TWs: fat shaming, body shaming, racism, cultural appropriation
Remember when the Spice Girls made “girl power” an everyday phrase for women and girls who listened to the pop group’s music and took its messages to heart? Remember when the UK produced another super girl pop group called Little Mix and the girls broke all kinds of sales records and were recognized by members of the Spice Girls for being so fucking awesome?
Little Mix, born of “The X Factor” and comprised of four young women who don’t fit typical beauty standards, has always promoted self-love and empowerment in the band’s fans. Its members — Jesy Nelson, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Jade Thirlwall and Perrie Edwards — constantly reinforce the ideas of loving yourself first and not giving into societal pressure to look or behave a certain way. The band promotes the idea that being a “girl” doesn’t mean having to be any particular type or fulfill any particular role. And that kind of message is really powerful, coming from a group that has all but taken over the world in 2013.
But with great power comes great responsibility (thanks, Spider-man), especially in an era where fan access to celebrities is at an all-time high. And given that Little Mix is constantly interacting with fans — via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, live web chats, and more — it’s even more important that its members pay attention to what they’re saying and whom they might be offending.
Apparently, Perrie Edwards missed that memo. Recently, when asked about how she deals with “Internet haters”, her response was the following:
“You just learn to ignore the bad things, really,” says Perrie, who as Zayn [Malik, one of five members of UK boy band One Direction]’s other half has had more than her fair share of Twitter abuse, “because the people who are slating you on the Internet are probably massively overweight with hairy pits, smelling of BO. Do you know what I mean? They’re doing it to make themselves feel better.”
Whoa. Did anyone else assume she was done speaking after “really”? Does anyone else think she should have stopped speaking there? It’s not at all uncommon to see people — even and sometimes especially celebrities — talking down to “Internet dwellers”, or to fat people, or to anyone that isn’t deemed socially acceptable and conventionally attractive. We see body shaming all the time, in clothing stores, in fashion ads, online, and in daily life. But to see it coming from a member of Little Mix, a band whose first single was literally an anthem for self-love? That’s kind of hard to swallow.
It would have been easy for Edwards to stop talking after the first part of her comment. And to be frank, for a woman who is one fourth of a group whose entire marketing image is based around self-love, the idea that she could be so cavalier about bashing “overweight” people “with hairy pits, smelling of BO” is — well. It’s a bad business move, really. And to suggest that these people whom Edwards has apparently deemed unworthy of her attention are just “doing it to make themselves feel better” makes me wonder: is Edwards talking down to them to make herself feel better about their comments? The whole incident breathes ignorance — and a deeply internalized sense of it being “okay” to shame fat people — on her part.
This isn’t just one single isolated incident of displays of ignorance from Edwards. A couple of weeks ago, she tweeted a picture of herself wearing a headdress, with the caption “The day I decided to be a Native American! #LagunaTribe Perrie <3″. Last year, she was criticized for wearing a bindi when she visited Malik’s family to celebrate Eid.
Cultural appropriation occurs repeatedly in media and more often than not, it goes unnoticed and uncriticized by the media. Lana Del Rey can wear a headdress, Selena Gomez can wear a bindi, and Miley Cyrus can twerk in her music video because it’s some latest fad for them to accessorize culture. But the moment they take off these ‘costumes,’ they can all go on living their privileged lives while actual, visible minorities will go on being ridiculed and marginalized.
I will give Edwards the benefit of the doubt that these weren’t intentional acts of racism; that in fact, she had no idea that she was even appropriating someone else’s culture, erasing the struggles and history of Native peoples and perpetuating stereotypes the day she claimed she ‘decided’ to be Native American. Or that, perhaps, wearing the bindi was meant not so much as a shallow fashion statement, but had the ‘good intention’ of trying to ‘fit in’ with the celebration.
Still, whatever the reason behind it, there’s something that is unsettling about just watering down Edwards’ actions to simple ignorance. That would be insensitive and erasing the offensive, disrespective message underlying these incidents. One would think that for someone whose fiancé is a man of colour who constantly faces racism and is regularly ridiculed because of his culture and religion, someone whose band is composed of women of colour (as well as a member who is regularly criticized for her weight, to revisit Edwards’ most recent blunder), she would at least have be somewhat aware and more sensitive to the reasons why appropriating someone else’s culture is problematic.
Given Edwards’ position in Hollywood — she is the only white woman in a world famous all-girl group, engaged to the only dark-skinned man in a world famous boy band whose been called a terrorist just for his religious beliefs — one would think she would be very sensitive to these issues. While it’s true that people who perpetuate hate on the Internet are often called “trolls” (a gross term, in so many ways), and it’s true that cultural appropriation has always been “in”, especially lately, neither of those things make it okay for Edwards to say or do any of what she’s done.
There’s a disjunction between the message Edwards means to send as part of a girl-group that advocates for self-love and empowerment and the message that she’s actually sending with her words and actions. Ignorance isn’t an excuse (and it will never be), especially not when you’re placed in a position where young girls look up to you as their role model, when you’re meant to be a leading example.
Perhaps, for Edwards, these incidents and offensive remarks have been targeted towards a general collective — strangers — but Edwards is surrounded by people who don’t fit the ideal body or skin colour. She is a thin, white woman with blonde hair and blue eyes, and she has a lot of privilege because of it. Her privilege is an advantage that she should recognize and understand to be able to send the right message without having to put people down to make herself feel better. There’s some irony in referring to other peoples’ opinions in that way, without recognizing that Edwards is doing the exact same thing — and in a much more publicized and permanent manner.