March 26, 2014

Miss NC's Pocahontas photo shoot

Miss NC's Pocahontas Photo Shoot: No Big Deal, or Teachable Moment?

By Vincent SchillingNearly two weeks ago, Johna Edmonds, Miss North Carolina 2013, posted several photos of herself portraying a glamorized version of Pocahontas. Though she received some appreciative comments on social media, Edmonds also received a considerable amount of backlash from Native communities. Edmonds herself is Lumbee.

"I do not like it when there are sexual overtones to many of the cartoon figures portraying our Native Women," reads one representative comment, from Facebook user Carolyn Martell. "A grave message is sent to the world at large and our children. Our Native Women are to be view, revered with honor, dignity respect and integrity! Not Sex Objects!

"Other commenters were more blunt. "Pocahontas, Disney style? Gross!" was Fran Gillespie's reaction, posted to the Facebook page. "Some jacked up miniskirt & stiletto high heels? On a practical level, she would have froze her ass off & sprained an ankle. Here is this really important historical figure, being made cheap & sleazy!"

On March 18th, Edmonds responded to the slew of comments on her own Facebook page with a statement that later appeared in a post at Her statement reads, in part:

For the purpose of helping an incredible artistic team who have been unbelievably generous to the Miss North Carolina Scholarship Program, capture the essence of their creative vision for this year’s Disney Princess-themed Miss NC program book ad-page, I portrayed my childhood favorite Disney Princess, “Pocahontas.” And what should have remained a proud moment for me as well as others excited to see the outcome of this photo shoot, quickly devolved.

Within a matter of minutes, I had been unfairly accused of “misappropriating Native American culture” and of perpetuating society’s “hyper-sexualization of Native American women.” … So to those who feel that I have distastefully used my sexuality or femininity–which are mine to use–I do sincerely apologize. However, I’d like to also suggest that if all you see is a “hyper-sexualized” Native American woman when looking at these beautifully captured photographs, I would suggest that problem isn’t me, as I never aimed to convey “hyper-sexiness” at any point during this photo shoot. Instead, I really wanted to epitomize and portray the beauty and regal nature of the “Pocahontas” I fondly remember, and with whom I spent the entirety of my childhood captivated by.
The outcome:"We had a board meeting last night and a conference call in which we unanimously agreed to remove the pictures and we discussed information that Lori had shared with us. We had a board meeting today with Johna and I had printed out a lot of that information and took the opportunity to make ourselves more aware regarding the sexualization of the Native American woman and how those images were offensive to so many."Comment:  Several things are wrong with the pageant's and Edmonds' thinking.

For starters, the bone breastplate and choker come from the Plains culture. They're completely wrong for Disney's Pocahontas, the real Pocahontas, or any Native cultures of the eastern seaboard.

Edmonds may claim her poses weren't "hyper-sexual," but the first one, at least, is sexual. Disney's Pocahontas didn't drape herself over a rock like that, preparing herself for ravishing. Whoever arranged this photo turned an "innocent" cartoon character into a sexual object.

Of course, the whole concept of Disney princesses is flawed--especially in regard to Pocahontas. The real Pocahontas wasn't a princess. She wasn't a woman known for her "beauty and regal nature." She was a pre-pubescent girl.

Even Disney's version of Pocahontas wasn't a princess. So any adult women, including Native women, who portray Pocahontas are furthering Native stereotypes. The princess, the temptress, the sex object, the fetching maiden...none of these personas apply to Pocahontas the 12-year-old girl. They're all false and stereotypical and everyone should avoid them.

For more on Pocahontas, see Top Three Native Stereotypes and Pocahontas Poster Shows Movies' Influence.

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