Friday, April 9, 2010

Paper #2- Precious and The Bluest Eye

The movie Precious is about a high-school girl named Precious Jones. The name Precious, both as the movie title and her actual name, shows great significance. It is ironic that her mother named her Precious, because she is treated like anything but a precious child. She is in a constant battle of fighting off verbal and physical abuse from her mother. She also is raped by her father multiple times, and instead of receiving comfort and condolence from her mother, she is told she is a whore and a man-stealer.

Precious longs for lighter skin because then she would be considered beautiful by society’s standards. The fact that she envisions herself having blonde hair and light skin says something about what the beauty standards were for the culture she lived in. In her culture, having light skin and blonde hair was the epitome of being beautiful, and having dark skin was considered ugly. The thought of having lighter skin represented many things to Precious. It was an escape from the reality of her broken home; she took refuge in these thoughts while she was getting raped. Precious felt that if she had lighter skin, she would be beautiful and famous and loved by a light-skinned boyfriend. She knew that these fantasies would become reality if she had lighter skinned and nobody would call her ugly or dumb or worthless. Historically white people were envied for their wealth, intelligence and freedom, and they were considered human. African Americans were not even given the opportunity to achieve many of these things because many white people thought of them as less than human and treated them like animals. With lighter skin, Precious could be famous and wealthy and be the envy of others who once treated her like dirt. People would cater to her needs and not vice versa, and she would be treated with respect.
Her whole life Precious was told she was ugly and dumb and wouldn’t amount to anything. Because of this, she didn’t see the point in trying to learn and make something of herself. Once her teacher, Ms. Rain, believed in her and pushed her to learn to read, Precious gained confidence. But it was when Ms. Rain told Precious that she loved her; that was something she had never experienced. It was that love and support from Ms. Rain that made Precious strive to be something. It was that love for her children that gave Precious the strength to stand up when she was knocked down. And it was that same love that gave her the courage to leave her broken home, so maybe her children could have something better. During the duration of the movie, almost every time Precious looked in the mirror, she pictured herself combing long blonde hair and having light colored skin. This is because she had no self-confidence in the body that people called fat and ugly. But by the end of the film Precious valued her self image and became comfortable in her skin because she had more confidence in herself. At the very end, Precious looked at her reflection in a window and saw only herself staring back, not a light-skinned blonde girl. This was when you knew she had overcome her insecurities with her skin color and had learned to embrace her true self.

The movie ends on a somewhat hopeful note because Precious has made something of herself when all the odds were against her. The very last scene is her leaving her broken home with her two children and seeking better and greater things. You know she will do something with her life, but you also know that her future may not be so long-lived. You learn that her father has AIDS, and it is highly likely that Precious does as well. This information is frustrating to learn because Precious had come so far, especially after all the horrible things she was put through. You want her to have the opportunity to make something of herself, but also must accept the fact that she may be HIV positive. If Precious were to live, I envision her being successful and using the knowledge she learned to get somewhere in life. Since she moved out of her house, she no longer endures personal attacks on her self-esteem. I think this gave Precious the opportunity to love herself, and in the future she can pass this self-love along to her children. I envision her treating her children like they are truly precious, because this is something she never had.

The story of The Bluest Eye focuses on a different aspect of beauty and is not so much about skin color. Pecola is a little girl who is seen as ugly by everybody including her mother. Pecola feels ugly on the outside, and this affects her self-esteem, causing her to be an extremely introverted child. Her ultimate wish is to have blue eyes, because to her, this is the epitome of beauty. If only she had blue eyes, then everyone that saw her would be so distracted by how beautiful they were that they wouldn’t even notice her ugliness. The irony of the title, The Bluest Eye, is the fact that Pecola considers blue eyes, a light-skinned feature, as the standard of beauty. Although she never wishes for lighter skin per se, she does want the common light-skinned feature of blue eyes because she thinks everyone will envy her. Pecola doesn’t really struggle with her body weight as much as she does with her facial features. She thinks a black woman’s curvaceous body is beautiful, such as Miss Marie’s curvy figure. She envies the prostitutes that live on the floor above her, and does not judge them for their appearance or for what they are. Unfortunately, almost everyone Pecola encounters is not so kind in not judging her appearance. There are a few people in her life that accept her regardless of her ugliness, such as the prostitutes and Frieda and Claudia. It is interesting to note how differently Claudia and Pecola define beauty. To Pecola, beauty is having the bluest eyes, even with her dark skin. To Claudia, beauty is everything but the traditional features of a doll, which are blue eyes and blonde hair. But Claudia does envy Maureen Peal’s lighter skin and long brown hair, and so do all the other kids at school. This goes to show what the standard of beauty was in their culture: lighter skin and long hair. Also, many women in that culture put so much emphasis on wearing high-heels, dresses, make-up and having their hair perfectly styled and curled. Pecola’s mother, Mrs. Breedlove, talked about the pressure she felt to fit this mold of beauty, and if she didn’t, other women would stare and whisper about her looks. It is ironic that women in Lorain, Ohio put so much emphasis on perfecting their physical features with clothes and make-up when many didn’t have much extra money to spare. I found this part very similar to Akkida McDowell’s The Art of the Ponytail. McDowell discusses the importance of hairstyles to black women and how it is their source of pride (McDowell, 128). McDowell also felt pressured to get her hair styled, because others thought her ponytail showed she had low self-esteem or didn’t care (McDowell, 130). This is exactly how Mrs. Breedlove felt about her physical appearance, and she tried to fit in and conform, but ultimately stopped trying to fit this beauty standard.

It was hard to read all the struggles and unpleasant things Pecola experienced because she was so timid and conceived as ugly. The fact that her own mother thought she was ugly goes to show all the negative influences that were constantly beating down on her self-esteem. Pecola never seemed to stick up for herself, so this gave people the incentive to walk all over her. Pecola is ultimately pushed over the edge after her father rapes her and she becomes pregnant. None of the town gossipers seem truly concerned how this rape might have psychologically damaged Pecola, and some even speculate that she didn’t try to stop the rape so she must have encouraged it. This shows how little people care about Pecola, because they still stare at her while she’s pregnant, regardless of the fact that it wasn’t her fault. It is especially heart-breaking to hear that not even her own mother believes Pecola’s father raped her. The ramifications of the rape are obvious towards the end of the book, because you realize Pecola is talking to an imaginary friend. Unfortunately Pecola was not able rise above all the horrible things she endured like Precious was able to. Ultimately, this book ended on a sad note because Pecola’s baby died, she moved across town, and she lost it both mentally and emotionally. But for Pecola, it ends on a happy note because she got her wish. The only inkling of hope Pecola is left with, is the fact that she “got” her blue eyes. You can infer that she did not actually get her blue eyes, but she truly thinks that she did. Pecola is delighted by her eye color and is now able to walk around with the confidence that everyone around her is envying her blue eyes. This coincides with the reading by Leoneda Inge-Barry called Mirror, Mirror on the Wall. In this reading, Inge-Barry’s favorite place is the bathroom, because when she looks in the mirror, she is beautiful (Inge-Barry, 144). She sees her normally “ugly” features in a different light when she looks in the mirror. This is how Pecola sees her eyes when she looks in the mirror, not as brown, but as blue. She is able to ignore the reality of her ugliness because she truly believes that her eyes are now blue. I envision in Pecola’s future that she will continue to be more self-confident, and if anybody deserves something positive in their life, it is Pecola.

The advertisements in magazines and on commercials usually feature predominantly white models. There are not many representations of African American models, and when there are, they are often degrading. African Americans models are usually posed in animalistic ways and are even wearing animal print clothing or swim suits. This is representative of the notion that whites once thought of African American’s as animals. African American women are also negatively represented in rap videos. In these videos they are wearing hardly any clothing and are seen more as objects or props than actual people. Their sole purpose is to be something nice to look at while they dance and are used by the rapper. One example that positively portrays African American women is the show America’s Next Top Model. This show features real African American women, and some of them are plus-size models. These women embrace their bodies and culture, and even the judges make comments about their beautiful features. Overall, African American women are underrepresented in advertisements, but when they are represented it is usually done so in a degrading manner.

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