Jessica B. sent in a link to an article and slideshow at CNN titled “Is Ethnic Beauty the New ‘It’ Factor?” What fascinated me about the post is how much “ethnic” is conflated with “curvy,” as though having large breasts or not being stick-thin is a specifically racial/ethnic trait. From the article:
More voluptuous figures, fuller lips and darker skin, features traditionally associated with women of African, Latin and Asian cultures, are “in.”
“What’s not to love, embrace and emulate about ethnic beauty?” said Us Weekly fashion director Sasha Charnin Morrison. “The use of curvier, more rounded figures looks refreshing.”
I suppose the author is right in that “voluptuous” figures have often historically been associated with non-European women, often as a way of stereotyping them as sexually promiscuous. But they haven’t been applied equally, and in fact, in the U.S. Asian women often find they are held to a fantasized pre-pubescent version of the beauty ideal, that expects thin bodies, small breasts, etc.
The first photo, of Beyoncé, identifies “honey brown skin,” “warm hair tones,” and “sultry curves” as part of ethnic beauty. Notice the subtitle under the photo of her — “a whole lot of woman”:
The slideshow also has a photo of Jennifer Lopez, who has “Latina curves”:
Scarlett Johansson and Christina Hendricks are included as examples, as far as I can tell for no other reason than that they have cleavage and waists of different circumference than their hips:
They also include Kim Kardashian, a “woman of Armenian descent” who “takes pride in her curves,” Nicki Minaj’s “Asian-like eyes,” and this photo and caption of Tyra Banks:
Presumably Tyra wasn’t an example of ethnic beauty when she was a “thin model,” but once she “grew into her curves” she became ethnic. But look at those photos again: despite all the discussion of curves, and the clear existence of breasts and some hips, what I see are a lot of very thin women. Tyra was once a thin model? That photo is from 2010, and she looks awfully slender to me.
In addition to treating “curves” and being “ethnic” as interchangeable characteristics, the article contains some exoticization of non-White women as particularly exciting and unique, such as this quote from what appears to be a random guy they asked:
Ronald Gavin, a 32-year-old single man from Tampa, Florida, agrees. “I mean let’s face it, ethnic women have this exotic appeal — it’s the curves and the fact that they don’t have this carbon-copy look like anyone else,” Gavin said. “
We’ve noted the fetishization of Black women’s butts before, and the conflation of non-White and curvy (also here). Yes, some non-White women have large butts and cleavage. So do lots of White women. And lots of women in all groups don’t have either, or have just one or the other, or have them but don’t still somehow manage to be very thin and toned overall. But having this body type is, in this case and many others, so identified as “ethnic” that White women who have boobs and hips become examples of “ethnic” beauty, not simply a version of female beauty. Notice that Scarlett Johansson’s body isn’t described as having “European curves” or, I don’t know, “British-American curves” or whatever her ethnic background might be in the way that Jennifer Lopez’s curves are perceived as an ethnic marker. It’s a great example of selective perception: women of all racial/ethnic backgrounds share body shapes, but certain physical features, such as hips, are seen as a group characteristic only for some women.