The television and movie industry in America is dominated by white men who often portray ethnic minorities from a white point of view. Specifically, Latin American women in the American mainstream media are exoticised and hypersexualized.
Exoticism is by definition “the quality of being attractive or striking through being colourful or unusual;” ethnic minorities can be considered exotic because they are different, reinforcing the idea that being white or having white features is the norm in the United States. Even if an ethnic minority is white-passing, when their nationality is revealed it may heighten their sexual appeal to people that value exoticism.
But a race is only considered exotic because of the lack of representation in mainstream television and film. When a minority is represented they are often represented as how white people see them, which may differ from the intricacies of their culture. As Rachel Kuo, a writer for online magazine Everyday Feminism, says, “exotification is a reminder that women of color fail to meet Western, white standards of beauty that favor light skin and eyes, straight hair, and thin figures.”
A concept known as the “social identity theory” explains how people derive their identity from the groups they are welcomed to based on commonalities. There are in-groups and out-groups, and people find worth in being in those in-groups.
The theory creates an “us vs. them” dynamic based on social categories, which in terms of ethnic minorities becomes “white vs. non-white.” The members of an in-group find negative traits of an out-group in order to enhance their own self-image.
Ethnic minorities struggle with relating to these in-groups often because they are not accurately represented in popular culture.
But some Latino women aren’t doing the rest of us any favors, with some popular stars contributing to exoticism. Suddenly, Latinas became a hot commodity and have the expectations of following the media’s image of a Latina.
For example, actress Sofia Vergara’s portrayal of Gloria in Modern Family is completely built upon false and offensive stereotypes. Gloria is a Latina trophy wife that is always in high heels, sexualized clothing and is hot-headed.
This is in line with a trend that “every Latina in television, movies, or ads is super-sexy — huge boobs, a voluptuous figure, always wearing a low-cut, skin-tight dress,” according to a piece by Cosmopolitan magazine. That media portrayal transfers into the real world where Latinas feel the obligation to dress explicitly or are expected to do so by white men in order to be accepted in society, which can harm the way Latinas view themselves.
Exoticism extends all the way to how a person speaks. The media’s hypersexualization of Latina women has associated their accents with being sexy, which hypersexualizes an entire language. A language is a method of communication, not a way to fulfill white desires.
The media has hypersexualized the Spanish words for mom and dad. White men expect Latina women to call them “papi” in a sexual context, or use the term “mami” as a sexual compliment, but Latinx use these terms to refer to their parents.
It is hard for Latinas to escape these stereotypes. The media has a powerful influence and if Latina women keep being represented the way they are, they will start adopting and becoming what the media wants them to be.
The media has a lot of room to grow in terms of their portrayal of non-American cultures and it can start by just having ethnic women play regular roles as common people, rather than portray a character and fill a stereotype that is completely made up by a white male’s mind.
In honor of National Newspaper Week, we’re asking you to make a donation to The Daily Free Press. The financial support of our community is important now more than ever to help us continue writing stories like this for readers like you. Please chip in whatever you can. Read more and make a donation here. Thank you.