January 1st, 2007

thinky tim

My yellow face

One of my Christmas gifts from ratzeo was Body Outlaws, published by the woman-friendly Seal Press. It's a collection of essays by women attempting to rewrite body image outside of conventional beauty standards - and not just white, middle-class, straight women, but women who experience all forms of oppression, including racism.

The first essay is "My Brown Face," by Mira Jacob, an Indian-American woman who constantly finds herself fetishized by white men. Most women of color are familiar with this experience - the 'positive' counterpart of racist degradation - when men tell you how 'beautiful' and 'exotic' you are. This can be accomplished either through ebullient and chivalrous praise, or through crude and fetishistic verbal harassment; Jacob describes instances of both. These anecdotes are presented as contained sections of the essay, without direct commentary - and yet her indignation and disgust towards her 'suitors' is palpable.

I love this essay for the clarity and energy of the writing, the juxtaposition of caustic anger and humor, but also for the personal nuances that Jacobs provides, which are so gratifying to read because they echo my own experience. Very few voices from women of color are heard in the mainstream conversation on body image - one of the reasons I asked ratzeo for this book, in fact - and it was comforting to read things that were familiar to me, but so often overlooked by standard (white) analyses.

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x-posted on Shrub.com