Week 13

Women of Color in the Media – Jennifer Lopez

For woman of color, there are many stereotypes that have been ascribed to the body. A big butt is now considered to be an ethnic character trait. How is gender represented? How much of it is objectification to the agency of women? Is it more so their racial identity that sexualizes them or just their bodies? These questions become harder and harder to answer when beauty, sexuality, and bodies are associated to race. The reality is, people recognize these features by categorizing race. Africans, Asians, and Latina/os can generally be distinguished through looks because the features differ from each other. Notably, one feature people often use to differentiate is skin color, but this has actually become more difficult due to the abundant increase of ethnically ambiguous people. People of color who find careers in the media industry are more easily casted when their skin color could be portrayed as any race. Now, the concept of a racialized body has been used to identify the background of an individual, and more specifically, women.

In the movie, Selena (1997), Jennifer Lopez, a Puerto Rican from the Bronx, was casted to play the Mexican-American icon. This casting choice caused major backlash and controversy, but Lopez defended herself by claiming that she shared an ethnic identity beyond “national” origins with Selena as they were both Latinas that had the shared experience of growing up Latina in this country. Yet, their common upbringing wasn’t what convinced audiences to accept her role, rather, it was their similar curves. Lopez herself felt comfortable identifying with Selena because, “…she was, well, curvy” (p. 232). This isn’t the problem, embracing one’s body shape is wonderful; no one should have a say or problem with how a women’s body looks. However, when it is “…precisely the body, in particularly the curves, that proved to be the most compelling way Lopez and others found to speak about how Latinas are constituted as radicalized subjects…” (Negron, p. 235), it racially marks a Latina body. It encourages a capitalistic view on body that exploits culture because the media or audience isn’t accepting the curves in itself, they’re accepting it because it is associated with her Latina background. Although, I can see the significance in this acceptance because it is a way for Latinas to reclaim their beauty, “big butts” in general should be accepted and there should definitely be representation of all body assets (Negron, p. 236). When society encourages media to focus so much on the bodies of women of color, while it encourages acceptance, it also causes women to be vulnerable. For example Negron writes “…her racialized body became the most effective way to bring her down and stand judgment” (Negron p. 244). Race is a social concept, and racializing a woman’s body relates to the ideology formed by social and historical concepts when trying to define how a race is supposed to look like. More specifically, the media highlights a woman’s curves and relate it to their ethnicity, thus setting standards for all women of the same culture.

Moreover, the visibility of the Latina body in the media and popular culture has Jennifer Lopez and Selena’s body to be sexualized, and racialized within the media. At the end of the article, “Jennifer’s Butt: Valorizing the Puerto Rican Racialized Female Body,” she declares that her show of culture and her ethnic background is about “being real” (Negron, p. 246). She was referring to the sexualization of her body and the association it has with her racial background. Furthermore, she takes pride as the “next big bottom in Puerto Rican culture” (Negron, p. 246). Although, in Dangerous Curves: Latina, the chapter “Disciplining J.Lo: Booty Politics in Tabloid News,” contradicts her actions by stating that “Lopez consciously negotiates the ways in which she is racialized by shaping how she is coded in the media through transforming signifiers such as clothing, hair door, hair style, skin color, body weight, music and of course, her paramours” (Molina-Guzmán, p. 59). These transformative practices allow her to be susceptible to ambiguity. This asserts the idea that Lopez is actually racially flexible and can transform her look. This is common because styles change, women are allowed to change their style all the time, especially those in the entertainment industry but it creates conflict with the themes of beauty and acceptance for women of color because people start to see her style change as a racial change. As the ideal boric beauty, she had the option to be ethically ambiguous but because the standards of American beauty have been skewed to accept a body shape that differs from Jennifer Lopez’s shape, the hype of her derrière emphasized her “exotic body.” She became one of the most sought out Latina actress in Hollywood and accepted her role as a Latina woman in Hollywood. She is a “consumable Latin ‘chiquita’ legend” (Molina-Guzmán, p. 63), she proudly proclaims her Latina ancestry and she’s even created music in her ethnic language but then issues arise when she tries the hip-hop genre and starts dating black entertainer Sean Combs, now society claims she’s moving “in” to Blackness (Molina-Guzmán, p. 62-65) or dating Ben Affleck and this constitutes dangerous flirtations with whiteness (Molina-Guzmán, p. 66)? This is why race and the body being correlated with one another is a problem. She should still be a great iconic Puerto Rican that has nothing to do with her body or who she dates, why is there an expectation on her style for her to prove she is Puerto Rican? Representations and narratives in the media is why I believe there was so much focus on her body.

Many factors can influence what society considers appealing – the way one is dressed, their actions, the way they carry themselves, social status and wealth, and even things that are not in their control, like race, and body size and shape. These traits are attributed into the social construction of race, and results in superficial physical and cultural characteristics that are systematically associated with a racial identity in order to label people, like women. This could potentially cause much conflict for people because it has to power to place a woman’s body as an ideal or a disappointment upon body types because of a factor they have no control over, their race. When Lopez creates a sexually charged music video showing off her butt, will the audience think that she was born with a big butt and the clothing she’s wearing emphasizes that? Or is it that she’s a Latina and that Latina’s are supposedly all curvy? What happens when a Latina women does not have a big butt, does that make her unauthentic as a Latina women?

The goal is to diminish stereotypes, but this mentality that Latina bodies are all curves, hurts any progress of that. If we associate race and bodies together, it’ll be hard to define what is accepted because it causes women of color, women in general, to obsess over what they have or what they lack. In every culture and society, there is a general perspective and views about beauty and so many people are influenced by what media depicts as beautiful. Too many women change their outward appearance in order to be defined as beautiful and it doesn’t help when there are racial expectations of a woman’s body. Stereotypes are placed and racializing the body for women of color presents society with unrealistic body types.


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