Carefree White Girl

| June 23, 2011

I was glimpsing through some very interesting pieces on body image and fashion blogging when I came across a fascinating website – Carefree White Girl (CWG) – where reality goes to die. The site uses photos and clips from movies, magazines, and fashion blogs to point out the phenomenon of this image – a thin woman with alabaster skin and indie clothing who is connected to nature, poverty, and childhood by posing in as many artsy photos of them as possible. The poster girl of the movement is Zooey Deschanel, though in a day where every photo and outfit is documented through social media, I’m sure you can think of dozens of girls who fit the mold. The creator, Collier Meyerson, cleverly keeps her own race and image hidden. Throughout its history, the website has created a great deal of controversy, some women feeling attacked for wearing Etsy and Urban Outfitters, others arguing that no one would accept a site of archetypal “aggressive black men” or “illegal Mexicans”? Meyerson retorts that these are negative stereotypes, whereas carefree white girl is seen as an American ideal.

While Meyerson takes it a bit far when she posts pictures of girls and accused them of being sick/anorexic (would it be okay to post a plus-size girl and says she’s sick? I have been called both chubby and anorexic at different points in my life. Neither felt good.), the general message of the blog resonates. Other than Asian girls, this image is rarely used for other races, nor are white girls often portrayed with curvy, confident beauty like Beyonce.

Now, the stereotype isn’t evil as a whole. This editorial in Jezebel boldly attacked the stereotype as “just in it for the peen” and this one in Racialicious added that any man who blogged about girls having cooties and matchbox cars would never be attract women. My father has gray hair and still has a mass collection of Hot wheels and Star Wars paraphernalia that he claims are investments. I still win toys out of crane machines and today I finally fulfilled my nine-year-old dream of purchasing an X-men t-shirt. And thought I highly doubt my X-men shirt will get me more guys then slinky, mature dress, if my clothing choices inevitably mean I want “peen”, might as well be Marvel-appreciative peen.

All I need are some ruffles and irony.

The truth is, women who dress up for men are fighting a futile battle. If it’s tight, simple, and fits well, most guys will find it attractive. It’s other women who judge us most based on what we wear. And most girls know this. Yeah, acting young attracts a certain crowd, and there’s no question the CWG caters to it, but in an era where elementary-schoolers are wearing designer clothes and overworked with standardized tests and endless lessons, I think how fast people are aging is more of an issue than how young they’re acting. Or do we just say Americans are acting too young or too old depending on our mood?

However, the rest of the carefree white girl stereotype – the class tourism, extremely thin, deep yet shallow girl clad in sheer clothes and posed to look effortless – this seems like a bigger issue to me. Since middle school, I’ve had – gasp – breasts. Breasts far larger than most girls my age and, at 5’2″, I routinely looked through magazines and the web without finding a single woman who looked like me unless she was advertising a porn site. What great aspirations for a young girl. The only time my measurements appeared in magazines were in articles about girls who underwent breast reduction surgery to end their woes. I kid you not. Maybe this contributed to my love of X-men: I felt like a mutant.

At least Emma Frost was comfortable with her curves.

Fortunately, these surgeries cost many thousands of dollars, my parents would never approve, and it would kind of suck to have bandaged breasts in the gym locker room, so I kept my body and learned to dress it without following many carefree white girl trends. And you know what? As much as I love cupcakes, thrift shopping, and fro-yo, I also love modernist literature, neuroscience, and politics. And yes, I am white and upper-class and in every volunteering project I do, in every conversation of race, I seek differences and similarities, seek common ground without judging people. When I’m in Ayacucho, the rural area of Peru I will be volunteering in next month, I don’t have any illusions that I will save impoverished people, and I won’t take Facebook profile pictures solely to show how deep and cultured I am for going on a BU exchange program. I want to meet different people because I want to understand people, not use them for props.

Which is what I think the real issue with the carefree white girl is. Not that she’s white, young, innocent, or thin. That’s she’s fake. It’s okay to occasionally play pretend, to have fun acting younger or happier than you actually are. But when we propagate an ideal of acting cultured in a shallow way, when we limit an image to a specific race and social class, we propagate a lie, and worse yet, we limit the bounds of beauty. We don’t just need a black Katy Perry – we need a white Beyonce Knowles, an Indian Selena Gomez, a Latina Natalie Portman. We need to not limit personality by crinkles, curves, and colors. To be a human, unfettered from flesh, a soul that can give off a great beauty in a great many ways. Now that – that is closer to carefree.

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Category: Campus Culture, featured, Science and Technology

About the Author ()

Jenny Gilbert (CAS '14) has a strong interest in public health, psychology, and language. She's particularly fascinated by interdisciplinary ideas and education. Follow her on twitter (@jenmgilbert)

Comments (3)

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  1. Kaity says:

    I like this post a lot!

    I agree with the points you made and thanks for sharing that site!
    I’m going to be super lame right now and pull the “I’m about to go to bed and no constructive comments are really tugging at my brain,” but I will say I’ve put much thought into such issues.

    Thanks for a great post.