Who’s Being Left Out – Representations of Women of Color

Trailer Redmond Summer Event 2013 from Redmond Amsterdam on Vimeo.

We at Redmond are not the first to question the dominant beauty ideal that surrounds us. In fashion magazines, in television series, video clips and in commercials we are constantly confronted with certain body images and ideals. Some of these beauty ideals have been critiqued and questioned such as the extreme skinny models, photo shopping images of women and portraying them as sexual objects. However, in the Netherlands we never seem to address the fact that this is a dominant white beauty ideal. Yes, we mean that we should be talking about race too.

Women of color are underrepresented when it comes to mainstream media in the Netherlands. When we do see women of color they are often seen as exotic, hypersexual, the veiled other or as somebody with a ‘bit of color’. Gender and sexuality in this regard decide who is ‘really Dutch’ and who is not. Especially when it comes to Muslim women the Dutch seem to have standards that decide who belongs and who doesn’t.

In several Dutch TV commercials we see Surinamese women portrayed in a stereotypical way, with a heavy accent, shouting or being loud, a ‘big momma’, a single mom and living in the Bijlmer. This image of Surinamese women seems to be funny and suggesting that it is exactly these traits that make her funny. We hardly see any families of color in mainstream media or darker skinned women. In cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam, 50% of the population is what the Dutch call ‘allochtoon’. You start to wonder why we never see TV series with people of color as the main characters or commercials with families of color.

alleen maar nette mensen

A still from the film “Alleen maar nette mensen”

The bodies of women of color are often othered and or policed. It may be evident that racist and sexist trajectories are broader than the mere visual representations of women of color but are ingrained in our society.Of course this is not a new process; throughout history women of color have been marginalized, simply left out or have been represented in stereotypical ways. The documentary ‘Zwart Belicht’ by Tessa Boerman, is interesting in this regard as it looks at how black people have portrayed in paintings by the painter Rubens and other artists and how positive images of black women in these iconic and well known paintings of Dutch painters have largely gone unnoticed.  This also demonstrates the invisibilization  of women in mainstream visual culture. The misrepresentation of women of color is continuous and by no means a linear process in time. Rather we see racist and sexist trajectories re-enter, amongst others, in the visual representation of women of color on a constant basis. looking at Zwarte Piet, the film ‘Alleen maar nette mensen’, the ‘Nigga-Bitch’ affair and the use of black and red face by the Dutch Vogue magazine, just to name a few things.

As a feminist collective that claims to have an intersectional approach, we need to question, as women of color, how we deal with the dominant white beauty ideal. We feel it is not enough to look at the ways that women are generally represented in termsof size, body image and sexuality nor is it enough to call this beauty ideal out as white and a process of whiteness. Deconstructing how race, gender and ethnicity construct our identities and realities is key to understanding how women of color are viewed and portrayed. It is also vital to understanding the power and privilege that comes with the created imaginary of women of color.  Now this might sound very theoretical, but basically what we mean is that we need to start having dialogues about these issues. When white feminist organisations organise debates on beauty ideals and question the dominant beauty ideal, we need to talk about race, ethnicity, gender and power too. A real intersectional approach does not just pinpoint to the intersections of race and gender on paper but tries to initiate constructive dialogues around these intersections. Our Redmond Summer Event is an attempt to do exactly that: talk with women of color about fashion, beauty ideals and cultural appropriation from an intersectional point of view.

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