What would you like to know about Cuban women?
The classic cars of Cuba are obvious. Music jumps into your ear from every angle. Lavish colors surround you, blending with the heat into a chromatic and caloric smoothie of multisensory stimulation from which there is no escape, and none you’d want anyway.
It took me a little longer to notice something else quintessentially Cuban. The women. Well, no, I noticed the Cuban women immediately. Believe me. What took me longer to notice was the absence of…how do I say this…pseudo-women? Because in America, they’re everywhere. They’re in every magazine, every commercial, every billboard. They peer down and out at you with unnaturally long limbs, enlarged eyes, and preposterously skinny waistlines. The photoshopped American misinformation of what a woman looks like.
They don’t have that in Cuba. Not yet. (God I hope they never do. What an achievement that would be!)
Growing up in American male privilege, I was only aware of the toxicity of this ubiquitous visual violence when it reflected in the anorexia of this friend, or the bulimia of that one, then once I paid attention, in the harried self-esteem of just about every female I knew, under assault from an early age.
What age? When does this marketing nonsense begin to wound? How does that work? How does it feel, what does it do? And in a place like Cuba, protected from the malignance of an advertising strategy based on convincing women that they’re not good enough (unless they buy this product to “fix” themselves!), how is growing into a woman different? What is it like to be raised without Barbie, without Twiggy, without the wasp-waists of Disney princesses?
These are questions I wondered about, but was helpless to ask. I couldn’t just walk up to a cubana and ask “In my country women are pressured to despise themselves, what’s it like here?” So for me it was just a matter of stifled conjecture. But here’s the thing: Lydia has a master’s degree in American Studies with a focus on gender and popular culture. Basically, a master’s in exactly this stuff. She could actually investigate it, in a more meaningful way.
So that’s what we’re going to do. Starting on Thursday.
Americans still can’t go to Cuba as tourists, but with her degree in one hand and my let’s-call-it-a-career as a writer/journalist in the other, her brain in our head and my Spanish-speaking tongue in the mouth, we qualify under the journalist (or would it be the researcher?) category. So we’re going.
Are you interested in what we find? She already has a set of questions that we hope to ask an assortment of Cuban women (perhaps men too?) but I’m curious: what would you ask? What would you want to know about the influence of media on women’s body image?
If they have an internal sense of their womanhood, rather than an external one imposed on them by society, then how would they define it?
Do they have an picture in their minds of the ‘western’ woman (I’m not sure of the level of western imaging they are exposed to) and what do they think of them? Is it something they aspire to and, if not, how do they want or expect to protect themselves and their young girls against western imaging distortions? And what about the men, too?
Other questions: how do Cuban women, and their descendants, already in the US, view themselves and is there a difference between them and their counterparts still in Cuba? Is there a generational difference in their body image and if so to what do they attribute that?
Oh snap! I love this post and that you’re going to Cuba to look at things through this lens. Lack of advertizing does wonderful things for the self-esteem of us all.
We didn’t find everything exactly as expected (thankfully), but there definitely does seem to be a correlation between bad self image and advertising. To precisely no one’s surprise. I advocate removing advertising and mirrors between the ages of about…10, and…20. Give developing minds and egos a decade’s fighting chance.