Am I White or Do I Have White Skin? – The Identity of Words

1IThis is a post that has been mulling over in my head for ages: ever since I was asked to write a mini-biography for my job that would be posted on their website. While writing the mini-biography I struggled with phrasing: should I write “I swim” or should I write “I am a swimmer.” It might not seem like a big deal but those two snippets have two very different connotations. I swim is merely a claim to action (swim as a verb), whereas ‘I am a swimmer’ (swim as a noun) conjures up in the mind of the reader an identity – a stereotype. An aerodynamic body with strong arms and legs and an assumed healthy lifestyle. I need not go into the entire image. Swimmer does not conjure up a short overweight girl who does laps at her local pool while reminding herself to 1..2…3… breathe.

3IThis got me thinking about the way we word things and how they can not only put upon ourselves a certain identity but we can bestow that upon others. There is a huge different between say “she works as a model” or “she is modeling the lingerie” and saying “she is a model.” The first gives modeling as her job (or an action) – and the last is saying modeling is who she IS, not what she DOES. That bestows upon her the inevitable stereotype and identity – the identity of ‘the model’. That identity may change depending on which demographic you are talking to or which country you are in: but there is a stereotype (and I am not hashing out whether the identity is good or bad right now). That is the main reason why, I think, the term ‘plus-size model’ has been born because those models do not fit the stereotypical model look thus there must be adjectives added (in front of the noun) to describe the difference. The caveat you could say. They are not just ‘models’. (Image credit: Fashion Eggplant)

2IA third example if I may, and perhaps one that might strike a few nerves. My skin colour is white. Well, more of a pastie light beige with pink undertones but the term for this fair of skin is usually white. ‘my skin colour is white’ describes a feature of my body. If I were to say ‘I am white’ I would be referencing an identity – the identity of white people as well as the stereotypes that go along with that. But I don’t say ‘I’m white’ and I don’t think of myself as white – though others may. So, when we say ‘she is black’ (or insert another racial or cultural defining quality by which we group people) we are putting upon her the identity and the stereotypes associated with black as an identity. We are saying black is who she IS, not JUST a feature of her body. One she was born with and had no choice in at that. Wouldn’t it be better to say ‘she has black (or dark, or coffee, etc) skin?’ Therein we do not place upon someone an identity but rather we identify a feature that may be apart of them but does not define them as a human being. Even a step farther is the idea that skin colour is not a case of opposites. Skin colour comes in a myriad of shades and most language used to describe it ignores this very important fact. (Image credit: Courtesy Photo via WWD)

I think words are wonderful things – and dangerous as well. Now, you may be asking ‘what does this have to do with lingerie?’ though I am sure you understand the connection with modelling. In the lingerie would a lot of words are used are describe. Words like white, black, Brazilian, plus-size, normal, nude, fatkini (I personally hate that), bikini-body, and many more. I think we should analyze the words we use and how we use them. Think about what the words denote but also what they connote. What identity are we assigning or even excluding someone from by using certain terms?

If you have any thoughts, dear readers, I would love to hear them.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Martha says:

    Deliberate or not, I like the way your last paragraph mixed up words. It made me think more on the message of word usage.


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