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Beyonce and Bañales

2009 February 1
by Ruth Goodlaxson

This past summer, there was a big controversy over this L’Oreal ad, featuring Beyonce. Everyone in the world blogged about it basically, so I won’t say too much about it – L’Oreal was accused of whitening Beyonce’s natural skin tone, which combined with the blond hair, made the singer look like a Caucasian woman.

In her article, Bañales discussed the use of cosmetic surgery to give women, in the Third World and elsewhere, a more European appearance. I really liked her discussion of race and class in relation to physical appearance; it’s important to point out that the traits which women strive for are often a part of the white phenotype, which inherently links them with issues of colonialism and class. The media is filled with images of female beauty which, if it is not caucasian, is somehow “otherized.” I think we are making some progress, but even in museums, the dominant European art depicts female beauty, almost entirely, as Caucasian.

Bañales describes parts of the world in which cosmetic surgery can be an economic necessity, if only those with dominant-class features can obtain employment when there is fierce competition for jobs. This image of Beyonce, though, suggests that “whiteness” is not just a goal driven by economic necessity. I have no idea if she wasa aware of what the ad would look like, and I won’t make any claims about Beyonce’s intentions, but it’s disheartening that L’Oreal felt the need to airbrush her to make her fit in better with the dominant version of female beauty.

I was also thinking about how strange this seems to me. Personally I’m pale all the time no matter what, a fact I find very frustrating and which has led me to a lot of laying in the sun without sunblock. I think a lot of us have also had conversations about being jealous of different hair types; it seems that all curly-haired people want straight hair, and all straight-haired people wish they had curls. This is definitely a different kind of phenomenon, but I haven’t quite decided how. In wanting to be tan, I want to be something other than I am for purely aesthetic reasons that have more to do with trends than with historical discourses of power. This is probably where the difference is.

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