Beauty and the Meme

melaniekane’s post [1] on the treatment of Maxine Waters as compared to Kamala Harris reminded me of a trend that happened not too long ago: the “I’m looking for [name], can you tag him please?” meme. While melaniekane speculated that their differential treatment arose, in part, from beauty standards, this meme is an overt example of beauty adversely affecting the treatment of people in online spaces. A quick Google search brings up image after image of real, ordinary people who have been turned into a meme without being given permission to use their (Facebook) photos, who have been deemed ugly and thus stood up—”can you tag him please?” (Note: I intentionally decided not to include images of examples as they are very distasteful as well as because I did not want to further the use of their photos without their consent. I linked to a Google search above though.) It seems that in this construction of beauty, no amount of make up is able to help these people, no amount of make up can highlight “God’s handiwork” [2]. Many of the people who have been turned into memes are fat-bodied or plus-sized. Similarly to the “no fats, no femmes, no blacks, no Asians” sentiment expressed on various dating platforms that Raul mentioned in class, the ubiquity of this meme series is demonstrative of the prevalence of sizism [3].

One specific iteration of this meme that gained a lot of press was that of Lizzie Velasquez. Lizzie has neonatal progeroid syndrome, which has a variety of effects on her face, muscle tone, brain, heart, eyes, and bones, and also prevents her from gaining weight, all of which contribute to her appearance and thus her beauty capital. In this light, Lizzie is read as the “ugliest woman in the world” [4]. Thus, ableism is interconnected with the ideals of beauty. This meme, premised on harassment and degradation, prompted Lizzie to become a motivational speaker and activist against this meme series and other abuse, giving TedTalks, and even being the subject of a documentary.

The premise of this meme series seems to be predicated on notions of social comparison [5]. Social comparison theory posits that if one compares one’s standing to someone of a lower status (like that of someone uglier than you), it will result in increased self-esteem, among other things. Perhaps the increased self-esteem resulting from the social comparison of inherent within this meme series allowed for its propagation. Beauty is in itself a relational, comparative construct. The creation of ideal beauties cannot escape the co-creation of ugliness. How, then, does the reward of increased self-esteem complicate goals of rendering beauty norms problematic?

Notes

[1] melaniekane, “Maxine Waters: Exception or Exemplar?,” Beauty and Race in America: 2017 (blog), April 23, 2017, https://beautyandrace2017.wordpress.com/2017/04/23/maxine-waters-exception-or-exemplar/

[2] Kathy Peiss, Hope in a Jar, (Pennsylvania: First University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998).

[3] Meeta Rani Jha, The Global Beauty Industry: Colorism, Racism, and the National Body (New York, NY: Taylor & Francis, 2016), 22.

[4] Kerry McDermott, “’At the end of the day we are all human’: Woman who was mocked as the ‘world’s ugliest’ slams cyber bullies after spotting herself in a cruel meme,” DailyMail, December 14, 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-4032210/Lizzie-Velasquez-slams-cyber-bullies-spotting-cruel-meme.html

[5] Leon Festinger. “A Theory of Social Comparison Processes,” Human Relations 7, no. 2 (1954): 117-140.

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One thought on “Beauty and the Meme

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  1. This type of content really reminds me of the Humans of Wal-Mart site, in which people would take unflattering or mean spirited photos of people doing things the poster deems weird or funny.
    I feel like these types of memes are intended to be irreverent and satirical humor, but honestly come off as aggressively classist and too many -ists to begin to list. I want to focus on the classist aspect for a bit because I think it’s interesting that Wal-Mart is the one that is targeted, as it is a store known for it’s affordable goods. Mandy Van Deven from Bitch described this site as “they seek to distance themselves from, and convey contempt for expressions of poverty in an attempt to reinforce their own “superior” position in the social hierarchy. ”

    That quote also applies to these horrible memes as well. These creators seem to be trying to distance themselvs from ‘ugliness’ by finding people who are living their everyday lives and berating them for it, which is a sadly common trend. As someone who has seen this type of behavior before, I recognize this as the common reaction of beating someone else down to make oneself feel better by comparison, and the mom in me wants to give the people who made these a stern talking to.

    However, on a more serious note, these memes and the people of walmart site are similar in that no one consented to having their photos used in this manner. The blatent disregard for these people and their likeness is definitely a form of violence enacted against these people who are trying to live their lives and feed/clothe/take care of themselves/exist.

    Mandy Van Deven. “HATERAID: PEOPLE OF WALMART EDITION”. Bitch Magazine. 2009.

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