Booty & the Beast

"American Idol" XIV Grand Finale - ShowHOLLYWOOD, CA – MAY 13: American Idol judge Jennifer Lopez onstage during “American Idol” XIV Grand Finale at Dolby Theatre on May 13, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Jennifer Lopez is a bonafide triple threat in Hollywood; the talented “Boricua beauty” from the Bronx has shown the world that she can act, dance, and sing – which is a feat that only a few have conquered successfully across all three categories in the entertainment industry. Despite the breadth and depth of her abilities as an entertainer, the media has shifted the focus away from her talent and versatility, and onto her being “the Puerto Rican girl from the wrong side of the tracks who speaks her mind. They say she is famous for her looks, her bottom, her ex-boyfriend. And her big mouth” (Molina Guzman, pg. 66).

  Guzman’s reading delineates how the media interprets and delivers different messages when talking about ethnic women versus white women in Hollywood. The negative connotations that are attached to ethnic female celebrities like J.Lo, who “embraced her booty as a marketable symbol of desirable beauty,” are meant to counteract the challenge that her celebration of her body had posed on “white cultural dominance” (Guzman, pg. 61). In order to strengthen the pillars of white supremacy, the media took to alienating and devaluing ethnic females through objectifying, hyper-sexualizing, and subsequently reducing these powerful figures to their physical figures. The weakening of an ethnic woman’s esteem in both herself and her ethnic background reasserts “the power of whites to control or contain constructions of nonwhite ethnicity in the U.S. popular culture” through the “white gaze” (Guzman, pg. 65).

This creates a perpetual cycle of building women up about something as fleeting and temporary as their physical appearance—rather than talent or intelligence—and then shaming them for being proud of the bodies that they praised them for having just earlier. As a result, there is a constant anxiety and uncertainty placed on ethnic female celebrities to make sure they fall somewhere within the realm of what’s “acceptable” by Hollywood’s white standards.

White female celebrities are not burdened with the bait-and-switch strategies employed by Hollywood the way their ethnic counterparts are. In fact, they are taking part of the shaming themselves at times. In Negron Muntaner’s article, he mentions Lopez’s own experiences with bullying from white supermodel, Cindy Crawford, who “was repeatedly quoted in the media dissing Lopez’s bodily proportions with drag queen meanness” (Muntaner, pg. 245).

In an atmosphere thick with racial tension and power-struggles, white Hollywood norms are not planning on making any concessions for people who they perceive as inferior. It’s easy to target ethnic females because of their inherent appeal to white men, and white people in general. Ethnic women like Jennifer Lopez, who is proud of her figure and works hard to maintain it, are a threat to the institution of marriage in a hegemonic society. It might be that these white men feel shame for harboring lascivious thoughts and temptations towards the ethnic female body, and their way of relieving themselves that shame and guilt is to transfer it onto the women themselves. Sexism parallels racism in many ways, as Peggy McIntosh pointed out in a previous reading, and the white male patriarchy simply cannot allow these non-white women (for whom they have lusted after and objectified as a piece of meat) actually feel good about themselves, even in a superficial way (McIntosh, “White Privilege”). No, these ethnic women must accept the sexual objectification forced upon them through the media, as well as men in general; they must accept the compliments and perform in a hyper-sexualized way – but only begrudgingly, and never with any pride or empowerment – and always as the subordinate sex and race.

-D. Liao

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