She twirled her pigtails in a spiral motion around her tiny fingers while summoning us to circle around her. We all anxiously awaited her proposition. She was after all the leader of our pack which we called: “The Wolves and Bloodhounds.” We were a bunch of girls on a mission to chase the boys despite their dangerous “cooties.” She examined each of our faces amidst the buzzing playground. We knew we were in for a serious statement. She took out the red lollipop from her mouth and began to announce in a commanding tone,
“Okay. So you will be Sporty Spice, you will be Posh Spice, you will be Baby Spice, you will be Scary Spice, and I will be Ginger Spice.”
It was a declaration that meant I’d be spending the rest of the first grade as Scary Spice. I was disappointed beyond belief. Scary Spice was not my favorite member of the Spice Girls. She was totally not me. I was nice and she was…well…scary. In my first grade class the only defining Spice Girl characteristic was skin color. I was the darkest girl in the first grade. Therefore I must be Scary Spice. But I was beginning to think the “What Spice Girl Am I?” questions dug deeper than matters of skin color.
I realized I was not the only one who found identification to be important. Even in childhood we give ourselves labels to make things easier within our social groups. You can be the leader, you can be the athletic one, you can be the girly-girl, and you can be the “scary” one. Identification has become a way for both girls and women to connect with characters in pop culture.
I was a house stricken, domesticated little creature born from Indo-Guyanese parents who made sure I was spending most of my time studying. My parents always warned me about how dangerous it could be outside but not how harmful it could be inside. Pop culture, the television, and music became my outlets for adventure. I grew up trying to define which blonde-pop icon could be me. But I really had no one to judge from. I had black hair and uncharacteristic brown skin.
It was so important to me to find a girl that I could identify with in pop culture whether it was on a television show or in a music video. As I grew a little older my skin color began to play a bigger part in the way I identified myself. I never felt like any particular character belonged to me quite like some of the other white girls I grew up with. They all would rightfully claim, “I look like Britney Spears.” or “I’m going to grow up to be just like Hilary Duff.” I had no one to represent me. No one to identify with. For every brown Jasmine I had from the Disney film Aladdin, there were always twenty more new “blonde-haired” pop culture icons to compete with. I was an Indo-Guyanese without even an ethnicity box to check. And I grew up without a pop culture icon to reassure me that I could be seen as normal too.
My frustration grew into desperation one day when I decided to ask my Mom for a Barbie doll from our native country Guyana. Guyana is a developing nation in South America. It was formerly a British imperial colony and now holds a majority of Indian and African descendants among a pot luck of other races. My ancestors were of Indian descent and I was on a mission to find an Indian Barbie who looked like me. It was hard to choose from the Barbie selections in America because my choices were often limited to the glittering blonde hair and blue-eyed Barbie and the African-American Barbie. A lot of African girls complained their Barbies were uglier than the white ones. But my Barbie wasn’t even there. I felt like my choices shouldn’t be black or white. And I figured that it would be easier finding a Barbie that looked like me in my parent’s homeland.
So when my Mom came back from her trip to Guyana, she announced “I have a Barbie for you!” I was so excited. My eyes gleamed as my Mom stretched into her bag and handed me a Barbie dressed in a regal Indian sari, bangles, and low and behold creamy white skin with artificially straight burgundy brown hair. I looked at my Mom trying to mask my confusion and disappointment with gratitude and sheer joy. Honestly, I was just happy to have a Barbie at the time. But now when I look back, she was a white doll wearing Indian clothes. The mismatched identity of the Barbie’s Indian clothing and Caucasian features striked me as odd but I shrugged it off. I didn’t understand the meaning at the time. Was it the last remnants of white oppressive imperialism “Everyone should desire to be white.” or was the Barbie Mattel Company facing the mark of a white dominated globalization? All I knew at the time was, “This will have to do. At least she’s wearing Indian clothes.”
Later on in my life after years of self-exploration, I couldn’t help but ask the age-old question: “Who am I?” It took some growing to realize that the toys, icons, and characters I once held as such fond childhood memories, were just extreme versions of an altered reality. For millions of women to identify with. Except me.
For many of the forgotten races, the in-betweens who are either bi-racial, have multiple ethnicities and cultures, and those who aren’t just simply black or white this concept of identification may cause all the trouble. As a child, I didn’t understand why I was being left out of pop culture. But the fact that many girls feel like they aren’t represented goes to show how artificial and unreal the world of pop culture is.
Who said we need to identify ourselves with something as artificial as a plastic Barbie, a member of a girl-band, or a character from pop culture? Sure it would be nice to fight against the odds of white superiority and the suffocating “Are you black or are you white concept?” And in the future it would be nice to clean-up the hyper-reality of pop culture. But for now, to all of those little girls looking for an icon, toy, or character to identify with … this process can be a miserable, depressing, and lonely existence. I can testify to it. I sought someone to identify with and was left in the dust of pop-culture’s artificial void for nineteen years.