You heard of the saying “You are what you eat.” Well, that doesn’t only pertain to food. We consume many things as a society, media being one of them. In this case, I’ll tweak the saying a little bit to make more sense; “You are what you see.” From a sociological point of view, the people we interact with and see on a daily basis have a huge impact on our makeup as individuals. And no one was more important to me growing up than my favorite characters on the TV screen.
Mr. Rogers taught me what it was to be a good neighbor and Buffy the Vampire Slayer taught me what it was to kick ass and take names. Sure, I enjoyed watching these characters but at an early age I remember watching TV and thinking “No one looks like me.” I assumed people like me couldn’t be on TV. That’s until I saw Miranda Sanchez. She was the Latin dark haired best friend to the all American light skinned blonde Lizzie McGuire. While the rest of the world watched the new Disney show to see what new shenanigans Lizzie would get herself into, I watched in hopes of seeing more of Miranda.
Sure she was the sidekick but she had her own story plot and there was depth to her character regardless of her race. She enthralled me. Alas, someone who looked like me on the TV screen! Okay, sure she played Mexican when in reality she was Filipino and I was neither of the two but she was the closest thing I’d seen to myself on the T.V. screen.
After Lizzie McGuire, I moved onto Degrassi. That’s where I met the teen version Miranda, Manny Santos. Like Miranda, she too was the best friend of the blonde protagonist, Emma Neilson.
But something was different. In the season 3, episode 3 “U Got The Look”, Manny’s character starts the new school year by changing her appearance in order to gain the attention of the guys in school. “I’m glad he’s interested because it means my new look is working” and by new look Manny’s referring to wearing belly shirts and extremely low rise jeans that purposefully expose her new blue thong. Later on in season 5, episode 1 “Venus”, Manny is convinced she wants to be an actress and needs plastic surgery in order to make it. After her father finds out of her newly found dreams he calls her a “loose girl” and a “slut”. She runs to a party where she drinks too much and exposes her breast for someone’s camera to capture, which is later shared for the rest of the school to see. The fact that they’re addressing these issues isn’t the problem. I just question why it has to be the Latin girl to display all of these sexual characteristics.
For an older version of Manny, ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager has Adrian Lee. She’s an eighteen-year-old with a reputation for being promiscuous because she enjoys casual sex and who randomly breaks into Spanish when apparently English just isn’t enough. While yes, the shows main topic is sex; Adrian Lee is the only one to be characterized by her promiscuity. Other characters such as Grace Bowman, the blonde head cheerleader and devote Christian, struggles with her sexuality and her faith. Could both ladies switch roles and still get the message across? Why would the promiscuous teenager be Latina and the devote Christian be White?
Latin female. If television isn’t enough, well we can walk by the newspaper stand and see an array of Latinas oiled up with their rears in the air gracing the covers of magazines.
What happened? How did we go from being the cute friend next door to being this objectified epitome of sexiness? Apparently media has laid out a road map for who we, as Latinas, should be and who we are for every stage of our lives. Sorry, I don’t buy it. Sure, growing up we face issues about sexuality but it’s not just me. Its also my Black, White and Asian friends who experiment and determine their sexuality. My race does not automatically dictate my sexuality or how promiscuous I am.
Media must take responsibility for taking part of the makeup of my fellow Latinas. We are what we see and therefore if we never see images of ourselves besides as sexualized objects than that’s all we’ll ever believe we can be, especially if there is also a lack of good role models within the household.
I used to think I’d see Miranda as a main character on her own show. Miranda would be the main protagonist with the funny and quirky story plots. But that has yet to come to be. I long for a day where my race doesn’t dictate the characters I can play on the T.V. screen and where I’m free to be me.