It’s been a while since we’ve updated the site, but we figured we’d resume the blog with an appropriately angry post. On today’s show, Kushlani sounded off about a recent column in the (conservative) Washington Times newspaper. The columnist offered a totally reasonable message about harmful beauty standards in the media, but the choice of photos to accompany the column left Kushlani thinking, “That’s racist!” Here’s the link to her Angry APA Minute. You can listen online or download it: https://kboo.fm/node/30668/. The text of Kushlani’s rant is below the screenshot of the offending column (along with some commentary).
“Stretch Marks are beautiful, like exotic foreign ladies.”
So, I’m trolling Facebook the other day and I see that one of my high school English teachers has posted a link (yes, I’m FB friends with my high school teachers – I am that cool). The column my teacher has suggested is headlined, “I am not embarrassed about my stretchmarks.” This is a message that I, as a women’s studies instructor, as a person with some stretch marks, can get on board with. So I click the link.
A feminist message…
In her August 13 column in the Washington Times Communities section, columnist Rebekah Kuschmider declares proudly, that she is NOT ashamed of her stretch marks. She goes on to say that women should love their aging skin, that we should reject the impossible Photoshop beauty standards that make us hate ourselves and reject the costly products that promise to erase all signs of our former lives. Ms. Kuschmider describes herself, not as a perfect, plastic Barbie Doll, but a “Velveteen Rabbit, so worn and loved that I’ve become real.” It’s a great message.
… Marked by racism
But, two curious images accompany this story about the stretch marks of a (presumably) wealthy white woman, the identity suggested by Ms. Kuschmider’s mugshot and some of her other columns.
The two women pictured with the story are actually a Thai woman from a village near Burma and an Indian laborer from the city of Diu (this according to the Flickr pages from which the photos were captured). The old Thai woman’s face is a shrunken apple; tatoos cover the younger Indian woman’s neck, and the whites of her eyes are yellowed from exposure to the sun. Both women are beautiful. Neither photograph reveals any stretch marks.
The power of pictures
So why don’t we see, not to get too personal here, the stretch marks of which Ms. Kuschmider is justifiably proud? Why do we instead see portraits that seem to come straight off the pages of National Geographic? The underlying message from whoever chose these photos (the author? some online editor?) is that wrinkles are exotic on poor women whom privileged Americans love to gawk at. We don’t expect them to be attractive by our standards – they’re so lovely in their way, so tragic. We should all be so… natural.
Maybe the conservative readership of the Washington Times wouldn’t want to see white women looking old or aging, much less with stretch marks – perhaps that kind of woman, a woman of privilege, is too dignified to be seen looking like she’d “let herself go.” No matter what Rebekah Kuschmider has to say about it, the use of these photos tells a different story altogether. Another implication here is that women from other countries are not affected by Westernized, corporatized images of idealized, airbrushed beauty: The reality is that these harmful beauty standards affect women across the globe, regardless of their ethnicity, nationality, or social class.
White women and women of color – people in general, really – should be offended by the selection of these photographs. I certainly am.
My name is Kushlani de Soyza, and this is my Angry APA Minute.
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