December 06, 2012

Native beauty = white and thin?

This Is Why I'm Hot!

By Christina M. CastroLately, we as Native people have been bombarded with a constant influx of demeaning imagery in the media and fashion industry. It seems like every other skinny blonde model or pop singer these days is rocking a tacky war bonnet. Yet, change is happening! As quickly as the recent horrid faux pas came onto the scene, they were soon squashed by a swift backlash. Plenty of Native writers, mostly women, have discussed the issue of irresponsible appropriation in numerous excellent articles. Many kudos to those who spoke out in various ways, educating others in the process.

Now that we are beginning to see our efforts being addressed, I’d like to bring the dialogue inward and pose a question: What do Native people think makes for a beautiful Native woman?

Some of you may recall a contest last year on Facebook, “Worlds Hottest Native,” or something to that effect. Sponsored by an entity called Native Entertainment, a plethora of contestants entered pictures of themselves in their sexiest poses. Votes were tallied and although I don’t much recall how “The Hottest Native” male looked; mostly a chiseled faced, lean and long haired male of the standard variety, I distinctly recall the contestant who was selected as the “Hottest Native” female. She was some semblance of a Navajo; brown skinned and big breasted (read: fake) with bleached blonde hair; a rez Pamela Anderson.

That got me thinking. Is “hot” just code speak for white, mainstream beauty? Furthermore, how much of my own beauty aesthetic has been influenced by Eurocentric standards? Has our beauty standard as Native people become so colonized that we only recognize beauty if it looks white and thin?

Comment:  By "white" I don't think Castro means having light skin. I think she means having Caucasian facial features and body types.

This column suggests why we need Native actors to portray Native women. Not Native starlets who have gone Hollywood and made themselves sexy with makeovers and cosmetic surgery. Not multiracial women who look Caucasian with slightly darker skin and "exotic" features. Rather, real women who may be shorter, thicker, or older than the typical Hollywood starlet. Who may have higher cheekbones, thinner lips, or bigger noses than average.

Not that there's anything wrong with looking beautiful by Western standards. But always choosing someone who looks "Hollywood beautiful" helps to erase actual Native people. It sends the wrong message to Native women: "You're not worth much unless you look more white."

It also sends the wrong message to non-Natives: "Indians look like the impossibly beautiful people you see in romanticized paintings, book covers, and advertisements. They wear leathers and feathers, consort with wolves and eagles, ride horses and live in teepees. If you don't look like that, you're not a real Indian. The real Indians are gone and you're some sort of imitation."

The same applies to other minorities, of course. And to whites, for that matter. But people see a wide range of white folks every day. Most never see an Indian, or don't realize they're seeing one. They don't recognize an Indian unless he or she fits the Hollywood stereotype.

For more on the subject, see "Pocahontas" in Gossip Girl and Crystle Lightning = Maria Tallchief?

What stereotypes teach us to expect: a sexy Indian temptress with Barbie-doll proportions.

A typical multiracial actress (Julia Jones III) chosen by Hollywood to reflect our stereotypical expectations.

An actual Native woman (Jemez mother and child, 1912).


Anonymous said...

Why do they always bring up weight? And why is it the "real women have curves" the wasicuwin keep talking about seems to be "real women have obvious endocrine disorders"? Just sayin. (Also, anorexia isn't caused by poor self-image. It's about maintaining an illusion of self-control.)

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to add, by the way, that among plains Indians at least, it's more "darker is better". Blame blood quantum if you must.