Underrepresentation of Minority Heroines



Originally published in Latinitas: http://laslatinitas.com/teens/underrepresentation-of-minority-heroines

It is no big revelation that women of color seldom see themselves in powerful positions in the media, oftentimes making them feel homely and irrelevant. But according to some experts, the lack of representation of minorities in cartoons could also be causing a similar effect for young girls of color.

Today’s Youth in Media

Maria O. Alvarez, the Hispanic media consultant at Common Sense Media,  a non-profit organization that studies the effects that media and technology have on young users, believes the lack of colored girls in youth media leads to low self-esteem among minorities.

“We do know that all these messages have a direct impact in all their behaviors and how they see the world,” said Alvarez. “You feel that you’re in a lower level in society when you see that people like you, your skin color, are not in powerful positions.”

Her thoughts are supported by a 2011 study by Nicole Martins and Kristen Harrison, which found that minorities tend to feel worse about themselves after watching youth media.

The study found that unlike white male characters, who are often presented as highly educated and powerful, which tends to lift white boys’ self-esteems, girl characters are often simplistic, sexualized beings, while characters of color tend to be more violent.

But this particular study, like many, lacks to demonstrate how youth media represent young girls of color.

According to Hugh Klein, who has been studying the underrepresentation of out groups in animated cartoons for the past 20 years, it is difficult to break down the representations of girls of color in animated cartoons because there are too few of them to analyze.

In Klein’s ongoing study, which examined more than 4,000 cartoon characters, he found that only 3.6 percent of the characters were African American, 1.8 percent were Latinos and 1.0 percent were Asian.  Out of the 27 Latino characters in Klein’s research, only one-third, or 9, of them were Latina.

“In the process of leaving people out of the media, you communicate a message to viewers just as much as if you were portraying them in a positive or negative way,” said Klein. “They’re so few in number probably because they’re unvalued in our culture,” said Klein.

According to his research, because animated cartoons are likely to be among the earliest media types to which young people are exposed to and because they are exposed to these messages on a daily basis, animated cartoons end up being “one of the earliest and most influential sources of negative messages.”

Minority Heroines

Some have argued, though, that with minority heroines like Doc McStuffins, Dora the Explorer and Kai-Lan, non-white children are now unburdened by stereotypes and underrepresentation.

But just as mainstream films or music videos feature the token colored gal, Doc McStuffins, Dora the Explorer and Ni Hao, Kai-Lan are some of the only programs on TV with leading girl cartoons of color.

The halfhearted gesture to include a single leading Black, Latina and Asian cartoon character, according to Alvarez, sends the message that although several little white girls can be pop stars (Olivia from “Olivia”), mechanics (Widget from “Wow Wow Wubbzy”) and mathematicians (Milli from “Team Umizoomi”), there’s only room for one visionary girl of color.

“It’s not just cartoons. It’s all over. And it has an impact on how we see ourselves and how proactive we are,” said Alvarez. “We all have great value to share with the society; we can all be in powerful positions. It’s hard to believe that when the media doesn’t show you like that. But if together, parents and community, can share those messages with kids, that’s going to help.”

Alvarez believes that young girls need role models outside of the media.

“There’s a huge gap in reality and what they see in the media. We need to help them see that what they see in the media is not reality.”

Here are a few tips for young girls from Alvarez and Common Sense Media to help with self-image:

  1. Limit media consumption: Limit the amount of media you expose yourself to every day. Set limits. The earlier you start, the better.
  2. Become a media critic: Pay attention to ads, magazine covers, billboards—and talk to your parents about how these messages make you feel and ask them about their own reactions.
  3. Look for role models that look like you: Ask your parents or older relatives about professionals and community leaders who look like you do.
  4. Find everyday role models: Role models don’t need to be famous. They can be teachers, neighbors or family members. You just need a positive influence to look up to.
  5. Understand your value: Even if you’re not seeing people who look like you in the media, understand that race doesn’t define value. Compliment yourself and your peers on all of your/their wonderful talents, like your/their creativity or thoughtfulness.

5 Spicy Latina Stereotypes & Why They Need to Stop


Article originally published on Feminspire: http://feminspire.com/5-spicy-latina-stereotypes-why-they-need-to-stop/

Instead of conjuring up thoughts of a heavily seasoned casserole, terms like “spicy” “hot” “exotic” and “juicy” evoke images of sexy Latinas donning skin-tight dresses that accentuate their large breasts and bodacious behinds. Full, cherry lips popping from their olive skin replaces thoughts of a thick, raw T-bone steak spilling red juices.

The words used to describe Latina bodies figuratively reduce Latinas to food that’s craved, salivated over, attained, devoured and then flushed away.

This is not exactly surprising considering that women of color have historically been exoticized and sexualized but never really valued.

Although on the surface being considered desirable seems like a positive thing, scholars like Isabel Molina-Guzmán and Angharad N. Valdivia argue that Latina bodies are desired because of their “otherness,meaning it’s their marginalization that leads to their sexualization.

They are still not considered equal.

Thus, no matter how much the stereotypical curvy and sexy Latina body is yearned for, the human walking in the body is robbed of their agency and seen as nothing more than something to be looked at and conquered.

And although there’s a wide spectrum of Latina aesthetics and characteristics, trite stereotypes stemming from racist, sexist images by Chiquita Banana are continuously perpetuated through all areas of the mainstream media today.

It’s time to recognize these images and discuss why they’re problematic.

1. Film

Since the days of vaudeville, Latinas have been hypersexualized and exoticized. Entertainers like the“Brazilian Bombshell” Carmen Miranda, with her vibrant costumes, accented English and sensual dances, quickly became fetishized. Her exotic sex appeal steered her into Hollywood but also allowed for only one, repeated role: The sexy, lustful, Latina “other.”

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Today, widely recognized Latina actresses are still filling these stereotypical roles. Eva Mendes plays into the sexually manipulative, promiscuous, sexy and fierce-tempered role in “The Women,” and Roselyn Sanchez, Sofía Vergara and Jaci Velasquez take on hypersexualized, man-crazed, spitfire characters in “Chasing Papi.”


There’s nothing inherently wrong with playing an ultra sexy, feisty Latina. The problem with this role is that it seems to be the only one available for talented Latina actresses, unless of course there’s a maid needed. Well-established Latina actresses who have become household names are still cast as sexy, vindictive dead loverssexy, hot-blooded ex-wives or sexy, badass girlfriends.

2. T.V.

From mature sitcoms, to teen shows, to reality T.V., Latinas are almost always cast as the spicy Latina. The most obvious example of the stereotype in T.V. today is Sofía Vergara’s sexy, loud and boisterous role as Gloria in the show “Modern Family.”

But in youth media, Naya Rivera’s role as Santana Lopez in the hit show “Glee” also plays into the stereotype. Santana, the hot-headed Latina who saunters around in mini skirts and form-fitting dresses, dances sensually to provocative tunes and has no problem telling people off.

Producers even carefully choose everyday women who fit the stereotype for reality T.V. shows. Love and Hip Hop’s Joseline Hernandez’s feisty personality, voluptuous body and eroticized images mirror those of Basketball Wives’ Evelyn Lozada, who Latina magazine described as “one Boricua you do not want to mess with.” It’s almost as if there are casting calls specifically for hot-blooded, passionate, sexy, Latinas. Oh wait, there are.

Another problem that develops from the spicy Latina stereotype is that it’s the only version of Latinas we ever see on our screens. Not all Latinas are curvy, not all care to be sexy, and not all Latinas exhibit the sass of Santana Lopez. The perpetuating stereotype of the spicy Latina has created a sole, homeogenzied Latina identity that can leave any Latina outside of this Western patriarchal Latina ideal feeling short of their Latinidad. It completely erases the group’s diversity.

3. Music

From English-language performances by Latina singers to sexy video vixens, Latinas in music are usually “hot tamales.” Concerts by Jennifer Lopez are summed up through a snapshot of her derrière, while seconds-long videos of Shakira moving her hips sensually are the only clips of her onstage performances to gain airtime.

The bodies of popular Latina singers are almost always eroticized. So much so that even Lopez said, “People equate sexy with promiscuous. They think that because I’m shaped this way, I must be scandalous … But it’s just the opposite.”


Lopez shouldn’t have to make such comments, but because her body, exoticized and sexualized, is seen as “other,” it’s thought to be public sexual property, leaving it open for discussion and criticism. This is another problem with the spicy Latina stereotype. It robs Latinas of their sexual agency, and turns them into sexualized female bodies, or body parts, for male erotic desires. Latina bodies don’t belong to them but, instead, to a public that’s ready to scrutinize and shame them or add them to a sexual fantasy.

4. Advertising

The hypersexualization of Latinas, to me, seems to be most extreme in advertising.

L’Oréal Paris advertises its Volume Million Lashes Excess mascara with a commercial featuring an attractive Latina celebrity, Eva Longoria, wearing a sexy red dress. Longoria even falls into a bed of roses and accentuates the word “drama” when describing the mascara.


In a Bud Light commercial, actress Zoe Saldana dons a sultry, short, laced, black dress and seductively whispers, “I’ll do it.” With red lips, big-hooped earrings and a cleavage-baring dress, Sofía Vergara passionately dances her way to a Diet Pepsi while “whatever Lola wants, Lola gets” is sung in the background of a Pepsi commercial.

The same hackneyed stereotypes of sexy, promiscuous and devious Latinas come up in each of these commercials. And, like lots of advertisements, they promote a disconnect between women of this flawless and desirable dream world and real-life Latinas who don’t gussy themselves up to sit on a beat-up recliner or sensually dance there way to soft drinks.

5. News

Latinas are also sexualized in the news media, with the most overt images being broadcast in Spanish-language media outlets. “Weather girls” can almost always be seen wearing curve-hugging dresses with plunging necklines or even midriff-baring crop tops with skinny jeans. But even news anchors on more “serious” programs like “Primer Impacto,” though dressed more “professionally,” are much more sexualized than female anchors of English-language outlets.

In a Google search of “Latina news anchors,” three out of the first five results are about “hot” or “sexy” anchors. This, again, shows that the spicy Latina stereotype is problematic, as it reduces smart, talented and dedicated professionals to body parts, outfits and hairstyles. It sends the message that the way you look is far more important than who you are and all that you can do.

It’s true that some Latinas are sexy, but words like “spicy” “hot” “exotic” and “juicy” are constantly being used to fetishize Latinas, marginalize them and create an impossible standard for young women and girls to live up to. Recognizing how Latinas are sexualized and exotized in all areas of the media provides the opportunity for discussion and can inspire a movement to counter these stereotyped images.


Whitewashed Journalism: Why Do Only White-Passing Latinas Make it To Our Screens?

Whitewashed Journalism: Why Do Only White-Passing Latinas Make it To Our Screens?


Article originally published on Feminspire: http://feminspire.com/whitewashed-journalism-why-do-only-white-passing-latinas-make-it-to-our-screens/

The embarrassingly low number of Latinas hosting shows on English-language news networks or leading mainstream cable news programs can intimidate any Latina hoping to make a career in news media. But realizing that the bulk of these women could pass as white can deter interested and talented Afro-Latinas from even pursuing a job in the field.

Chicana scholar Gloria Anzaldúa regularly reminded readers that Latinas are mestiza, a mixture of races and cultures. But the diverse range of features that Latinas posses because of their mixed ancestry is repeatedly ignored, with only light-skinned Latinas “graced” with strong European genes capturing the media’s attention.

Colorism, a form of discrimination where one group is treated more favorably based on the color of their skin, is often discussed in its relation to dark-skinned African-American women in the media.

It’s rarely mentioned, however, that this same problem plagues Black Latinas.

Although there’s a dearth of Afro-Latinas in television (Hey, La La!), film (Thanks, Zoe, Christina and Rosario) and advertising (Yay, Joan!), it’s the whitewashing of Latinas in the news media that’s most prevalent.

Last year, the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) announced that Hispanics make up 7.8 percent of the television news force, while the American Society of News Editors’ (ASNE) records showed that the group makes up just 4.1 percent of staff members at daily newspapers.

While representations of Latinas in the news media have increased over the past decade, the images viewers see when they flip to their favorite local or cable news stations are often the same: white.

Although the Latino culture and identity is a mix of its Spanish, indigenous and African roots, the Latina anchors are typically lighter skinned with more European phenotypes.

Does this just mean that Black Latinas aren’t really interested in broadcast journalism?

Gwen Ifill

Gwen Ifill, an Afro-Latina of Barbadian and Panamanian descent, is a moderator and managing editor of “Washington Week” and senior correspondent for The PBS NewsHour.

I don’t think so.

And there are several Afro-Latina bloggers and citizen journalists on my Tumblr dashboard who could confirm that.

So why is it so difficult to find dark-skinned Latinas in the news media?

My theory: colonial ideas of power and beauty.

In the U.S., Latinos in power are rarely dark-skinned. In fact, studies and articles repeatedly show that skin tones and racial features frequently determine who gets ahead and who doesn’t.

Cristina Saralegui, one of the most influential Latina talk-show hosts, and Jennifer Lopez, one of the highest-paid actresses in the world, were both able to break barriers that Black Latinas have not even been close to shattering.

Also worth noting is the fact that lighter-skinned Latinos in the United States make $5,000 more on average than darker-skinned Latinos.

From media, to business, to politics, Latinos in positions of power are predominately light-skinned. The phenotype of these women, and men, resemble the most powerful, revealing that whiteness still prevails.

The mainstream beauty ideal, which is almost exclusively white, I believe, also inhibits Afro-Latinas from making strides in broadcast news media.

In a 2001 study done by the University of Florida, researchers found that the greatest barrier facing women anchors was the “overemphasis of their physical appearance.”

In other words, writing and editing abilities, ethics, journalistic content and newsgathering skills are all, according to the 246 local news anchors surveyed, second to image and beauty.

We inhabit a society that idealizes light skin tones, straight hair, thin bodies and European facial features, meaning that Black women – including Afro-Latinas – with their dark skin, kinky hair and African phenotypes, don’t fit the dominant idea of beauty that news directors are looking for.

Feeling the pressure to fit this unattainable, colonial idea of beauty, more and more Afro-Latinas are resorting to dangerous measures like using daily skin bleaching creams and chemically straightening their hair.

But the white ideal even affects Latinas in the journalism field who are closest to the standard. Light-skinned Latina journalists like Cecilia Vega, Natalie Morales and numerous others regularly straighten and lighten their hair, making them appear almost indistinguishable from their white female colleagues.

Highlighting these Latina journalists is not an attempt on my end to pit dark-skinned Latinas and light-skinned Latinas against each other. In fact, I’m a light-skinned Latina with naturally straight, light hair and relatively European features trying to make it into news media.

My point is to spotlight the unearned privileges afforded to women with more European aesthetics and to remind media critics that Black Latinas, like all Black women, are impacted by colorism, too.

Latinos are the largest ethnic minority group in the United States. It would seem that now, more than ever, we’d have diverse newsrooms with writers, anchors and news directors reflecting the country’s racial and ethnic makeup.

As a Latina and young multimedia journalist, I am overjoyed each time I see Latina journalists like Cecilia Vega, Natalie Morales and Michelle Caruso-Cabrera make strides in news media. But knowing that Afro-Latina Soledad O’Brien’s major cable news show was recently kicked off of CNN while the network’s new white, male hire Jake Tapper became “the face of the new CNN” reminds me of how much more needs to be done for all Latinas trying to make their mark in journalism.

I want to see more Latinas like Elizabeth Vargas, as well as Mimi Valdes and Gwen Ifill writing and presenting the news.

I want to see blonde, faired-skinned women like my cousins, olive-skinned, straight-haired women like me, and dark-skinned, thick-haired women like my mother representing the spectrum of Latinas in all areas of the media, especially in the influential and inspiring field of news media.

Are you an Afro-Latina journalist or journalism student? If so, what do you think about colorism in journalism?