From Culos to Coolness to Racial Profiling

Why Our Industry Has a Responsibility to Reflect on the Images it Portrays

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Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
A recent entertainment blog post titled "Who Has The Best Behind In Hollywood" featured Kate Hudson as Best Butt photo No. 1. Thinking I was on to another Vanity Fair-type scandal, featuring only the thin, the white and the lovely, I made it a point to review whose behinds were actually featured. Impossible, I thought, to exclude Latinas and African Americans as darlings in the derriere department. Slide No. 2 gave me pause, as it featured Jennifer Love Hewitt's posterior of petite proportions. But then came Salma, Jessica, JLo, Eva and Penelope, the usual suspects.

African- Americans were marginally represented by Halle, Rihanna and Beyonce. Bringing up the rear and representing the Armenian community were the Kardashian sisters, Kourtney and Kim. Asian American women were MIA, which may be as much a statement of physical proportions as it is a sad comment on the absence of strong casting opportunities that launch careers beyond Lucy Liu's and, well, Margaret Cho's.

While seemingly silly and insignificant, the actually diverse and more-representative-than-most snapshot of perceived Hollywood beauty stood out in my mind. Was I perpetuating a stereotype by believing that this would be a poll in which women of color should excel? Perhaps the creator of the post wrestled with the same issues in compiling this list as well, balancing their own perceptions of beauty (or should I say booty) and bias.

I was on the verge of forgetting about the whole thing when I read a blurb about Esquire Magazine's choice of voluptuous Mad Men beauty Christina Hendricks as America's Best Looking Woman as voted on by Esquire's male dominant readers. Was this a sign that the mostly Anglo Anorexic Age was over, giving way to a still Anglo, but more Ample Age? And, as such, would advertising imagery follow suit? Further study of Esquire's site revealed an on-going competition for "Sexiest Woman Alive," in which Stacey Kiebler (a former wrestler and actress who quite honestly I had never heard of) was taking the lead and cited to have gained on the "Panamanian Cricket Team" of Photoshop fame. Esquire, by the way, cites Panama as being in South America in another example of "when it's not the Unites States of America, what difference does it make if we get our geography right?"

And simultaneously, I became aware of the Lane Bryant plus-size model brouhaha. Additional evidence that not only is the face of America changing, but the shape of America is as well -- in both positive and negative terms if one looks at the obesity numbers in both the U.S. and Mexico. (Speaking of which, is Lane Bryant aware that by naming their lingerie line "Cacique", they have named it after America's most popular Mexican Cheese brand?).

So with all this beauty imagery and information rattling around by blog-focused brain, I had intended to take a light-hearted look at the issue of body image and advertising. But then something ugly happened and the whole beauty story took an unexpected turn (in my mind, at any rate).

Arizona's governor signed an immigration law that, at the end of the day, legally encourages racial profiling. It brought back memories of conversations I had with my former clients at Bank of America in Arizona over a decade ago. They wrestled then, as I imagine they do today, with the issue of opening checking and savings accounts for consumers who were clearly undocumented. The ultimate decision was always shaped by the fact that it wasn't their job to be the INS and it wasn't their job to profile on behalf of the government. Today, I wonder if the bank would or could net out in the same place.

From casting to cultural cues, skin color to stereotypes, culos to coolness, we are in an image defining business that, in its own way, invites profiling on a number of different levels. We can create certain impressions as easily as we can reject them. As Arizona takes a dangerous step into dark and ugly territory, let's do what we can to create images that counteract the notion that "illegal" has a certain look or color. Let's make the best "behind" in advertising the ability to leave behind the kind of ignorance that leads to dangerous stereotyping and pseudo-segmentation based on judgments of superiority and inferiority at their core.

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