standards of beauty

A Vindication of the Rights of Pin-Ups

hilda

“America’s Forgotten Pin-Up Girl,” Hilda

 

I am really feeling the sting of woman on woman deprecation today.

And in the name of feminism no less!

First there was the article on how straight feminists hate lesbian feminists, (which, thankfully, was sufficiently rebutted by others’ comments) and then almost immediately after, I came across this post condemning women that are fond of pin-ups and/or like to dress up in the pin-up style. The following words are in response to the currently trending popularity of this pin-up character from the past, “Hilda” (pictured above).

 

Here’s what the post said (taken from this article):

“We currently live in a “pin-up” culture where women are only granted visibility when they display their bodies for public consumption; therefore, most women are groomed and disciplined from young ages to have pin-up ready bodies.

That’s what white-centered postfeminism is all about. A vision of sexual liberation that hinges on the male gaze and male approval. Now we can sit here and have that long, uncritical, derailing conversation about women who “choose” to strip and enjoy being “pin-ups”; but I’m going to spare myself a stroke and move on, because talking about “individual agency” is irrelevant when we’re discussing hegemony.

When women fight to end negative media representations of women in contemporary culture, yet still circulate vintage images of white, female, pin-ups, they’re missing how the culture surrounding vintage pin-up girls largely informs the sexism that we’re trying to fight today.

This is what happens when we only focus on the individual and not the system that conditions the individual.

If we have a superficial surface-level understanding of oppression, then we will have superficial surface-level solutions. It’s that simple. Posting up any sized sexualized woman on your wall, originally created for men, won’t solve the reality that systemically, women are degraded, dehumanized, and are robbed of understanding their sexualities organically. It also teaches men that sexualizing “diverse” or “alternative” bodies is progressive and therefore acceptable.

Additionally, as I reiterate all of the time, the idea of publicly displaying your sexualized body is largely a white enterprise and endeavor. Black women are not granted the same privileges when we showcase our bodies because we’re viewed as public property; evidenced through our high rape rates and low pay-rates in spaces of sex work, etc.”

 

I think it goes without saying that I do not like this attack on pin-up girls/pin-up culture.

More importantly than what I do, or do not like, however, is the fact that saying, “talking about “individual agency” is irrelevant when we’re discussing hegemony,” ignores the very multi-faceted world of pin-up culture as well as the individuals participating within it— which is relevant. (Since when is talking about the parts of a picture irrelevant to the picture as a whole?) While the author’s critique invokes the rhetoric of “hegemony,” he or she is creating a hegemonic feminism of their own, in which all other feminists who like to participate in and enjoy pin-up culture are castigated.

The feminism I learned about was more accepting than this. While I do understand the perspective from which this author is writing (I did study gender politics at Berkeley after all), I choose to not make such sweeping generalizations about people, or groups of people (except Republicans, of course… Just kidding! I actually do really like Meghan McCain, so there). To imply that just because someone likes to wear pretty dresses and curl their hair, they “have a superficial surface-level understanding of oppression” is extremely insulting.

For me, the recognition of various forms of subjugation (via studying feminist theory) has meant the ability to see through such cultural patterns and influences, actively resist them, and perhaps even become self-definitional if such a thing is possible. Just because I indulge in pin-up fashion on occasion does not mean that I don’t know the history behind it, nor does it mean that I don’t understand the gendered, sociopolitical implications of it. And I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one (okay I know for a fact that I’m not). As a matter of fact, there is a vast array of modern day pin-ups out there that take the original concept of pin-up beauty and culture, and turn it on its head, thereby subverting the entire set of traditional notions behind it— the very sexist “white enterprise” that the above author is citing. Just look at the Suicide Girls (started by a woman and still largely run by women) which, may I remind you, began as a counterculture of “alternative” beauty.

Moreover, my brand of feminism is about choice. Just as I’m not going to castigate any woman, feminist or not, for being a stay at home mom, I’m also not going to do the same to a woman that chooses to delight in her femininity through replicating pin-up looks. Not only does it not, in my opinion, seem in keeping with the basic tenets of feminism (though, yes, I know, there are a myriad of different feminisms) but honestly, it’s also just not polite.

 

 

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[an addendum]

I think I should have included a little something more in yesterday’s post, therefore I am adding this little addendum…

A few personal experiences that have my opened my eyes to my otherness according to our society… i.e. not Hispanic, not white, not normal, not fitting into any neat little category, but rather a mysterious, ‘exotic’ other…

1) I was once told by a boy at school that I was “not Hispanic enough” to understand something

2) I was once told quite specifically just what was wrong with my face according to a boy in high school

3) At my last job a male customer asked me if I was Italian, or Greek, or [insert other European background here], and after my answering in the negative a few times he finally asked, “I’m sorry, but what ethnicity are you?? I just have to know…”—and this happens to me a lot, FYI—I finally said, “El Salvadorean,” and he said, “oh, wow, that’s surprising… I mean, you’re pretty, you look European…”

*The lesson here, in case you didn’t get it, is that people from 3rd world countries, e.g. Central America, are not attractive.

4) When I started dating my current boyfriend [years ago] I told a few people, including him, that he was the first white boyfriend I’d ever had. A few friends kind of laughed, like, “ok….haha…you’re being silly…who cares, etc.” and the thing is, I realized- they didn’t get it, they didn’t see it like me (and after all, how could they). That ‘thing’ is: I learned early on that I was not attractive to white boys, white boys would not and could not be attracted to me – I’m “weird” looking after all. (Hence, the constantly being asked by random strangers what ethnicity I am) How do I know this? I was told so through various insults as a teenager girl. I grew up in Venice, CA, but got bussed up to a high school in Malibu from 7th grade on. And that was it- that’s how I learned my place. I went from being “normal,” maybe even pretty according to some, among my racially diverse elementary school peers (*think black, white, Mexican, Korean, Costa Rican, Ethiopian, etc.*) to being an instantly unattractive freak among the sea of blonde-haired and blue-eyed girls in Malibu.

And that’s my story. I heard and underwent a lot of harmful treatment there. That’s where I learned what the standard is. That’s where I first learned about white aesthetics. That’s where I first learned about my otherness. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. *And* I know white girls and women undergo similar pressures to conform to arbitrary standards of beauty as well. My sister and I have both been through the ringer when it comes to social pressures, standards, criticisms, and sexism impacting us in severe and traumatic ways- and she’s white. (I’m adopted)

I’m just giving you a view into one girl’s experiences. And that’s not to say that my journey or experiences have been rougher than anybody else’s. Mine are my own- they are unique to me, my gender, my ethnicity, my sexual orientation, etc., just as my sister’s or any other woman’s experiences will be unique to her and no one else could ever truly understand them. We all experience things differently. It’s not about ranking types and levels of oppression, but rather understanding that we are all subject to this system, these inequalities, and how we experience these things will inevitably vary.

In the words of Cherrie Moraga, “The danger lies in ranking the oppressions. The danger lies in failing to acknowledge the specificity of the oppression. The danger lies in attempting to deal with oppression purely from a theoretical base. Without an emotional, heartfelt grappling with the source of our own oppression, without naming the enemy within ourselves and outside of us, no authentic, nonhierarchical connection among oppressed groups can take place.”

 

 

 

 

 

“I want to be bright!”

During a study group session one day with two classmates (both black women who had children), our discussion turned to white aesthetics. Not unusual as we were all essentially Sociology majors within our interdisciplinary department.

My one friend tells me how her daughter, after the first day of kindergarten, came home and said to her, “Mommy, I want to be bright!”

Naturally she said, “Baby, of course you are going to be bright. You’re already so bright. I’m sure you’ll be the smartest girl in class.” Then her daughter corrected her, “Nooooo mommyyyyy… I want to be BRIGHT. Like the pretty girls at school with the light skin and the smooth hair!”

How would you feel hearing your five or six-year old daughter say something like this?

This is the world we live in. History and law books were established and written by privileged white men, and therefore standards of female beauty set by the pure and virtuous white woman- the object of the privileged white man’s affection. Think Lillian Gish (ahem, The Birth of a Nation!), Barbie (does it get any more normalizing/indoctrinating than Barbie?!), Marilyn Monroe, Pamela Anderson, Gisele Bundchen, etc.

[Hence, why Bill Maher says something to the effect of, “That’s why you didn’t get that lead role in Titanic!,” to Kerry Washington at the end of this clip, though it’s cut off]

I may not be a black woman, but I am “other,” and I’ve fought my own battles against the overwhelmingly “white” standard of beauty. Growing up I was often called “exotic.” Not pretty, not ugly, but “exotic;” In other words, different, unusual, “other.”

Do you know about the growing popularity of the eye surgery to make Asian women look more “Western“? Do you know about Renee Rogers, an American Airlines employee who wasn’t permitted to wear her hair in braids while at work? (they asked her to pull it back in a bun and wear a “hairpiece” over it….) This also brings to mind the Chris Rock movie, Good Hair, a documentary set into motion by his daughter asking him, “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair…?”

I will now refer you to this awesome critique and compilation of images via “beautyredefined.net.”

*Editor’s note: This article now contains [an addendum]