Saturday, 28 March 2009

Real Women, Fake (White) Noses

I haven't so far been very impressed by the exploits of Coleen McLoughlin Rooney (she seems to go by both names separately) in Coleen's Real Women. (Are we not meant to notice the Photoshopping in the promo pic?) The premise of the show is that each week, Coleen - who became famous for marrying footballer Wayne Rooney and then carving out her own career as a writer, model, businesswoman and wearer of expensive clothes - does her own casting calls to find 'real women' who will compete with career models for high-profile modelling contracts or spokesmodel positions. As you'll guess from the name of the show, it's based on the notion that there are in fact beautiful, non-model women walking British streets who are just as appealing as and perhaps more representative of certain brand philosophies than your typical (UK) size 4 model. Ignoring the annoyingly over-used and disingenuous 'real women' caption (which implies that smaller women are either Barbies come alive or figments of our imagination), I was willing to give the show a chance, mainly because I like (the media image of) Coleen, who seemed confident, not very far up her own trasero and earnest in her quest to make everyday beauty more visible.

Except, I don't think she's doing that well. She does find gorgeous women of all sizes, but the women who ultimately win the contracts are not too far off from the model industry standard of beauty. I've also found it curious that one of Coleen's candidates always secures the job, but let's assume that I'm willing to suspend disbelief concerning that, and just go along with the idea that Coleen is just so convincing and pioneering, that all of a sudden these industry professionals see the light and are lured to the fat side. The thing is, they aren't really lured to the fat side. If anything, they're lured to the just as conventionally beautiful and carrying a little water weight side.

But the show fails in other ways, and that failure could not be more evident than in last night's re-aired episode, where Coleen and her assistant were trying to satisfy a Superdrug spokesmodel brief in Birmingham. As usual, they found some really striking women and narrowed them down to the three who would be put forward for the job, my favourite of whom was Cara, the biracial daughter of a Black, Jamaican man and White, Belgian woman. I was drawn to her serenity: I felt that if she were on a Superdrug billboard, she would probably catch my eye.

So after all the show's preamble about embracing your own height, size, unique features and personality, Coleen's casting expert Camilla then promptly spends the entire episode registering her discomfort with Cara's wide nose, and agonizing over the ways in which they might make her nose appear more narrow. (She's also concerned, but considerably less so, that Alana looks too old and Liz seems to lack confidence.) She consults the photographer about the angles he'll use to diminish her gargantuan nose, and at one point has what resembles a nose intervention with Cara, confronting her about the 'problem' and reassuring her that they'll do whatever they can to hide her big, fat, black nose. At one point during Cara's shoot, Camilla, smiling and relieved, tells her, "Your nose looks beautiful!" which, given the woman's ethnic heritage, can only mean "Don't hardly looks black at all!" Way to help women embrace their features. Cara, meanwhile, seems a little nonplussed by the nose debate. When pressed about what abuse she suffers because of her clearly inadequate nose, she confesses that her husband says she has a 'pig snout'. ( might want to trade him in for a less asswipey model.) Just for your own reference, here's Cara:

I guess it's ok to be fat, but not too fat, short but not too short, and black but not too black. If you can have dark enough skin to make their campaign seem edgy and inclusive, but white enough features to not scare off the consumers with your big, black nose, then you're a real woman.


  1. Yes aye!! so totally agree. At the precise moment that the comment was made, my friend and I weren't looking at the telly but once we heard it we spun around and both said, " she did NOT just say that!"

    It is ignorant people like Camilla who reinforce the warped stereotypes about what is beautiful and cause insecure black woman to become more insecure and not embrace their blackness. Here is a little tip, Camilla, the woman is of african origin and wait for it, the shape and size of her nose ( which by the way is really not big) reflects that!!!. I was so incredibly pissed off with her comments but I have previously thought she was a waste of space so that just reinforced it.

    Cannot believe they allowed that to be aired!

  2. 1) Her nose is not 'big'.

    2) She is still quite attractive, based on your pics, 'despite her pig snout'.

    3) Speaking of which, her husband is a mups and it always amazes me the leash some men get.

    4) Has Camilla actually ever SEEN Wayne Rooney?

    5) For us linguistically challenged ones out there in cyperspace, what is a 'trasero'? I assumed it had something to do with her connection to Wayne Rooney. After checking my trusty online source, I was able to confirm that they are synonyms. :-P

  3. Lol. As you have clearly discovered from your comparison, yes, 'trasero' is Spanish for 'ass'.

    I didn't point out what both you and Camel did - that Cara's nose is not 'big' - simply because highlighting that fact is a little apologist, and suggests that if her nose were in fact big, Camilla would be justified in condemning it. But yes, as you've brought it up, her nose isn't big by even 'objective', (i.e. European) standards.

    But that doesn't matter. It's her beautiful, half-Jamaican nose. And if they didn't want it, they should have told her no during the casting call. Not recruited her and then tried to change her, which is precisely what is done by the Establishment that they're railing so much against.

  4. i wonder if Cara can sue them? I am getting a wee bit tired of us, people of colour, still subjecting ourselves to the standards established by the least attractive of the species on planet earth.

    Yes just about everyone of us can point to an episode or two when a relative (and everybody is relative) waxed derogatory about some child's big nose, fat lip, picky hair etc. or heard the qualifier " ugly...".

    and though i am not usually in agreement with breaking up marriages etc, but that woman deserves a man. If he wants a pig snout then he should go marry. This is a beautiful woman who as you point out is more than a pretty face.

  5. @ Anon above: It is unfortunate that so many of us have stories of people insulting our black features. It makes self-acceptance a lot more nuanced and difficult.

    I can't join you, though, in suggesting that any other ethnicity is "the least attractive of the species on planet earth". That's precisely the type of thinking Black people have suffered as a result of for so long, and the type we want to discourage.


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