#PinterestFail

The Pinterest pins for “Latina”, “Mexican” and “women” provided a deep well of mixed messages about this group of individuals. There were several posts that celebrated and encouraged the strength of Latina women— exemplified by the likes of Frida Kahlo and Selena Quintanilla. More common, however, were posts reinforcing negative stereotypes about them. A large amount of Pinterest posts carried themes that portrayed Latina women as feisty, aggressive or violent.


The aggressive homemakers

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One of the more prominent themes in these Pinterest tags was the assertion that Latina women were moody or ill-tempered, but they made up for it by excelling at stereotypical “feminine” responsibilities. They highlight a Latina woman’s ability to cook and have a strong sexuality, reinforcing the belief that women are meant to excel at home. Along this, her ethnicity is tied to an abrasive attitude. There has long been a stereotype of the “feisty Latina” that challenges anything and anyone. These posts demonstrate these characteristics while still binding the women to traditionally feminine household roles.


Sweet and Spicy

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In a similar characterization of Latina women as the previous theme, several posts portrayed them as a mixture of “sweet and spicy”. They posts demonstrated how Latina women could be kind, caring and sweet—all stereo typically feminine traits— when they wanted to be. However, this sweetness was contrasted with an aggressive, often violent side. These women are stereotyped as being kind and pleasant until something goes wrong. At which point, they are portrayed as being uncontrollable in their anger or need for revenge.


Spicy, hold the sweet

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A Latina woman’s temperament was a prevalent theme in several of the Pinterest pins. While some of the themes discussed paired the stereotypical abrasive temperament with a softer trait, some left out the positive outlook altogether. Many posts about Latina women portrayed them as quick-tempered and angry by nature. These posts focus on revenge, and a Latina’s violent reaction to even the slightest of offenses. They are portrayed as manipulative, vindictive, conniving and unable to control themselves—as if their ethnicity is an immediate indicator that they should be angry.


Too much to handle

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Finally, several posts highlighted a Latina’s hyper-sexuality or bold personality as a way to dominate men in a romantic relationship. These traits are portrayed as intimidating to the average man, and something only the select number of “strong” men can handle. These stereotypes can warp a viewers’ perception of a healthy relationship. Instead of a relationship built on mutual trust and respect, Latinas are thrust into the role of the aggressor who controls every relationship she enters, scares away the “weak” and requires a specific type of man to be able to handle her.


Pinterest misses the mark

One of the more alarming trends I saw throughout these posts was a positive spin put on these negative stereotypes about Latina women. These Pinterest posts make it seems as if the aggressive, violent, vindictive and controlling stereotypes put on Latinas are something to be celebrated. As if these are what give her strength. The strength of Latinas is certainly something to be celebrated, but when we associate this strength with violence or aggression, we immediately take a good thing and portray it as negative.

We are giving a false impression of what strength really is, and mislabeling an entire group of people while we do it. The “feisty” Latina stereotype is a watered-down phrase used to label them as uncontrollable and angry, which are not only untrue, but they diminish the true qualities of strength Latinas have that are not born out of aggression or violence.

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#PinterestFail

Our diversity is lacking diversity

A black and white issue

According an article from Tune Groover, some of the most popular women’s fashion and beauty magazines are Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Essence, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, Marie Claire, Redbook, Seventeen, Vanity Fair and Vogue. These magazines are influential in representing lifestyles, trends and news in the women’s fashion world. The November 2017 covers for these magazines tackle diversity in a way that has become all too common in American culture— by making it a black and white issue.

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Half of the magazine covers for November 2017 feature women of color. Of these women, five are black or biracial with black and white ancestry and one (a very airbrushed and whitewashed Chrissy Teigen for InStyle) is biracial with one white parent and one Thai.

It is easy to look at these covers and believe that the media is improving on diversity. In an industry that was once almost entirely dominated by white representatives, we now see women of color on six of the twelve top selling magazines for the next month. The issue we run into all to often in America is viewing diversity as black and white. As if featuring individuals from both groups fills the quota, and the job is done.

The magazine covers for November 2017 do not feature any Latina women. There are no Middle Eastern women, Indian women, Native Americans and very minimal Asian representation. We have diversity in the sense that the cover models are not all white, but we are still greatly lacking.

Women’s fashion magazines are not the only media to struggle with this lack of diversity. The 2016 Oscar’s Awards featured several black and white nominees, but very few individuals of other races. Actress Octavia Spencer spoke to USA Today about the lack of diversity in the awards show.


“I don’t feel there’s a lot of diversity. There’s black and white. But there are a lot more people of color than African Americans. There’s so much more to diversity than being black or white” –Octavia Spencer


While this quote pertains to the award show, it rings true for the fashion and beauty world as well. We have made improvements in the representation of black women. It is in the representation of Latinas, Asians, Native Americans and Middle Eastern women that we still have work to do.

Women age, too!

A form of diversity far less discussed (and granted, arguably less important) than race is age. The women on the November 2017 covers range from age 17 (Yara Shahidi on the cover of Seventeen) to age 50 (Julia Roberts for Harper’s Bazaar and Laura Dern for Elle). 

According the Fashion Spot, women age 50 and above were featured on 34 covers in 2016, which totaled approximately 5 percent of all bookings. With this statistic in mind, November of 2017 almost isn’t looking too shabby. There are two women age 50, and at least one— but usually two— from each decade before it down to age 17. It is in the push above 50 that we fall short.

If one were too look at only the fashion and beauty world, it would be easy to believe that women cease to exist after age 50. Thank goodness this isn’t the truth.

There are women in their fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties (hello, Betty White!) who are still prominent figures in the media. These women still do great work and are just as worth of magazine covers as their younger counterparts, but we simply don’t see them represented all that often.

The conversation about diversity in magazines is largely dominated by the lack of racial representation. It’s an important conversation to have, and I believe should be the most urgent issue we address in how women are represented. Beyond this, though, we can improve on diversity in age as well. There are women above 50 who do some pretty awesome things in society, and we have done a disservice by not showcasing them.

Our diversity is lacking diversity

Finding the point of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”

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When a discussion opens up about the “tiger mother” stereotype, the most modern and arguably the most popular topic of conversation is Amy Chua’s New York Times best seller Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. This book, released in 2011, was a top seller in the United States, Germany, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, Isreal, Poland, Korea and China. It was featured on the cover of Time magazine, and has gone on to represent the common image of the tiger mother in society today.

In Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Chua tells of how she set out to raise her daughters, Sophia and Lulu, the Chinese way— the better way, in her mind. She drilled them in academics, music and discipline. With her first daughter, she was successful. The second child, Lulu, tested every limit set before her. The book is a personal memoir about culture clashes and the struggles of parenthood, but it has been misinterpreted to mold a stereotype of uptight, emotionless tiger mothers who expect nothing but perfection from their children.

Reception of the book was controversial at best. Chua was seen as harsh and unrelenting in her quest to make her daughters succeed. Her ambitions for her children were put in the spotlight as a model to represent Asian American parents. Because Amy Chua was strict and expected a lot from her children, every other Asian American parent was assumed to do the same.

Society missed the point, though. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was not an exaltation of Chinese parenting over Western parenting. It was not a way for Chua to assert her ideas over someone else’s, and it certainly wasn’t meant to define the tiger mother stereotype for modern generations. It was a self-critique— a look inside a commonly misinterpreted style of parenting and the trials and tribulations that come with it.


Jokes aside about A+s and gold medals (much of my book is self-parody), in the end for me it’s not about grades or Ivy League schools. It’s about believing in your child more than anyone else – more than they believe in themselves – and helping them realize their potential, whatever it may be. My book has been controversial. Many people have misunderstood it. If I could push a magic button and choose either happiness or success for my children, I’d choose happiness in a second.” –Amy Chua


The almost immediate backlash and subsequent popularization of the book pigeonholed the conversation about tiger mothers and Asian Americans. Instead of recognizing that there are several Asian cultures and that they all differ from one another, the strict Chinese mother became the face of the model minority. Amy Chua became a misunderstood representation of a tiger mother that she never asked to be.

The discussion about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is not about what style of parenting is best. It’s not even about whether or not you agree with Chua’s methods. It’s a retrospective of one family, and their journey through growing a family and the cultural and generational gaps they encountered. All too often, the stereotypical tiger mother image is rooted in this book. This misses the mark. Rather than using Chua’s persona in this book as a model for all Asian American mothers, we should be joining in with her in laughing, cringing, groaning and cheering alongside her family. The book is not a prototype for the tiger mother stereotype, but an engaging family story about relationships and growing together. And that’s a discussion more worth having.

Finding the point of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”

Where Careers and Motherhood Collide

My research paper dives deep into the world of mothers and the divide that exist between those who choose to work and those who choose to stay at home. The social media search of the #WorkingMother demonstrates this. Mothers who choose to work are portrayed as busy and overwhelmed, whereas the #StayAtHomeMom tag is portrayed as more tranquil. However, the rise of social media has carved a path for a new breed of mother— the Instagram mom. The popular photo-sharing social media site has allowed some mothers to make a profitable career off of their stay at home lifestyle through ads and sponsored partnerships.

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Photos from left to right, top to bottom: Carissa Renee Stuck, Emilee Durrant, Kristen, Hannah Carpenter, Angie Keiser, Savannah LaBrant, Michelle and Joy Cho.

 

These mothers have gained a loyal following with their children, attracting both large and local companies that wish to advertise their products to their scads of viewers. They advertise clothing companies, local attractions, food services, retail stores, emerging technologies and just about anything else that can be put in a photo with their children for a payment.

The payment for these photos can come in monetary form based on the number of followers an account has, or in the form of free products of the companies being advertised. These mothers snap the perfect shot of their children with a product, and build an online career one photo at a time.

Emily Frame, a Salt Lake City, UT mother of three who contributes to the popular Small Fry Instagram account and blog of the same name, spoke in an article for Refinery 29. She explained how social media has created a link between being a stay at home mother and still having a career.


It’s kind of a dream gig to be able to stay at home and get paid to do it. I can be a stay-at-home mom, and I get to be creative.”


The rise of the Instagram Mom has created an outlet for women to be stay at home mothers while still earning an income, but the ethics of the practice have been questioned. The photos posted for advertisements or sponsored materials are beautiful. They are carefully composed with great lighting and interesting subjects. They are not, however, always indicative of the real life they are suggesting they represent. An article on the Mother magazine website discusses a study performed in 2015 by scholars Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield. This study concluded that 79 percent of parents on Instagram were found to manipulate a situation or disturb the natural experiences of their child in order to get the right shot. Sponsored Instagram accounts turn a profit, but this doesn’t always come without a price.

The emergence of moms on Instagram is new as the app itself wasn’t released until 2010. The social media has yet to exist for a decade, and it has already created a new form of work for mothers. There are issues within this trend that will either be addressed and changed as Instagram ages, or they will simply be written up as collateral damage of the job. Because being an Instagram moms is just that— a job.

The research I have done for my paper has shown a hard line being drawn between a working and a stay at home mother. A woman is free to be one or the other, but there is resistance when she tries to be both. The rise of the Instagram mom goes against this major finding, and it is an important aspect of motherhood that I believe will continue to grow in size and prominence as social media evolves. The Instagram mom is not categorized as a traditional stay at home mom or a working mother, because she is both at once.

Where Careers and Motherhood Collide

“It’s okay, I have a black friend”

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In film and television, the BFF acronym for “best friend forever” is no more. Now, it has been given a new name— black best friend. Several productions have used minorities, specifically black actors, as sidekicks to the white stars.

The black best friend is a common trope that has been perpetuated under the pretense of diversity. This plays into the notion that having a person of color on screen is enough. As if their very presence within the frame is sufficient to accurately represent a group of people with stories, culture and history all their own.

We’ve discussed cultural appropriation in class as the act of taking a piece of someone’s culture as your own while ignoring the significance behind it or the struggles they may face. In a way, the black best friend is a form of cultural appropriation. Films and television shows have used the presence of a person of color on screen to put a check mark on diversity without dedicating the time in their program to truly embrace every aspect of the culture the are representing.

In an article from The Washington Post, writer Eric Breggan explains why the black best friend trope is more harmful than helpful to diversity on screen.


“Many BBFs exist in a vacuum. You don’t see their relatives, spouses, kids or other friends of color. In fact, many of these characters could be any ethnicity. Their skin color seems a bit like window dressing, employed to make shows that still reflect an entirely Caucasian worldview look diverse.”


When a black best friend is used as a program’s token minority, they are stripped of their cultural identity that would portray true diversity and made to fit a generic mold that is tucked neatly behind their white counterpart.

In several programs, the black best friend is used as a sidekick to the white protagonist. They are there to help them overcome conflicts and keep them in line when they may stray. With little to no backstory of their own, they are forever yoked to their friend. They may be funny, kind, animated and lovable, but they are never allowed to be their own character apart from their white friend.

The photos above demonstrate black and white friendships from the shows Grimm, Psych, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Scrubs and Malcolm in the Middle, as well as the films Legally Blonde, Miss Congeniality 2 and Clueless. I chose these examples because they show that the black best friend trope stretches between both men and women from film to television, across several networks and through multiple decades.

The relationships depicted in the photo collages are encouraging on the surface. We have individuals of different races working together on screen. They are supportive of one another and have fun together, but there is always a power imbalance. The white star gets deep story lines that distinguish them as complex individuals while their black best friend is left as an underdeveloped, one-dimensional, stereotypical minority character on screen.

People of color are not props for diversity, and they are not sidekicks that come into the picture only when their white friend has an issue to solve. Diversity is more than simply having people of different colors on screen. It means recognizing cultural differences, giving people of color deep and compelling story lines and honoring struggles they may have. Until films and television programs break the BFF trope and do these things, we will forever be striving for accurate racial representations we have not yet achieved.

“It’s okay, I have a black friend”

Let’s turn the page on this, shall we?

With an ever-increasing media landscape, we are exposed to countless advertisements a day, often without even registering them. We mindlessly watch the television, drive by a billboard or flip through a magazine without realizing that we are internalizing some of the messages they send. In several magazines marketed towards women, we have become so used to seeing such highly photoshopped images that it is almost more jarring to see a genuine representation of females than one that has been nipped, tucked, airbrushed and altered beyond reality.

I believe the manipulation of women for the male gaze is an issue that deserves and has received attention, but the alteration of women for a female audience is an issue that has sparked less of a conversation. These images are not necessarily made to be sexual, but to stir a sense of inadequacy in the audience. Instead of asking, “Why can’t I be with that woman?”, we are meant to ask “Why can’t I BE that woman?” It is a strange phenomenon that women in advertisements are made to fit unrealistic standards of beauty for an audience that is primarily made up of other women. We should, after all, have the greatest understanding that what we see is not the truth. We know that women come in all sizes, can have messy hair, get pimples and don’t wake up with a flawless face of makeup. Even still, these advertisements continue to prey on our insecurities.

We are told that our hair is not shiny enough without a certain brand of shampoo. We need the newest mascara to make our eyes pop or the newest diet fad to help us lose weight. Celebrity endorsers like Selena Gomez for Pantene hair products or Queen Latifah for Jenny Craig are featured in advertisements telling us what we need for our bodies while we don’t know if we can trust the images being presented to us. It is no secret that several companies photoshop their images, but this normalcy does not make it any less of an issue.

Jean Kilbourne has studied the effects of the media on audiences for over four decades. In an article on the Groundswell Stories website, she spoke about how constant unrealistic depictions of women in advertisements can negatively affect our body image.


“It’s not just that we see these images once, or twice, or even a hundred times. They stay with us and we process them mostly subconsciously. [They create] an environment that surround us with unhealthy images and that constantly sacrifices our heath and our sense of well-being for the sake of profit. Ads sell more than products. They sell values, they sell images, they sell concepts of love and sexuality, of success, and perhaps most important, of normalcy. To a great extent, they tell us who we are and who we should be.”


The advertisements I see in magazines and other print media are trying to dictate how women should take care of their bodies using images that have been created with a computer rather than the products they are offering. Women are targeted with these photos, but the rise of social media has given people a platform to speak up against heavy photoshopping.

Social Media sites like Instagram and Twitter have given celebrities and models a voice to speak out with when they feel an image of themselves has been altered too much. Public figures like Kerry Washington have taken to their accounts to protest the dramatic changes made to their photos.

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“I love ADWEEK. It’s a publication I appreciate. And learn from. I’ve long followed them on Twitter. And when they invited me to do a cover, I was excited and thrilled. And the truth is, I’m still excited. I’m proud of the article. And I like some of the inside images a great deal. But, I have to be honest…I was taken aback by the cover. Look, I’m no stranger to Photo-shopping. It happens a lot. In a way, we have become a society of picture adjusters – who doesn’t love a filter?!? And I don’t always take these adjustments to task but I have had the opportunity to address the impact of my altered image in the past and I think it’s a valuable conversation. Yesterday, however, I just felt weary. It felt strange to look at a picture of myself that is so different from what I look like when I look in the mirror. It’s an unfortunate feeling. ” –Kerry Washington

Another major way social media is helping change the landscape of print advertising is through consumer feedback. With sites like Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, customers are able to instantaneously express their disapproval of an image. However, they are also able to actively support brands that are straying away from heavily photoshopped images. Companies like Dove and Aerie have committed to featuring models in their natural form, and celebrating it. The comment sections for these companies are teaming with positivity and gratitude for portraying women as they really are— human.

By heavily photoshopping photos in advertisements, companies are setting a standard for women that no one will truly be able to reach. Celebrities and models are painted in a false light to target insecurities in the audience and hopefully sell a product. In this pursuit of profit, however, companies are instilling a sense of inadequacy. We see countless photos of “perfect” women that we eventually perceive them as normal and wonder why we can’t look like them. This is a harmful cycle that must, and hopefully will, be dismantled by the growth of social media. It’s on us now. We hold the power to actively support companies who refuse to retouch their models and we need to hold companies accountable when they do. We can use this power to fight for an accurate portrayal of women in print media, because that is a portrayal worth fighting for.

Buzzfeed recently conducted an experiment putting professional photoshopping techniques to the test on average women, and they were all overwhelmingly against photoshopping.

 We know our own bodies and we know what is real or fake, so it is time we held companies to the same standards in the way they represent women.

References

Buzzfeed Video. “Photoshopping Real Women into Cover Models.” Online Video Clip. Youtube. 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 18 Sept. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRlpIkH3b5I

Oliver, Amanda, et al. “4 Companies That Refuse to Photoshop-And Why That Matters For All Genders.” Groundswell Stories, Groundswell, 2017. Web. https://groundswell.org/4-companies-that-refuse-to-photoshop-and-why-that-matters-for-all-genders/  

Venderperre, Willy. “Foundations for Flawless Skin.” Vogue. Oct. 2015. Web. 18 Sept. 2017. https://www.vogue.com/article/best-new-foundation-fall-beauty-chanel-dior

Washington, Kerry. ADWEEK Cover Photo. Instagram, 5 April 2017. Web. 18 Sept. 2017. https://www.instagram.com/p/BD1Yu–ABne/?taken-by=kerrywashington

Let’s turn the page on this, shall we?