Laurie and Debbie, who are happy to be blogging together again, say
Feministe especially notes a comment from scenius at Sexual Ambiguities, to the effect that “exotic is not a compliment; it basically says, ‘you don’t belong here.’”
Actually, we think it’s more complicated than that.
Laurie says, “When I was growing up in New York City, no one ever thought I was exotic. When I left New York, nobody thought I was exotic unless they knew I was Jewish. And as soon as they knew I was Jewish, I was suddenly “an exotic beauty.”
So when “exotic” relates to beauty, it still isn’t about how someone looks, but about the context in which they look that way. We think it is a compliment, or perhaps more accurately, it is intended as a compliment. No one ever says: “I find you exotic,” to someone they are dispossessing, or kicking in the face. In this sense, “stacked” is also a compliment.
The issue is that “complimentary” does not equal kind, let alone respectful, and not all “compliments” are welcome. We addressed this issue a little over a month ago, when we wrote about Vegan Kid’s objections to Leonard Nimoy’s photographs of fat women. Here’s a quote from Vegan Kid:
When someone seemingly tries to highlight the beauty of a group of people dancing naked regardless of their size, Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ when we label the photo series Ã¢â‚¬Å“Full Body ProjectÃ¢â‚¬Â. Once again, it ceases to be about pure beauty, because those outside the standards of conventional beauty can never reach pure beauty. Instead, we are a tainted beauty – a beauty of pity.
And while exotic can be beautiful, it can never be pretty. In fact, one of the dictionary definitions of “pretty” (all available at the link) is “having conventionally accepted elements of beauty.”
While exoticism isn’t about a beauty of pity, when it’s about beauty it’s about outsider beauty. As piny points out in the Feministe post, Brownfemipower can simultaneously be “exotic” and suffer all of the negative effects of racism. Someone who is “pretty,” however, is likely to be experiencing privilege to which the exotic person has no access.
So what “exotic” really means is “beautiful but never conventionally acceptable”; “beautiful but I won’t take you home to meet my parents.”
So it’s no surprise that Brownfemipower and piny (and the two of us) see it as an unwelcome compliment. In a beauty of inclusiveness, the word “exotic” becomes meaningless.