Tag Archives: Dove

Wrong Direction: Shonda Rhimes and Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty

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Laurie and Debbie say:

Shonda Rhimes is a powerhouse, and a force for good in the world. Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” is one of the first things we blogged about, more than twelve years ago (yes, really) and we’ve always had mixed feelings about it.

Now, twelve years later, Ashley Nguyen writes at The Lily about how Shonda Rhimes is teaming up with Dove to take the Campaign one step further. Terrific, you say? Well, kind of. They are doing a lot that’s right:

After announcing the project in March, Dove and Rhimes created a call-out for women to submit their stories. They looked at more than 4,500 submissions before deciding on the women featured in their first two films … Real Beauty Productions uses a 100 percent female crew to produce the films because, as Rhimes told The Lily, “If you can, why not?”

On one level, reminding women people that beauty isn’t a narrow box is always useful; in 1994, when we released Women En Large: Images of Fat Women, we certainly put a great deal of time and energy into doing just that.

But …

It’s not 1994, or 2005. It’s 2017. It’s becoming clearer and clearer to activists in all fields–from police terror to mass incarceration to gentrification to body image–that the personal story is simultaneously incredibly important and disastrously insufficient. We need personal stories to humanize people, to interest bystanders, and to galvanize change.

We also need to look at the systemic issues, the things the personal stories don’t address and can’t change. In the case of body image, self-worth, and “real beauty,” here’s a short list:

  • The systemic story that a woman must be beautiful to be important, valuable, interesting, or even to like herself is bullshit.  When Rhimes says:

I think my definition of beauty is me at my most. Feeling my best, as confident as I can be, doing my best work. Being at my happiest. I also think it’s the moments where I’ve decided to just be me, despite what anybody else thinks, despite what anybody else might judge, despite what anyone else has been thinking about. It’s just me being me without even noticing anybody else or their judgment.

Why does that have to have anything to do with beauty? We would never say that a man doing his best work, or at his happiest, is at his most beautiful.

  • By any real definition of beauty, everyone can’t be beautiful. For one thing, beauty is cultural and not all of it travels. For another, some people don’t want to be looked at; others don’t care. Focusing on “real beauty” as something for everyone ignores the option of “I don’t want to be/I don’t care about being” beautiful. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness.
  • If everyone was in fact beautiful, wouldn’t that erase beauty? One thing we use our eyes for is to find things and people that please us: some of them are beautiful, some are attractive, some are interesting, or cleverly decked out, or surprising. And many things and people that we see are not particularly visually memorable. In the case of women, why should that one characteristic define them?
  • We should never forget that when we’re talking about women “beauty” is at least partially code for “sexual availability,” and lots of women, including many who might want to be beautiful in other contexts, have extremely good reasons not to want to be lumped into “sexually available” or even judged on our sexual availability.

Yes, Shonda Rhimes and Dove are doing a kind of good work together. If they make one woman feel better about herself, we can cheer that success. What we’d really like to see, however, is Rhimes (probably without Dove, which would lose its vested interest) take on the bigger question of why being at our most, feeling our best, as confident as we can be, doing our best work, being at our happiest is not enough.

Same Family, Different Colors

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Debbie says:

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I recently finished Same Family Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America by Lori L. Tharps. Tharps describes herself as a Black (medium-dark) woman with a Spanish husband. Of her three children, two are lighter-skinned than herself and one is darker. This led her to get interested in and explore colorism from various perspectives: after the introduction which largely distinguishes colorism from racism while always aware of the connections between the two, the book is broken up into sections on Black, Latino/a experience, Asian experience, and mixed-race families. Each section begins with basic historical research and continues with four or five interviews with people from multicolored families from the groups in question.

While Tharps is unwavering about the role of white supremacist society, commerce/industry, and media in colorism, nonetheless she chose to focus on life in families, specifically families with significant internal color variation. The research, which I found very useful, is really there to provide context for the interviews. Nonetheless, I found the research very useful. She largely debunks the presumption that the color division in Black communities is related to house slaves vs. field slaves, and she uses the historical sections to reinforce the ties between attitudes within a community of color and the larger white-supremacy culture. She documents an East Asian preference for lighter skin dating back to centuries before any Europeans set foot on those shores.

The interviews, the heart of the book, are a bit shorter and a shallower than I would like, but they are well done and with an excellent range of perspectives–people with lighter skin than their families, people with darker skin, people who were supported within their families regardless of skin color, people whose families placed great weight on skin color to their benefit, people whose families placed great weight on skin color to their detriment. She frequently addresses “light skin isolation,” the experience of someone who may have wider social acceptance because of light skin, but also may feel estranged from, or insufficiently part of, a darker-skinned family.

One of Tharps’ stated goals is to distinguish colorism from racism, again without any level of denial of racism. Another is to examine how family support can help children of different colors, and how family lack of support can be harmful, while also talking with people who ignored, or transcended, or reversed their families’ expectations and prejudices.

I read the book mostly because I am close to two young siblings with different colored skins. After I borrowed, but before I read, the book, I specifically used the word “chocolate” to refer to a baby’s skin color (on social media) and got kindly schooled by a friend of color who pointed out that some dark-skinned people are offended by the common use of commodity terms (and specifically commodities historically harvested by slaves) to describe dark skin color, so the topic is much on my mind.

Tharps uses words like “chocolate” and “coffee,” as well as color words (brown, tan, beige) and other terms as they seem to fit. Towards the end of the book she acknowledges that some people may be unhappy with some of her choices; she spends some time exploring possible color words.

While she is a huge advocate of change beginning within the family, she ends the book with a rallying cry to fight back against the multibillion dollar skin lightening industry, which is most thoroughly established in India but has footholds everywhere. Laurie and I have written about this before: boycotting Dove, whose parent company Unilever sells “Fair & Lovely,” a leading skin lightening cream, is a good start. After all, Dove claims to be committed to “real beauty.”

Thanks to Darlene for lending me the book.