Diversity, Normalcy, and the Real World

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Back in October, “Selma” director Ava DuVernay’s spoke at Elle’s Women in Hollywood awards. She spoke about diversity, but she framed her thoughts in an unusual way: She pointed out that what the media dubs “diversity” is really just “normalization.” She said:

Last thing I’ll say is I really hate the word ‘diversity.’ Oh, I just don’t like it. It feels like medicine. Diversity is like, ‘Ugh. I have to do diversity.’ I recognize and celebrate what it is, but that word, to me, is a disconnect. There’s an emotional disconnect. Inclusion feels closer; belonging is even closer. Because we all belong to film. We all belong to television. We all belong to what this is. We look at Shondas and the Jills and the Oprahs and the Kathryns and all the women doing work behind the camera … So, I just want us to think about belonging. Think about who belongs. And welcoming people into that belonging.

We live in a world that is populated by people who aren’t ALL white, young, American, upper middle-class, heterosexual, cis-gendered, thin, and living without disabilities. TV and movies have long shown us a homogenous world populated by one very narrow vision of humanity, and when these media branch out and include people who fall outside of that vision, they pat themselves on the back for being diversity-minded. Which, when you think about it, is outrageous. Why should producers and directors be praised for incorporating characters who aren’t white, young, American, upper middle-class, heterosexual, cis-gendered, thin, and living without disabilities? Why should they be considered open-minded innovators for showing us a version of the world that’s slightly closer to the one we actually inhabit?

Someone once commented that I link to an awful lot of plus-sized blogs for someone who isn’t plus-sized herself, and that it looks like I’m trying to fill some sort of quota. But in reality? I’m trying to reflect back the world that I see, that I live in. Because so much of the fashion blogosphere is populated by slim, white, wealthy women, and so much of the mainstream press given to the fashion blogosphere centers on that specific contingent. Because they align neatly with the narrow vision of beauty that traditional fashion magazines have clung to for decades, so the mainstream press feels comfortable praising them. But here in the real world, there are fat women. Lots of them. Even if the media generally seeks to erase them. And there are medium-sized women and tiny women and tall women and women in every size and shape you can imagine and some that you can’t. There are also transgendered women and women living with illness and disability and LOTS of women of color and women older than 30. And more. So much more. And I think the POINT of fashion blogs is to offer people something different from what they see in magazines and on TV and in the movies.

So when I link and highlight and bring on regular contributors, I include lots of races, sizes, abilities, geographic locations, ages, and genders because that’s what I see. This is not diversity – this is reality. It makes me sad to hear that anyone would think I’m doing this to tick boxes, because that means the very narrow vision of humanity presented to us by the entertainment industry is still dominating perception. It has convinced people that if I’m highlighting lots of black women or fat women or older women it has to be some sort of a stunt, that I must have an ulterior motive. But all I want is for you to come here and see a reflection of the true variety our world offers. I want you to come here and be forced to accept that there are lots of women who don’t look a thing like you, and also to see lots of women who look just like you. And that all of them are beautiful and worthy and deserving of respect.

The more I mull it over, the more I love DuVernay’s perspective on diversity. The world is already a diverse place. By reflecting that existing diversity, we are merely normalizing media that have long been out of balance.

Image of Ava DuVernay via IndieWire

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9 Responses to “Diversity, Normalcy, and the Real World”

  1. Sewing Faille

    “Someone once commented that I link to an awful lot of plus-sized blogs
    for someone who isn’t plus-sized herself, and that it looks like I’m
    trying to fill some sort of quota.” I always thought that you linked to a lot of plus-sized blogs because you like what they have to say. And I do, too! Please keep it up!

  2. Veronica Combs

    Totally agree, I hate the term. I’ve ready something similar about “tolerance” – it comes off as something you have to do or something you have to put up with. We need to find a different word for that one too.

  3. mendotawaves

    Great! it’s one of the many reasons I read and love this blog. Maybe they should call it-Getting Real. or Real World Casting/ Media, Real World Beauty.

  4. Cassandra Westfall

    Thank you so much for this piece – your commitment to appreciating and honoring beauty in all forms and being a normalizing influence in the media is what attracted me to your blog in the first place, and it’s what keeps me coming back for more.
    Cassie

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