POPSUGAR’s Folly: A tale of casual racism and marketing

On July 3, POPSUGAR posted a piece about natural hair that completely removed Black people from a movement that was for and about them. Although there are cries of appropriation surrounding this article, what is actually happening here is the causal racism of marketing and an obvious lack of diversity in media.

There are a few things to note here. One, this is a sponsored post to advertise hair care products. This means that the post was more or less just an advertisement. That being said, it’s important to note that the particular line that was being sold, OGX, is one that is used quite often by Black people who have natural hair.

Two, they used only staffers from their office to review and share their experience with the brand. This happened to be all white people. Now, I don’t know if that is because they did not think to ask their Black staffers to participate or if it was because they do not have any Black people on staff. It doesn’t really matter though because both of those are problems.

Three, in reading the original article, they obviously don’t apply any weight or meaning to the words they’ve chosen to use. Likely because they were suggested by the company who paid for the ad. The use of “natural” and “texture” do not appear to hold the same weight for these women. What they mean is “My hair without a flat iron” not “Accepting my hair in its natural state as an act of rebellion and rejection of colonial beauty standards that wants to force me to internalize anti-Black beliefs and sees any and all proof of my Blackness as something that must be subjugated, hidden, and destroyed.”

If they had asked a Black person, they probably would have been tipped off about that slight difference. They also likely would have known many Black people use these products as an alternative to Shea because they are bit less expensive.

Which takes us back up to point one. This was an advertisement.

If you follow it back to the company you will see a page that has many white women but if you scroll down, you’ll see Black women using it on their hair because this is a moisturizing product and our hair tends to be very dry.

POPSUGAR likely had no idea about the demographics of this product, it was clear that the staffers had never used these products before. Which means they’ve certainly never entered a hair shop and purchased them. But the company knew what they were getting when they asked for this ad: White women.

They’re intentionally marketing this product to appeal to white women in order to make more money. White women don’t have a concept of natural hair, not in the way that Black people do, to white people it’s just hair. They may do other things to it, like color or process it, but that doesn’t change how it’s “natural” state is described. It’s just hair.

For Black people, our hair’s natural state is the one that must be identified. This is my natural hair means I don’t have chemicals in it to make it straight. It has a very specific meaning in the Black community and it is that definition that spawned a movement.

When these sorts of articles are written and this sort of marketing is done by a company, it is to open up the language to include white people so that they will feel more comfortable in using these products. However, it also serves to erase the reality of the Black people who use the same products because our experiences are very different.

This isn’t to say that white people shouldn’t use this shampoo and the various lines of products. It is only to say that when engaging in discussions about the products they should not co-opt the language of Black people to discuss it.

Write about how it reduced your frizz and increased your volume. White hair care has a dictionary full of words and phrases they use to sell hair products. Use those to expand your market base. Avoid the ones associated with the natural hair movement which is one that is centered on Black people.

Although I think that the people most strongly at fault was the brand, this doesn’t absolve POPSUGAR for their huge oversight. They obviously need to work on their diversity and if they have Black people on staff, to run these sorts of articles past them first or at least do some reading “natural hair” before you publish and article. A quick Google would have shown you that the women featured in the article are not the demographic that most commonly uses the phrase.

On Cheap Glasses and the Myth of Affordable

Glasses are expensive and if you have less than perfect vision, you need them. Whenever anyone talks about needing glasses in an online space, they are met by a chorus of “Oh go to this *insert online dealer*! I got mine there and they were just *insert seemingly nominal amount*!” The thing is though, that what seems nominal to one person may be a cost too high for another.

Story time. My glasses broke in half last summer. I went to put them on my face when I woke up and they fell into two pieces. I’ve been wearing glasses since I was three years old, my prescription is quite high. When I talked about my glasses breaking, immediately I was flooded with recommendations for various online sellers.

The thing is, because my prescription is so high, the glasses that were costing my friends $30 were more in the $75-100 range for me. Which is a big difference! In fact, what was a nominal cost for them became a choice between being sighted and paying a bill for that month for me.

And this is a reality for many people.

There is room in this discussion for the intersections between class and ableism to be examined. After all, it is only those with low prescriptions that can access the low-cost options with using these online dealers. It also ignores the fact that people need to be able to be seen for a prescription which, without insurance especially, can be a hefty cost. What I’m bringing this up for today is to discuss the ever-changing goal post of “affordability”.

Not everyone operates from the same financial level and we really need to stop speaking as though “cheap” is the same level for everyone. Not everyone can access the same opportunities due to their unique circumstances (like my high prescription vs my friend’s low one) and not everyone is working with the same amount of capital.

This isn’t to say that we should never suggest things to others looking for help and guidance, it is only to say that we need to be aware of the difference between people that will change their experience. Instead of “go here it’s so cheap!” try “I had a good experience with this company under these circumstances”. Be aware of the fact that a cost that may seem low to you may be a budget breaker to someone else. After all, even $30 may be a tough choice to a family that is stretched thin financially.

It’s good to try and help but don’t forget that you are not an authority on anyone’s life but your own and even though something may work really well for you it may not be so great for someone else. The idea of affordability across the board is a myth. The only thing that is affordable for everyone regardless of life needs is free. Anything above that and it cheap really depends on what you consider expensive and that’s different for everyone.

The Truth About Tone Policing

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There’s this old saying, “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” which is to say that you can win more people to your side by being nice than being salty. People try to use this line as a reason to tone police others especially those that are speaking out against matters that end in any sort of -ism. The thing is though, in those cases, tone policing has nothing to do with being polite and everything to do with continuing to silence a marginalized group.

Tone policing is done by and large by the privileged group. Whether that group be white, male, cis, abled body or any combination of privilege, they are generally the ones that are first to point out that some point wasn’t made nicely enough. Be it a discussion on racist housing practices or sexism in the workplace, if the marginalized person that is speaking out against it in any way, shape, or form can be read as being “hostile” or “emotional”, then that privileged person feels justified in pointing out that they’re not being nice. Which is generally shortly followed up with something akin to “That’s why no one is listening to you.”

There are two things deeply wrong with this.

One, no one is or should be required to be polite or be concerned with the feelings of the privileged masses when they are speaking from a place of marginalization. If you are causing someone harm, you should not be concerned with their tone when they are telling you to stop. If you are more concerned that someone approach you nicely when informing you of issues that negatively affect them of which you may be contributing unknowingly to, you are definitely part of the problem.

Policing someone’s tone is a not so subtle way of saying that the privileged person’s comfort is MORE IMPORTANT than the marginalized person’s life.

The second issue is that it asserts the privileged person has having authority over the marginalized group. It is as if the marginalized person is a child asking their caretaker if they can have a cookie and getting the response of “Only if you ask nicely.”

Members of the privileged group don’t really have the authority to say that. It is only through systematic forms of oppression that they are in the position of power, not because they have any right to be there.

The real thing about tone policing is that most of the time, especially in online venues, there is absolutely nothing wrong with anyone’s tone. Being online, it lacks all nonverbal communication and you can read a message for the most part any way you want. The problem is though that when you are talking with privileged people who are used to feeling like they are in power, anything less than total submission is aggression.

The mere act of speaking for yourself, of saying, “This is a problem and I will not stand for it any longer,” is read as aggressive and it likely does not matter how nicely the marginalized person says it, just by speaking out, by calling into question the society that created the issue and continues to support it, that marginalized person has spoken aggressively.

Tone policing is always a way to silence a marginalized voice. It is not about being polite or civil or anything else. Is about dismissing someone or “putting them in their place”. If people have to say things nicely for you to listen, then you’re the one with the problem.

Unconscious Bias: Why You Need to Be Aware

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When people in a position of privilege, ie cis, White, male for example say that they have been judged for their cis/White/maleness they are mainly speaking of the times that someone has verbally or otherwise acted in a very overt negative fashion because of their cis/White/maleness. Which is to say that they know why it happened. What they are not speaking of is the unconscious bias that marginalized groups deal with constantly. Probably because that bias generally works out in their favor.

Unconscious bias is a bias that people are unaware of and stems from the person’s background or the culture they live in. For example, if you were nipped by a dog when you were young, you may grow up to not like dogs very much even if you never think of that incident at all.

Similarly, the culture we live in supports an unconscious bias that is favorable privileged groups (white, cis, male, etc) while it supports a negative unconscious bias for marginalized groups (people of color, females, queer, etc).

Hiring managers aren’t, for the most part, sitting at desks thinking, “No darkies in my office!” any more than doctors are thinking, “Man, women are just hypochondriacs!” However, both of these groups still deal with their unconscious bias that lay the groundwork for them to look more favorably upon white applicants or to take a woman’s health complaints less seriously.

This is important because when we talk about the act of judgement to be equally as awful, we’re very much speaking about those “vocal” judgements which is to say, we’re really saying, don’t say mean things to other people (which is a good life lesson). This reaction doesn’t deal with those unconscious biases and once you take that into consideration, the scales tip firmly in one direction as far as awfulness goes.

Dealing with unconscious bias is really difficult because there is no hard evidence for the times that it happens. As a woman of color, I can never be sure that I didn’t get a job because there was a better applicant or if it was because I was too brown. No one is going to tell me that they didn’t hire me because of my race or gender (we have laws against that) but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t factor in to their ultimate choice.

Solving this problem takes a lot of active thought. It forces people to look at why they’re making choices, acting in certain ways towards people etc. in order to be sure that they aren’t fueled by these biases. People will shout that they don’t hold biases but the thing is, the person may not be racist/sexist/homophobic but the culture that we all live in very much is and we are all influenced by it.

Defeating it means confronting it. If you come from a privileged group, it means questioning not only how you handle others but how you have been handled. It means questioning how you’ve benefited from these biases and how you may have caused harm with your own. Ignoring it will not make it go away because chances are, you’re not even aware of it.

You’re Not Oppressed, You’re Just Having A Bad Time

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Bad things can happen to anyone and it’s not OK. No one wants to be hurt, belittled, or insulted. It doesn’t feel good. However, if a bad thing happens to you and you happen to come from a privileged group, that doesn’t mean that you are oppressed. It just means that something bad happened to you.

Privilege in a social justice context does not mean that bad things don’t happen to you. It doesn’t mean that you will never feel sad or hurt or that someone will never act in violence against you. It just means that if/when these things happen it is not because of oppression. It’s because you had very bad luck.

It’s hard for people to understand that. When we engage in conversations regarding the ways oppression affects marginalized groups in specifically, for example, violence against female bodies, the privileged group feels left out and that their needs aren’t being met.

On the one hand they’re right because that particular discussion ISN’T about them but more importantly even if a man has experienced violence at the hands of a woman (which is a problem) that does not make it a cultural norm.

If you are skinny and can’t find clothes in a store that isn’t because skinny people have it just as bad as fat people.

If someone makes fun of you for being white that doesn’t mean you are a victim of racism.

Just because you are having a bad time does not mean you are a victim of systematic oppression.

Similarly, just because you are a member of the oppressed group and are having a good time at life it doesn’t mean that oppression isn’t real. If you are black and have never been called a nigger, it doesn’t mean racism is over.

If you are a woman who has never been paid less than a man that doesn’t mean sexism isn’t real.

If you’re fat and your wardrobe is awesome that doesn’t mean fat shaming isn’t real.

It just means that that person is having a good time. Their success does not mean that the greater group is no longer oppressed any more than a privileged person’s struggle mean that that group is suddenly oppressed.

On a micro, person to person level, we all have problems. Everyone has problems. But on a macro level, on a society level, these things play out differently. When we talk about privilege and oppression we’re talking about the macro level and how it effects our micro interactions.

So if you’re in an privileged group, the next time you see someone who is speaking from a place of marginalization and your reaction is to tell a story about something similar that happened to you, stop. Think about your experience. Before you open your mouth, question whether or not most people in your station, be it thin, male, white, educated, etc has had a similar experience.

If the answer is no, then you are not oppressed. You are just having a bad time. Don’t take up space with your story. Sit down, listen, and support.

Your Weight Loss Talk is Classist and Abelist

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It’s that time of year again. That wonderful time when gyms and industries geared to making us feel bad about ourselves get a slew of new memberships because it’s a new year and it’s a new you! If you want to spend your time and money chasing the magical weight loss solution that will somehow solve all of your health/self-esteem issues, that’s fine (it’s not but that’s not what we’re talking about today). You can do what you want but think twice about how you talk about it because conversations based in weight loss are extremely abelist and classist.

Chances are the person speaking about their goals doesn’t mean to be abelist. They don’t think they’re being classist but the fact of the matter is that the weight loss industry is skewed strongly in the favor of able bodied people who are likely working at a level above poverty.

When we talk about weight loss there is often a component of working out and there are a ton of suggestions for how to work out with or without a gym, low impact, high impact, whatever. With all the options out there, one can question how can it be abelist? But the fact of the matter is that there are many people for whom even the most low impact of work outs is too much or very, very difficult.

Also, if you feel the need to mention some internet story you say with some disabled person who was ripped like Jesus even though they are missing a leg or something, just stop. Not here for the inspiration porn either.

Disability isn’t always obvious. Many people live with chronic, invisible illnesses and casually recommending water aerobics to someone ignores the very real health struggles they may have. Simply insisting that someone just needs to “try” ignores the struggles of people who have other health issues above and beyond their love handles and muffin top.

Some people have gained weight due to medication. Telling a person that they’ll feel better if they take the weight off is a slap in the face to a person who picked up extra pounds due to taking medication that keeps them alive and able to function.

Then there is the matter of telling someone to just “eat better” which is so problematic. Unfortunately “good” food (defined here as foods that are rich in nutrients for the purposes of this blog. In reality there is no such thing as good or bad food) is very expensive and many people live in food deserts adding an extra expense to going to get the food.

This is where the classism comes in with the added bonus of intersectionality because sadly, many disabled people live at or below the poverty line. Simply saying eat better ignores the fact that food is a commodity that many people do not have solid access too.

Then there are the invisible costs to food which include full kitchens to prepare and store as well as time to plan and cook. These are things that many people do not have in abundance and talking about food as if it falls from the sky ready to eat like we live in the world of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs stinks of privilege.

When we talk about weight loss, we talk about it as if it will be easy and all you need is willpower. This is what the diet industry wants you to believe. The fact of the matter is that a lot goes into losing weight or why weight was gained to begin with. Having the health and resources to lose weight is not something that everyone has access to and if you’re talking about it, then you should be mindful of that.

The circumstances that allow people to focus on exercise and diet are a privilege. Having access to grocery stores, gyms, and safe walking areas are privileges. Having the space to store food and the time to prepare it are privileges. Having a body strong and healthy enough to engage in physical activity is a huge privilege. Be mindful that not everyone has these.

We Need To Talk About Kylie Jenner Because Sometimes Context Matters

Steven Klein / Interview Magazine

Steven Klein / Interview Magazine

Let’s talk about Kylie Jenner. Everyone is talking about Kylie Jenner right now because Jenner recently did an erotically charged photo shoot where she was featured in a wheelchair and now, she’s won the ire of disability activists. But maybe using disability as a prop wasn’t what she was trying to do and maybe if she was someone other than Kylie Jenner, the context of these photos would matter more.

To be sure, the conversation surrounding disability is very much needed and this blog post in reaction to the photo in question is a very good one that discusses the ways in which wheelchair use, mobility, and visibility are all viewed in modern society. If you want to know why a photo shoot featuring a wheelchair as a stand in prop for disability is a terribly bad idea, that post covers it. That’s not what this post is about. This post is about intent, context, and the ways we let our perceptions about individuals color our reactions in the media.

At first glance, this photo seems to be exactly what the outrage points at. Jenner is dressed in a latex corset, in a wheelchair. However, when seen with the other photos featuring her being removed from the storage box, posed, etc, it becomes clear that the wheelchair photo is part of the featured lifestyle of men who love dolls and that Jenner is supposed to be a sex doll in these shots.

man with real doll

Man with Real Doll in wheelchair Found on Photobucket

I support this starting an unintentional conversation surrounding disability and how it is perceived by society, I think that’s a very important conversation. What I don’t think is needed is the vilifying of Jenner for this photo shoot.

There is a context to this photo that is missed by removing the one shot from the greater whole. There are changes that would make the single photo a bit clearer and the message stronger. For example, if Jenner held her hands with slightly splayed fingers next to the wheels, as the actual dolls look. This is nit picking however as it’s fairly clear without such a small change.

By removing the photo from the context, it helps to fuel the narrative that is popular around Jenner (and by extension, her entire family) as being the bad guy. Vapid fame monsters with no care for anyone but their own. They are villains that the country loves to hate.

The question is, if someone else had been featured in this photo, a media darling instead, would the reaction of been so strong and unforgiving? Would they have been given more of a benefit of a doubt? Part of the reason why this photo has gone viral isn’t just because of the perceived negativity but also because of the woman in the chair.

Even if you personally have no issue with Jenner, none of us exists in a vacuum and we can all be caught up in the outrage machine. We feed off of that, we fall prey to that. This isn’t some random model being insensitive, this is KYLIE JENNER once AGAIN doing something that INSULTS an OPPRESSED GROUP. This is someone from THAT family ONCE AGAIN flaunting their PRIVILEGE while real people suffer.

That is the narrative. Meanwhile, the male photographer whose concept it was is getting a pass. They don’t have to explain themselves, answer to anything. The magazine is going to get a pass. They did release a statement but ultimately they won’t be known as the magazine that put out the abelist fashion spread but Jenner will always in part be known by this photo shoot as one more terrible thing that she did. This isn’t to say that Jenner is a saint that is simply misunderstood but it is to say that maybe, in this case, she’s not alone in her fault.

If there is truly a fault at all. Context isn’t always important but sometimes, it does make a difference. Sometimes it changes the story that we’re telling. If the narrative of the photos is about how she has no agency and is a doll then why would we want a disabled model to be in those pictures? Isn’t that counter to the image that the community wants to be seen? What about the other photos in the spread? Would a disabled model want to be seen being carried around, in a box, posed, etc?

Steven Klein / Interview Magazine

Steven Klein / Interview Magazine

Is that the story they want to be told?

Let’s talk about disability in our society. Yes! Let’s talk about how it is portrayed by the media! Let’s have that conversation so we can as a whole become less abelist with more positive representations for everyBODY.

But let’s not take that stand based upon this woman in these photos. Let’s have the conversation because it needs to be had not because we think a fame monster is being a fame monster that needs to be called out.