Last week, there were a few mentions in my corner of the blogosphere about the new Scooby-Doo movie, Frankencreepy, in which Daphne is put under a curse that makes her “lose her good looks” (according to a statement from Warner Brothers). Her loss of good looks equates to her thin body becoming fat and her straight hair becoming curly… frizzy… well, you can’t really tell exactly what they were going for due to the animation style, but she’s gained quite a bit of texture.
I read some analyses of this artistic choice which I’ll link to below that do a good job of spelling out the shitty implications that the movie makes about being fat and how it tries to mitigate the effects of that implication by having Fred tell her that she’s still pretty. However, I think it’s important to look at what in our culture is influencing this storyline, eg. beauty standards based on whiteness.
Beauty, as in the eye of the beholder kind, is nuanced and shifting based on era, culture, subjectivity, and lots of other factors. If Fred think that Daphne is pretty under the curse, that’s real and valid (even if Daphne shouldn’t base her self worth on his opinion maybe). But it’s vital to recognize the difference between that and hegemonic beauty standards, ideas about which bodies are good and valid that function as maintenance of power structures.
The culturally reinforced idea of fat=ugly exists at the intersection of a lot of power imbalances, among them sexism, classism, ableism, and racism. The exotification of fat serves to objectify and other black women’s bodies, from the Hottentot Venus to the appropriation of twerking as an edgy accessory for skinny white pop stars– the same A-list celebrities whose cultural capital would plummet if their bodies looked the same as their backup dancers’. Similarly, the equation of a fat body with beauty is, in the context of white colonialism, seen as quaint or curious or wrong; the white beauty ideal always positioned as the one to strive for. A well-known anecdote (at least in feminist and eating disorder recovery communities) is how rates of eating disorders among adolescent girls in Fiji increased dramatically after the introduction of Western television, their local beauty standards uprooted and replaced by imported images of glamorized thinness. This handful of examples and analysis is a cursory explanation, and I hope to explore the concept more deeply in future blog posts, but the idea we’re working with here is that the feminine ideal is the white body, and the white body is thin.
Along the same lines, the ideal feminine body is also crowned with long, light, straight hair. Coarsely textured hair– hair in its natural state for the majority of black people– is seen as a hallmark of being out of control, inappropriate, not beautiful. This standard has long been used in the US to marginalize black people for being “too” black, from churches that would only allow membership for people who could pass a fine tooth comb through their hair without it snagging, to hair style standards in the US Army that were only removed after being skewered on The Daily Show.
Am I saying that the creators of Scooby-Doo: Frankencreepy are white supremacists? Not consciously. Or maybe they are conscious white supremacists, I’m not really interested in giving them the benefit of the doubt. In Tom Burns’ essay on Frankencreepy, linked to below, he points out that the movie could very well have removed Daphne’s “good looks” by turning her into a monster. It’s not like this movie is devoid of the fantastic. But instead, how the movie portrays her loss of her “good looks” is by removing two physical features that are hallmarks of white beauty standards. That is how she is cursed. Admittedly I haven’t seen the movie, but given she’s the heroine in a kid’s movie, I feel safe in assuming that her “good looks” are returned to her by the end of the movie. Her nightmare is over, she is returned to her full status as pretty white girl.
But what does that say about viewers– likely very young viewers– who have fat bodies and/or natural hair that don’t change at the end of the movie like Daphne’s? Do they not have access to the comfort of a happy ending? Are they cursed?
And what kind of malicious force would cast an evil spell at a child?