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Is Vanity Fair Sending Dangerous Messages to Little Black Girls? This Black Mom Worries…

I really couldn't believe the recent spread in Vanity Fair heralding the next generation of Hollywood starlets.


It was bad enough that they couldn't (or didn't try) to find at least one person of color to include in their annual "New Hollywood" spread in the March issue. They've been taking a little heat for this ridiculous oversight.  What about Gabourey Sidibe from "Precious" and Zoe Saldana? Even as an Avatar, she was still in one of the highest grossing movies of the year.


I could have stomached the photo spread, I'm pretty much used to African Americans being excluded from mainstream Hollywood. But they really went too far with the descriptive language in the accompanying story with each waiflike actress getting her respective props for "downy-soft cheeks," a

"button nose," "patrician looks and celebrated pedigree," "dewy, wide-eyed loveliness," or "Ivory-soap-girl features." Ivory soap-girl features???


But is this Vanity Fair's journalistic failure and bad PR problem (hitting the stands during Black History Month no less. The horror!!) or just an accurate depiction of hot Hollywood these days?



Either way, as a mom raising a daughter, it sends dangerous messaging to all girls in general and African American girls, in particular. We’ve often criticized the beauty industry for their unrealistic images of Barbie-like girls and women. We’ve told young girls they are beautiful as they are in all shapes, sizes, skin tones and features (ivory soap or not), but then stories like these show the reality of the world all of our girls are growing up in. And what a challenge we have as moms to counteract these influences to raise confident, self-assured girls who love their bodies.



Quite frankly, I'm no fan of Hollywood lately, anyway. And if Sandra Bullock wins an Oscar for The Blind Side, I will be on a very long personal boycott of the award show. I mean, yet another movie about a (albeit well intentioned) white woman saving a large, menacing in appearance, from the hood with nobody else, black person. This blog isn't long enough for me to list the stereotypes in that Hollywood gem (Or in movies like Dangerous minds, Freedom Writers, The Soloist). And this is Oscar-worthy movie making??




Attention Hollywood: there a thousands of equally inspirational stories of African Americans saving themselves (gasp!) or white people too (double

gasp!) , but those don't get told because they don't fit into your stereotype of who we are.



But I digress. Slightly.



My point is Vanity Fair has a problem and Hollywood has an even bigger problem.  When a major media outlet ignores its responsibility to represent all its readers and its messaging to the young girls who aspire to be in Vanity Fair (or Hollywood), that's just irresponsible journalism.  Read: only "button noses" and ivory-soap girls need apply.


Hollywood on the other hand has a more deeply rooted issue that concerns me as mom. For years extremely talented black female actresses like Halle Berry, Regina King, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kerry Washington, Sanaa Lathan, Kimberly Elise, Nicole Ari Parker, Lynn Whitfield, Lela Rochon  (I could do this for three more pages…) have lamented the dearth of quality movie roles (no crackheads please) available to black actresses. Meanwhile, Jennifer Aniston (no disrespect, I'm a huge fan Rachel)has played the same exact character 50 million times with no end in sight.



Thankfully, my own little black girl has not mentioned any dreams of a Hollywood career because, even in this “Yes We Can” era, I’d feel some parenting compulsion to say, “probably not, sweetie.” I wish I didn’t feel that way. But this very “fair” article only confirms my fears.



Unfortunately for us all, Vanity Fair did a great job of highlighting the inconvenient truth of exactly how Hollywood is. New or old.





6 Responses to “Is Vanity Fair Sending Dangerous Messages to Little Black Girls? This Black Mom Worries…”
  1. you read my thoughts exactly. unfortunately I’ve lowered my expectations about most “mainstream” media being fair and balanced; or even accurate. and that is saying something because I’m a journalist, who’s spent some years in “mainstream” media. thank GOD I’m able to keep tons of positive influences around my daughter. i just hate for them to have to learn the hard road they have to travel for some aspirations they might have. i remember my mother’s heart-breaking when reality seeped in when I was a child….i was hoping that 30 years later things would change at least a bit…maybe they have a tad, but the heartbreak is just as painful…and now I’m feeling it for my child..jd

  2. Dionne says:

    The thing that struck me most was not Vanity Fair’s stance because, well, that has been Vanity Fair’s stance (Oprah is a brand, not an individual, right?) but the willingness of the actressess to participate in the shoot and their subsequent silence thereafter. Haven’t we learned what happens when right thinking people remain silent in the face of chicanery , tomfoolery, and downright wrong-ness? Not one of those waifs pictured popped up on ET to share their indignation. None of the button-nosed, Ivory soap girls Twitted about their disappointment or dismay. No one showed up on Tyra or Ellen to express their outrage over Penelope’s absence. And Penelope Cruz turned out not one but two stunning performances; one entirely en espanol and you didn’t need a Spanish to English dictionary to know mujer marvelosa when you saw her. I know they were cool with Monique and Gaborey not being there. (Again, Oprah is a brand, not an individual.) But Paula Patton was also in the movie. And I guess what I’m saying is while the concept of the global village consciousness is being pushed as the panacea for 21st century humanity; where millions of dollars were raised for victims of the earthquake in Haiti; where Madonna and Brad/Angelina have included brown babies in their households; where the world’s reigning tennis champion is from Compton, where a dude who walks like my daddy, looks like my cousin David and listens to Jay Z was overwhelmingly elected to lead the land of the free and the home of the brave, while all of this is taking place, you mean to tell me that not one, not nary one of them chicks thought it odd that not even Penelope Cruz was not present for that shoot? Well, then, I guess I’m also supposed to believe that Taylor Swift disagreed with Kanye about that whole video thing.

  3. Oshun says:

    I love the fashion industry and I love magazines. I grew up on Vanity Fair, Vogue, W you name it, but while reading these publications I always had to reconcile my love for the industry and my dejection and inferiority I experienced whenever I saw a cover like this. Well I am happy to say that these things just do not bother me anymore, because I have finally come to the realization that magazine publishers, Hollywood just do not give a damn. Michael Jackson got it right, “they don’t care about us.”

    It doesn’t matter that our buying power is nearing a trillion dollars, it doesn’t matter that they are quite aware that we read and purchase these magazines. They do not publish with Black consumer in mind. And the more we keep beating our heads against the wall waiting for validation that will not come the more time and energy we waste. Do you know how we can prevent the next generation from feeling the pain that we feel because of exclusion support publications that are not afraid to allow us to grace the cover and fill our houses with those. I read these magazines with an air of indifference now, I get the information I need and laugh when I see things like this. Lets keep in mind that people of color are undeniably beautiful. Imagine putting saldana or latham, or elise on the cover next to the pale, thin ivory soaped colored actresses. I dont think the powers that be can handle it. the truth hurts.

  4. Meghan says:

    I agree with your stance, with the exception of the The Blind Side. It’s a TRUE story, based off of a book, which was ghost-written! I’m not sure how you can get upset about something that actually happened. The “white woman” exists! It’s not like a Hollywood writer decided to write the story, and cast the heroine as a white woman instead of African-American. Come on if you are going to pick on a movie, at least pick on one that isn’t (or wasn’t) real.

    • Kimberly says:

      Well, my issue is not whether the story is true or not, simply that there are OTHER stories to tell. Stories that show us saving ourselves. But unfortunately those stories don’t get told they way the other stories do. I’m pretty sure most of those other movies are actually true as well, which is great, but when you continue to put out only one type of story it creates a dangerous stereotype about our ability to pull our own selves up. That’s pretty much my point.

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