Thursday, June 26, 2008

The culture of sexy white women

Yes, I admit it's a shamelessly attention-getting heading, but it really was the best summary I could think of! Let me explain...

The other night we went to the Mexican restaurant Vivo, which has a nice, leafy, secluded outdoor patio. Unfortunately, that area was full, so we ate inside, which is in worse taste.

The walls are covered with huge, tacky paintings, most of which are ... trying to be of beautiful women.

I was about to write, "paintings of beautiful women," but then I realized there seems to be a gap in the English language: there should be a word for obvious, lowest-common-denominator beauty, devoid of subtlety or complexity.

In an unusually discriminatory touch, the waitstaff hand every female customer a rose as she left.

When I moved to Austin a year ago, one of the things I was looking forward to was the cool cafes and restaurants like Vivo, with their vibrant colors and off-beat gimmicks. But sitting there the other night, I felt overcome by a sense of superficiality and artifice.

Even though this was a Mexican restaurant, almost all the women on the walls seemed to be non-Hispanic whites, mostly blondes. (You can see some of them here if you let the photos scroll by.) They were either seductive close-ups or cartoonish nudes with minimal artistic merit.

We have a culture of glorifying sexy white women. I assume the thinking is: "Men are attracted to them, and women relate to them, so you get the best of both worlds." Women are famously less turned on by visuals, and men don't need a visual prompt to appreciate their own gender's significance. (As for minorities, well, they're used to not being represented, and there are fewer of them in the potential customer base anyway -- so the thinking presumably goes.)

I'm brought back to the halls of my old law school, which are covered with posters of minority women. Maybe that's the academic equivalent of the Vivo walls. Again, the thinking seems to be: "Men are already confident in their dominance, so there's no harm in failing to remind them of it. Meanwhile, isn't it good of us to adopt this soothing veneer of diversity?"

I'm keeping a list of disadvantages of being a man in the United States. Logically, "disadvantages of being a man" means the same thing as "advantages of being a woman." So, should I add the glorification of blandly sexy women to my list? Depends on whether you think being put on a pedestal is an "advantage."


XWL said...

Have you seen Mexican telenovelas? Those blandly sexy, improbably buxom, blonde women are often Mexican. I think you could easily argue that a 'whiter' aesthetic of beauty is present south of the border than it is north of the border.

Here are some photos of the "bad girls" on various telenovelas. More than half are blonde, and I think you could easily argue all of them have a more or less 'European' feature set.

Judging from Vivo's website, that place is aimed at non-Mexicans, but I think even at an actual Mexican Mexican restaurant, you'd find blandly blonde and extremely unsubtle images of women.

(as far as the men go on telenovelas, they tend to be darker skinned, but still more European than Indigenous in appearance, and they're as blandly and unsubtly attractive as the women)

(and as far as the art goes in that place, it's offensively awful for being awful, let alone for any larger social context and subtext)

John Althouse Cohen said...

Good point. I haven't seen those telenovelas, but I've seen Italian television shows where all the Italian women seem to be blonde. I've also been to Morocco and noticed that a lot of billboards featured the same kinds of white women we see in the United States -- you have this incongruous sense that all of a sudden you're not in an Islamic country anymore. That does cast a different light on it. Clearly, in a restaurant like Vivo, part of the decision is based on the fact that most people in Austin are white ... though we do have a large Hispanic population. But the fact that this is done even in countries with few if any native blondes suggests that there's a possibly more disturbing international phenomenon of people with lighter features being prized over those with darker features.

Ron said...

Maybe we should base our currency on sexy white women, just to improve the trade deficit...I can see the Jolie-to-Euro conversions now...

SGT Ted said...

I just think it's part of Mexican culture. Where do you think those cheesey velvet Elvis paintings come from?

They also do alot of cheesey nudes and voluptuous chikas on velvet.

As to the blondes thing; The upper crust of Mexicans view having dark skin as being more low class and being of less "pure" Spanish descent.