Posts tagged ‘body politics’

Vogue Italia’s Black Barbie: A Step Forward or a Step Back?

This month, Vogue Italia is doing another take on last year’s successful Black Issue: a fashion spread featuring all Black Barbies.

from Jezebel:

Last year, Italian Vogue shook the fashion world with its “All Black issue, which sold out on many newsstands. This year, the July issue features Kristen McMenamy on the cover, but comes with a delightful supplement devoted to black Barbies.

It is Barbie’s 50th birthday, after all, and Mattel does have those new black Barbies to promote. And while this supplement is not full-sized like a regular magazine (it’s about 6 inches wide; 7.5 inches long) somehow the doll scale makes sense.

As a girl growing up in Los Angeles, my mother always made sure to buy us Black dolls, especially Barbies. I even had a Black Ken doll! And while it was great to have a doll that looked like me, the reality was that it still sold me and other little girls dangerous ideas about what a woman’s body should look like, and what was considered beautiful. In preparing to write this post, I spoke with a friend of mine who happens to be a Black dad with a young daughter. He told me that while he reluctantly buys his daughter Barbies because she loves them, he is concerned about what it teaches his little girl about having a positive self-image. As a result, he makes it his responsibility to teach his daughter about how special and beautiful she is as a black girl.

I loved Vogue Italia’s Black Issue last year. I loved that it featured Tocarra, a voluptuous, curvy woman who was far from a size 2. And I like the concept of using all Black Barbies in a Vogue spread. But I have to wonder if it is actually a step backwards. Barbies themselves use the white female body as a the prototype for beauty. Even the new Black Barbies do not have the hips, ass and curves that myself and other Black women possess. It’s great that Mattel has barbies of all shade, but what about all sizes? What taking into consideration that other races and ethnic groups have different ideas of what women’s bodies actually look like? The fashion industry often creates fashions, ad campaigns, and yes, even Barbie photo spreads that leave Black female bodies out of the equation and therefore, out of the question when defining what a “perfect body” looks like and who is able to possess it.

So what does everyone else think? Is the Black Barbie issue of Vogue Italia actually progress? Or does it still perpetuate anxiety and even denial of the Black female body as one that is indeed normal and beautiful?

Wildin’ at WAM!

This weekend I had the privilege of attending the Women Action and the Media Conference sponsored by the Center for New Words in Boston. It was a great opportunity to hear about feminism from a global perspective, but more importantly, I just loved hearing the voices of some of my fellow women of color activists, mothers, organizers, and social media mavens loud and clear. Here are the highlights:

Keynote: Women at the Global Frontlines

Iraqi Journalist Huda Ahmed talked about her experiences with reporting on the Iraq War here in the states. She told us a story of how, while working as a translator for the Washington Post, the very first question reporters wanted to ask Iraqi citizens were, “Are you Shi’ite or Sunni?” ” Why was that always the first question?,” Huda thought. She explained that it is not a common question in Iraqi culture, but American reporters “had to know.”

She talked to us about being passed up for stories in favor of male journalists, and her experience with McClatchy (formerly KnightRidder): “They treated me as a journalist, not a woman.” She had the opportunity to write for a woman at the Baghdad Bureau, which she says was one of her best experiences as a reporter.

Next, Jenny Manrique Cortes tells her story about reporting on trauma survivors in Colombia. She has interviewed terrorists in Colombia as well as rape and kidnapping survivors. “Women are the first victims in this war, and in the worst way,” Jenny explained. She also discussed covering  a story about mothers looking for the corpses of their assassinated sons, and the importance of mental health assistance for trauma reporters.

Peta Thornycroft gives us an picture of Zimbabwe. She chose to stay in the country to give hard news reports on the political and social landscape in Southern Africa. “Zimbabwe is looking for how they can survive each moment, how they can buy even half a loaf of bread.”  Since November, 4,000 Zimbabweans have died of cholera, a preventable disease, and yet  foreign press has not done anything.  In the excitement over the 2008 election in America, “[Foreign press] failed to tell the story,” she said.

“It is that other kind of war. Zimbabwe has the highest literacy rate, and yet no streetlights.”

I will say that I loved the keynote presentation by all of the journalists, but I do wish there was a native Zimbabwean woman there to tell her story…Perhaps this can happen at next year’s WAM!.

Keynote 2: Cynthia Lopez, Vice President of PBS American Documentary | P.O.V.

Cynthia Lopez gave some incredible statistics about women working in TV and Public Broadcasting:

  • In 2008, 37.6% of women worked in the newsroom 14% of them were women of color. How many men were deciding the news of the day? A whopping 62%.
  • Radio: 22.7% of women work in radio
  • Entertainment and Primetime: Women over 40 account for less than 10% of all program, and yet they are the largest demographic for money and income.
  • Our 5 major media organizations in public tv are run by women, including NPR (Vivian Schiller) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (Pat Harris).
  • Oh and by the way:  PBS is the most trusted news source, followed by CNN and Fox News (!) respectively.

When hearing these stats, I couldn’t help but think about my own sorors, friends and colleagues who work in the newsroom, most of whom are women of color.  How many of them will be passed up for a man when it comes to who will write that next big story?

I also couldn’t help but think about my mom, a fly woman over 40, who can barely find a woman besides Angela Bassett on ER who really speaks to her own experiences on primetime television.

Blogging for the Man: Challenging the Commodity of Online Communities

Joanne Bramberger of PunditMom, Veronica Arreola of Viva La Feminista and media analyst Diane Farsetta discuss how to manage PR people when they want you to, in essence, sell a product on your blog. They talked about the ways in which corporations become “part of the community.” The Walmart Mom model was discussed as an example of how mommy bloggers were targeted by PR representatives .  Joanne discussed the importance of creating campaigns that are socially conscious and then finding bloggrs who write about related topics.

So what happens when you do agree to review, say, a new eyeshadow from MAC or Sephora? “You can be honest, but be careful of panning a product completely,  Joanne explained. “Give the company a head’s up if your review is going to be [a bad one].”

Feminist Blogging during Election 2008 and Women in Political Media

Cyn3matic discusses her experiences group blogging with PFLAG and Feminists for Obama along with Veronica Arreola. Jenn Ponzer from Women in Media and News discusses the way that mainstream media perpetuated the tensions between gender, race and a lack of attention to intersectionality.

Lisa Stone of BlogHer and Salon’s Rebecca Traister talk about the lack of women in political media and what the media talks about when they talk about women before, during, and after the 2008 Election.  They discussed the lack of influence of women on our major news networks and Michelle Obama’s stigmatization as an “angry black woman” at the beginning of the campaign.

Art, Activism, and Motherhood

Jeannine Cook, founder of Positive Minds, discussed balancing being a mother with the work she does in interactive media literacy with Philadelphia youth. “I make my kids a part of my work.” What a great example Jeannine becomes of her son and daughter, who will no doubt grow up to become change agents in their own right.

Sasa Ynoa, a registered nurse and doula  talks about homebirth as an option for women of color and poor women. “Feminism has not tackled motherhood as a choice and as something that should be framed as a healing experience, as empowerment.”

Women of Color and Social Media

Where are all the women of color social media mavens? Chances are she’s right in front of you. Shireen Mitchell and Glennette Clark discuss the importance of a social media policy in the workplace and the factors for the lack of women of color in Top 50 and Top 100 listings of the best and brightest social media professionals and developers. “[Women of color] should be masters of social media because we are experts at community building,” said Shireen, who also pointed out that our offline behavior and attitudes should not be much different from what we do online.

For instance, if I write about Black women in the media (which I do) then offline I should be doing work that reflects that (and in fact, I do!). Many people on Twitter for instance have thousands of followers but never engage with them online….@iamdiddy anyone?

Thus, many of the “social media experts” are white males. Through sometimes pompous self-promotion, they position themselves as key influencers. Glennette and Shireen explain that women, especially women of color, don’t do this as often as we should. There’s no reason why Corvida Raven shouldn’t be on next year’s Top 50 list. Shireen and Glennette also launched SocialMediaWOC, an online community that will highlight the great work of women of color in social media today.

And finally….

Tweets is Watchin: Of course no wrap-up of mine would be complete without the conference Twittter Feed (#wam09) for those who want to join in.

I had an absolutely great time. For those of who you I had the pleasure of meeting…good to see you. For those who weren’t there, I hope you can make it to WAM 2010!