoul Felder claimed: ““You can bet your last dollar — actually you can bet his last dollar — that he has a prenup……If he doesn’t, he ought to go to a psychiatrist and not a lawyer.”
Among celebrities, there were lots of stories about invalid or improper preups that led the wife gain a lot of fortune at divorce. The negative response to similar issues led to legislative reform in many countries. For example, China adopted its new Marriage Law in which couples’ pre-marriage property remains permanent private. Under the new law, women are disempowered in their marriage, as their husbands are now able to kick them out of the house no matter what. Both the new legislation and the response to celebrity’s marriage arise the question why we are so eager to protect our wealthy men.
 Minh-Ha Pham. “If the clothes Fit: A Feminist Takes on Fashion”, Ms. Magazine, fall 2011 http://www.msmagazine.com/fall2011/iftheclothesfit.asp.
 Felicity Schaeffer-Grabiel, “Calenas and Pliable Bodies: Mobility through Beauty and Marriage”(UC Santa Cruz), 1
 Laura M. Holson & Nick Bilton. “facebook’s royal wedding”, New York Times, May 25, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/27/fashion/who-is-priscilla-chan.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0,
 Natasha Burton. “ MaMark Zuckerberg Prenup: Billionaire Facebook Founder Weds Priscilla Chan, Was There a Prenup?”, Huffington Post, May 21, 2012,
Dolores Prida’s Beautiful Señoritas showcases the hypocritical expectations that society holds for Latina women and how these ideas permeate the consciousnesses of girls at a very young age without ever being explicitly taught to them.
The exploitative beauty pageant in the play presents a framework in which women are valued for their “exotic” beauty, but only in a context in which that exoticism is removed from its context of the heritage and personalities of the individuals, and placed into a context of oppression and hardship. All these women are forced by their circumstances to commodify their bodies, about which they are obviously unhappy, but are forced to smile no matter what.
The impact of their oppression is seen even more clearly in the final scene of the play, in which a child has internalized and exaggerated all of the “Beautiful Señoritas’” beauty practices, in a way that the audience is meant to find grotesque and which deeply impacts all the women onstage.
While reading Generation E.A.: Ethnically Ambiguous, I had relatively mixed feelings. On one hand, it’s great that people are celebrating different forms of beauty! On the other hand, this celebration seems shallow. These mixed-race models are talked about like objects, as the hot new thing in modeling. They come in and out of style like any other trend in the fashion world.
(Image: This came up when I searched mixed-race models. I guess they are? But look how white they look!)
Additionally, the celebration specifically of mixed-race models as opposed to all racial groups is problematic. Using mixed race models can be seen as a way to include the perceived positives of exoticized beauty, without also having the perceived negatives of actually having the models be too other.
I think I’m going to choose to be optimistic and say that maybe this surge in ambiguously-raced models is not a comprehensive acceptance/celebration of non-white beauty, but hopefully it’s at least a step forward.
I was browsing Tumblr a little while ago, when I came upon this comic.
This comic exemplifies a problem that unfortunately plagues many marginalized groups/organizations/communities. In attempting to celebrate inclusivity and promote an end to discrimination, many groups can end up excluding or discriminating against minorities within their own community.
One way in which this is often manifested is through invisibility, like bi invisibility, or invisibility of pansexuals, asexuals, racial minorities, trans* individuals, etc.
These are the problems that intersectionality tries to fix, rejecting the second-wave feminism that bell hooks describes, prescribing specific beauty practices that, being non-normative, can only be practicable for the priveliged. For this reason, feminism has traditionally only attracted white, middle-class women. But it’s important to include all kinds of people! Just focusing on one group is not enough!
This is another somewhat frightening and ridiculous case of photoshop plastic surgery (or body swapping?) in an ad for Christina Aguilera’s new perfume line.
Does anyone remember the Billboard Magazine interview (which I first read about on Jezebel) in which she said this?:
I got tired of being a skinny white girl. I am Ecuadorian but people felt so safe passing me off as a skinny, blue-eyed white girl … [In 2002,] I had gained about 15 pounds during promotion and during my Stripped tour. They called this serious emergency meeting about how there was a lot of backlash about my weight. Basically, theyd told me I would effect [sic] a lot of people if I gained weight — the production, musical directors. They claimed people I toured with would also miss out if I gained weight because I would sell no records or tickets for my shows. I was young, so I lost the weight quickly and was toothpick thin during [2006’s] Back to Basics promos and touring.
I told them during this Lotus recording, ‘You are working with a fat girl. Know it now and get over it.’ They need a reminder sometimes that I don’t belong to them. It’s my body. My body can’t put anyone in jeopardy of not making money anymore — my body is just not on the table that way anymore.
Searching for the above statement, I came across this post that talks about ethnicity, celebrity, and fat– which revealed that her commentary was completely fake! What kind of harm/good might these fake words have on conversations/culture surrounding female celebrities of color and their bodies?
Maybe it’s because I’ve been explaining the central questions of this class to many friends who aren’t in it, or maybe it’s because our blackboard mapping the other day got me thinking in a more big-picture way, but what I keep coming back to as this class wraps up is a desire for synthesis, for some answers in the midst of all our questions. I know that this blog is all about zooming in close on cultural artifacts, but I can’t help zooming out in an effort to find patterns amidst all the intersecting threads.
In class on Wednesday, someone asked if awareness of all the beauty issues we’ve been discussing over the course of the term is “enough.” Is understanding the way our society constructs beauty around the axes of race, gender, and power a satisfying end in itself, or does this understanding demand action? It’s a continual question for anyone who loves learning and who also feels driven toward social change: where do the two meet? Where do we newly-beauty-and-race-conscious people go from here? I don’t exactly know; the link is undeniable but difficult to trace in a neat way.
What I do know, however, is that any successful movement for social change seems to start with a concrete set of goals. Before this class, I wouldn’t have been able to articulate the goals of a feminist, anti-racist, adipositive beauty movement beyond a vague statement like, “Women shouldn’t be objectified.” After ten weeks of thinking about the role of beauty in our society, I’d say I’m still pretty far from having a concrete plan of action towards beauty justice; as our class discussions have illustrated, questions about beauty tend to lead to at least as many new questions as answers. Though I’m still puzzling over things, I think I do have enough (still-in-progress) answers to articulate a preliminary, non-comprehensive draft of the actions I’d want to see come out of all this thinking. I think of this as the abbreviated, go-getter version of this class, in a size that’s good for sharing with friends and family. Here goes:
Manifesto for a Real Beauty Revolution :
Action Steps for a More Humane, More Healthy Social Attitude toward Beauty
1. Work towards a media landscape that is more representative of real women with diverse skin colors, body types, hairstyles, fashion choices, etc. Our beauty norms are almost entirely socially constructed, and mass media is an enormous echo chamber perpetuating the dominant, monolithic beauty norm. The idea of beauty is also constructed by families, peers, and biology, but over the course of this term, the pervasiveness of mass media in the creation of beauty standards has been astounding. To change beauty standards, we must change the media, including marketing by the mainstream beauty industry. When all people can view their bodies as “normal”— when they can see themselves reflected in advertisements, films, music videos, toys, and magazines—beauty can become more personally defined rather than defined by a single (privileged) voice.
As much as possible, support advertising campaigns that represent the true range of human bodies (two examples that have come up in class are Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty and Debenhams’s recent ad campaign featuring people of all ages, races, and body types). Resist campaigns that actively obscure that diversity, equating the idea of beauty with a single look. Point out instances of silent or not-so-silent racism to as many people as you can. Of course, supporting “good” campaigns isn’t as easy as it sounds, as evidenced by the various controversies (this one from 2011 and this one from spring 2013 surrounding the Dove advertising strategies. But in general, even if they are imperfect, ads that help shift the definition of “normal” by representing diverse beauties are doing important work, and we need more of them.
2. In personal interactions with others, treat beauty as neither frivolous nor all-defining. A person’s choices about her appearance can have very real consequences for her personal and professional success. Despite the way we often frame beauty routines as vain and inconsequential (think of the word “primping”), beauty matters, and most women are acutely aware of this. As Kathy Davis argues, people who take matters into their own hands through fashion, makeup, cosmetic surgery, or dieting are generally not “cultural dopes” fooled by society’s messages about appearance, but rather conscious and active agents in shaping how they are perceived by others . Beauty practices are rarely adopted unthinkingly, and we should never summarily dismiss anyone’s beauty choices as superficial or self-absorbed.
While we recognize the power of beauty in our society, however, we also need to fight the monopoly of appearance and place a greater emphasis on the non-visual elements of a person’s worth. If we let ourselves be forever trapped by the idea that “men act and women appear” , women cannot escape the role of visual, often sexualized objects to be seen as respected actors in the areas of research, scholarship, politics, service, or creativity. Beauty matters, and acting on that knowledge can be an enormous source of personal power. But if “beautiful” is all a woman can aspire to, beauty becomes a constraint rather than a tool. In this way, beauty is both empowering and disempowering, or if you like, empowering but limited.
3. Treat all individual choices people make about their appearance as valid expressions of their personal identity, made up of their gender expression, their cultural identity, religious/ethical beliefs, professional aspirations, and more. Whether a person chooses to wear her hair “natural” or permed, whether she wears dramatic eyeliner or none at all, validate those choices as external manifestations of a person’s inner self. By the same token, try as much as possible to express yourself honestly through your appearance. You will always be a product of your society (there’s no such thing as a “pure” identity untouched by social influences), but as much as possible, make beauty decisions based on what feels beautiful to you rather than what you imagine others think is beautiful. Just as a more diverse media landscape will allow people to form more personalized visions of beauty, more visual diversity among the people we see every day will cause people to question formerly unassailable beauty norms.
4. Share these ideas with as many people as possible. Pay special attention to young people, who 1) may have never thought critically about how media shapes their self-image and 2) may be more likely to change their views on beauty than someone who is more firmly entrenched in the system.
As I stated, this is only the beginning of my imagined manifesto. It’s interesting how much detail disappears when things are framed by a list of actions (how to turn “historical power structures around nation and race have fundamentally shaped mainstream beauty norms” into something we can do? Besides the action of noticing and sharing; we can (and should) always do that). With everything we’ve read and discussed, what else would you add to this concise statement of action? How else have you synthesized all the ideas we’ve talked about into concrete changes in the way you treat yourself and the way you interact with others?
 Kathy Davis, “Remaking the She-Devil: A Critical Look at Feminist Approaches to Beauty,” Hypatia 6.2 (1991).
 John Berger, Ways of Seeing. (BBC Books, 1972), quoted in Susan Bordo, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993), 118.