I think most women are appreciative of the body positivity movement that has gained traction over the last decade; I’ve seen very few who don’t understand how damaging it can be for a woman to only see the very thin represented in media and fashion. The need to represent body types of all kinds is largely accepted as good for women’s self-esteem. And yet, so often when I talk about people of color, particularly children, needing this same kind of representation, I am met with the response, “It shouldn’t matter what the hero looks like.” Shouldn’t it? By that same reasoning one could say that women shouldn’t feel bad about their own bodies as a result of media-fueled pressure to be very thin, but we know that overwhelmingly, culture and advertising plays a huge role in how we want to look, what we covet, who we want to be. For this reason, every year, I make my daughter’s Halloween costume by hand.
If you look at Halloween costumes on the Walmart website, even by the eighth page, there is only one costume for a character of color (Doc McStuffins) and of the more than 100 costumes shown, NONE of the models wearing them are anything but white. Listen, in a perfect world, color wouldn’t matter, but I’d imagine that in this same perfect world, media, news, culture and advertising would be reflective of the population it serves. But, here in the real world, if my daughter wants to look to these easily available sources for someone to look up to and dream about becoming, she has to dream of being white.
This year, she wanted to be Misty Copeland. Having been in dance classes since she could walk, and possessing among her favorite things, the Misty Copeland Barbie doll and Misty’s book “Firebird” she was beyond excited for me to transform her into a ballerina who is not just beautiful, but beautiful in the same brown skin and curly hair as her.
Two years ago she was “Tip” from the Dreamworks movie “Home.”
The year prior to that she was Micheal Jackson as the Scarecrow from “The Wiz.”
The Walmart page is full of White Woody and Buzz from Toy Story, White Mario and Luigi, White Star Wars characters, White Superheroes, White Princesses, so much white that it would appear that the one thing no one wants to imagine themselves to be, is black. Let the rows of costumes tell it and you’d have to believe that if a person could pick any persona under the sun to transform themselves into for a night, even in their most wildest dreams, at the lengths of their imagination, there must only be whiteness.
My daughter will know that she never has to go beyond the boundaries of black excellence to find a never ending supply of beauty, heroism, and talent to aspire to. Certainly, there are lots of wonderful fictional characters and amazing people in the world who just happen to be white, but the world is going to force upon her a disproportionate amount of those, and if I can give her a foundation of role models that reinforce her self-image, then maybe she won’t have to look at a bevy of white Marvel characters and wonder, “can I not be super if I’m black?”
Until the world gives every demographic of people their fare share of air time and reverie, this mama will continue to heat up the glue gun, plug in the sewing machine, and fabricate costumes my baby can see herself in.