The Whitening of Ethnic Women in U.S. Popular Media

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Bhoomi THAKORE, Elmhurst College, USA
Representations of women of color in Western visual media have long been subjected to “white” beauty ideals – specifically, the preference for (and perceived attractiveness of) seemingly white features, such as fair skin, straight hair, small noses and lips, and slim figures (e.g. Collins 2000). These beauty ideals influence the intentional decisions made by (mostly male) media producers when casting female roles (e.g. Mulvey 1975). Even with some increases of diverse representations in the 21st century (e.g. Thakore 2016), women who adhere to these beauty ideals are more likely to be cast in dramatic and romantic roles. Those women of color who challenge these norms are limited to comedic representations. This is particularly the case for non-black U.S. women of color (ethnic women), who seemingly occupy a middle-ground status of being acceptable enough to be written about and cast in media representations, but still subjected to non-white minority status. In this chapter, I will discuss: a) the historical context of the perceived attractiveness of “white” features, b) a brief overview of the history of women of color in visual media, c) examples of ethnic women in 21st century representations, and d) a matrix of understanding which women, which ethnicities, and which roles are most and least subjected to these dynamics.


Collins, Patricia Hill. 2000. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.

Mulvey, Laura. 1975. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen, 16 (3): 6–18.

Thakore, Bhoomi K. 2016. South Asians on the U.S. Screen: Just Like Everyone Else? Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.