Term Paper: Racist Beauty Ideals and Racial

Pages: 15 (4722 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Race  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Werrlein holds that the Dick and Jane stories equate white privilege with a version of Americanness that occurs outside of history, arguing further that the poverty and suffering of the Breedlove family symbolizes America's brutal history of racial persecution. Through her portrayal of Pauline and Cholly, Morrison suggests that parents who emerge from histories of oppression might reproduce that degradation within the family unit. Instead of Cholly protecting and providing for his family, he burns down their home and later assaults his daughter. Instead of nurturing her offspring, Pauline rejects them, seeing in them a reflection of her own ugliness. She much prefers to spend all her time working as a domestic for the Fishers. Pecola's pregnancy and psychosis represent extreme consequences of racism. Werrlein asserts that, as various characters in The Bluest Eye "label, degrade and define Pecola's body so as to disavow the realities of racism in their own lives, Morrison suggests that they mirror the work of a nation that ironically invests in the ideology of childhood innocence at the expense of its children" (Werrlein, 53- 72).

In discussing Pecola's self-loathing and its role in her psychological destruction, one must address standards of beauty. Pecola was convinced of her ugliness, which knowledge was continually reinforced. One of the societal pressures she struggled against was the stereotypical definition of beauty that she could never hope to attain. If there was ever any doubt as to the influence of eth beauty industry Geoffrey Jones dismisses them in his examination of the globalization of the beauty industry. Jones argues that there is compelling research from a range of social sciences to posit the existence of a "beauty premium." He discusses the drivers behind the globalization of beauty and the strategies that firms employed to overcome challenges to globalization. Jones also reviews the outcomes, including the extent to which globalization resulted in homogenization, i.e. Americanization. Jones concludes from his research that globalization did not produce homogeneity; rather the beauty industry after 1980 was increasingly segmented by ethnicity, gender, age, income, and other characteristics. Jones found that nevertheless, certain ideals, especially for women had become widely diffused worldwide, including a lack of body odor, white natural teeth, slim figures, paler skins and rounder eyes. Corporate strategies helped bring about a reduction in the range of global variation in beauty ideals at the same time that they developed products which enabled more and more consumers to aspire to capturing the beauty premium (Jones, 125-154).

Throughout The Bluest Eye Morrison presents a black community that has accepted the white criteria of beauty for their own. Toys, candy, movies and beauty products, all of these informed their standards of beauty to align with a white consumer culture. When Mr. Henry, the MacTeer's boarder is initially introduced to Claudia and Frieda, he seeks to flatter them by comparing them to movie stars Greta Garbo and Ginger Rogers. There is also Pauline who prepares to take in a movie by styling her hair to resemble Jean Harlow's. And Pecola who drank milk just to enjoy Shirley Temple's image on her cup. Popular American culture provided a white-defined standard of female beauty for them to internalize that was both racist and frivolous.

Claudia is the only one of the three girls who is able to reject the fraudulent images, which she does by destroying white baby dolls. Because the MacTeers possess the inner strength to withstand the poverty and discrimination of a racist society; they provide an environment in which their children can grow. Pecola, on the other hand, does not have joy and love to balance the pain and ugliness of her everyday experiences. Pecola's family is without the resources she needs, and without which she retreats into madness (Klotman, 123-125).

In her study Freeman (49-65) explores how social identity is formed in the U.S. She posits that in order for Black children to assimilate into the dominant culture, historically, their cultural values have been minimized. "This process of cultural assimilation or alienation has had a devastating effect on Black children's opportunities around the globe, particularly as it relates to the loss of their identity and to the underutilization of their human potential & #8230; A group's loss of identity occurs through a process of cultural alienation and annihilation and through a culture of exclusion" (Freeman, 51). Freeman maintains that education has been used as one of the primary channels through which cultural alienation and annihilation have occurred. According to Freeman, Pecola symbolizes all the Black children who have come to believe that if only they could be different, they would be valued.

Throughout The Bluest Eye Morrison explores the impact of popular and consumer cultures on youth identities and cultures. Studies show that parallels exist between Asian-Americans and African-Americans as they negotiate the process of Americanization. In their research Lee and Vaught analyze studies of first and second generation youth of color to explore their vulnerability to racialized images of gender and sexuality. These images are reflected in and perpetuated by dominant forms of popular and consumer cultures. Lee and Vaught maintain that gender, race and class inform the process of Americanization, including racialized sexualization. Their research clearly showed that the Asian-American women in both studies were schooled by popular culture to objectify themselves, their bodies and their cultures. They report that the young women experienced a pernicious internalization of dominant ideas of Americanization (Lee and Vaught, 457-466). These studies, while they involved Asian-American girls and women shed light on the impact, can be easily seen to similarly apply to African-American teens and women. Morrison's portrayal of women and girls as they struggled with racist standards of beauty demonstrate the accuracy of this observation.

There continue to be other studies to examine, as suggested by The Bluest Eye in its investigation of racism and beauty standards. Rockquemore posits that skin color stratification within the Black community, combined with a low rate of marriageable men and high rates of interracial marriages among the most educated and affluent black men has created a social context that differentiates the interactional experience of biracial men and women. As a result, the interpersonal tension between Black and biracial women runs high. Rockquemore's findings illustrate how skin color acts as a microlevel manifestation of oppression for women of African descent (485- 503). The implications of this study serve to validate Morrison's treatment of racial identity construction in The Bluest Eye.

Another topic that Morrison explores is the effects of skin color in the context of racism. Hunter explores the effects of skin color on life outcomes for African-American and Mexican-American women. Hunter explains, using a historical framework of European colonialism and slavery, how skin color hierarchies were established and are maintained. Hunter uses the concept of social capital to explain how beauty, defined through light skin, works as capital and as a stratifying agent for women on the dimensions of education, income, and spousal status. According to Hunter, analysis shows that light skin predicts higher educational attainment for both groups of women. Light skin directly predicts higher personal earnings for African-American women, as well as higher spousal status for African-American women. The study shows that with respect to education, personal income, and spousal status, skin color modifies outcomes and produces advantages for the light skinned. Hunter suggests an explanation, that, it happens in part because racial ideologies devalue the phenotypes of African-Americans and Mexican-Americans and associates their features with ignorance and ugliness. Hunter concludes that European colonization and slavery have left a lasting imprint on African-American and Mexican-American women: skin color hierarchies that continue to privilege light skin over dark skin (Hunter, 175-193). Morrison explores the effects of skin color stratification in her treatment of the antipathy between Claudia and Frieda and Maureen Peal.

Kuenz addresses the disallowance of the specific cultures and histories of African-Americans and black women figured in The Bluest Eye, arguing that it is primarily as a consequence of or sideline to the more general annihilation of popular forms and images by an ever more all-pervasive and insidious mass culture industry. According to Kuenz, this industry increasingly disallows the representation of any image not premised on consumption or the production of normative values conducive to it. These values tend to be rigidly tied to gender and are race-specific to the extent that racial and ethnic differences are not allowed to be represented. Kuenz further asserts that for anyone not represented therein, and especially for African-Americans, interaction with mass culture frequently requires abdication of self or the ability to see oneself in eth body of another (Kuenz, 421-431).

Kuenz notes that the novel's most obvious and pervasive instance of this is in the seemingly endless reproduction of images of feminine beauty in everyday objects and consumer goods: white baby dolls, Shirley Temple cups, Mary Jane candies, even the clothes of "dream child" Maureen Peal. Kuenz comments that "The… [END OF PREVIEW]

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