The class discussion today about "Snow Brown and the Seven Detergents" sparked an idea for this blog post. While talking about how the article used the hyperbole of "detergents" that could wash away someone's culture, ethnicity and race, I recalled a short online article on cracked.com entitled "5 Celebrity Careers Launched by Ethnic Makeovers" illustrating that these "detergents" do in fact exist. Although they may not be actual soaps that simply cleanse away a person's identity, there are very real, and infinitely more painful, methods of manipulating bodies to conform to the homogenous expectations of our society.
So, according to the cracked.com article, Rita Hayworth was a famous movie star in the 1930s and 40s, but before her career could develop into full stardom she had to go through a lengthy and difficult transformation from her Latina ethnicity to the "American" version we all identify her with. She had two years of extensive, painful electrolysis to change her hairline, skin bleaching (also painful) to lighten her skin color, and of course hair color change. Finally, to make the transition complete, her name was changed from Margarita Carmen Cansino to Rita Hayworth. Note: The cracked.com article is really interesting, and although I can't speak to the truth of the other celebrities listed, I did research Rita Hayworth and found this transformation to be true.
Of course, being an aspiring movie star is different than being an aspiring scientist. Superficial beauty is still a prized attribute in our culture, especially in the entertainment industry, and therefore basically a prerequisite for any kind of acting career. However, the characteristics that define our standard of beauty have not been changing and are the same as those cited in the Snow Brown story. In any career field these standard characteristics will have some role in how that career progresses. We are inundated with images decrying these standards of beauty and legitimacy, and although not all of us aspire to be movie stars, it would be pure denial to say that they don't impact our lives. As Rita Hayworth's transformation shows, it is the person who is expected to physically change themselves to fit this mold when it should really be our society's expectations that change.