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Published: 30-10-2019

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Viramontes’ “Miss Clairol”: Cultural Perspectives and Standards of Beauty

Considering that its 1987 publication in Chicana Creativity and Criticism: Charting New Frontiers in American Literature, Helena Maria Viramontes’s brief story “Miss Clairol” has offered outsiders a look into the Chicana culture, and has also sparked a criticism for standards of beauty and femininity for all women—and particularly for females of color. “Miss Clairol” follows the brief day of Arlene and her daughter Champ. As the story begins, the pair are walking by means of a K-Mart contemplating what colour to dye Arlene’s hair, and what makeup would go properly with a borrowed dress for Arlene’s date later that evening. Following leaving the K-Mart, Arlene goes house and instantly begins the lengthy process of getting prepared for her date, although she leaves Champ alone to entertain herself and cook herself dinner.

Though there is not a lot action that takes spot inside the story, Viramontes enables readers to get into the heads of each Champ and Arlene. All through, Champ is ten years old and she has not however hit puberty. Champ is a quite imaginative kid and she appears to be mystified by her mother’s beauty rituals and femininity, even though Arlene vows to teach her how to be fairly one particular day. On the other hand, when in Arlene’s head there is a dichotomy or duplicity in between appearances and reality, romanticizing versus realism in Arlene’s life. Arlene dreams of a much better life for herself, aside from the “constrictions” of her financial status, race, and single motherhood. In fact, Arlene is so estranged from reality that she basically ignores her children and lives in her personal fantasy planet. By means of “Miss Clairol,” Viramontes explores several facets of femininity: beauty standards, puberty, white-washed Eurocentric ideals, and also the patriarchal sexualization of girls.

The characters of Arlene and Champ illustrate the never ever-ending cycle for females who are and will constantly be stuck in the throes of the patriarchy and the Eurocentric planet. All through the text there are consistent references to specific beauty products, which alludes to the reality that in order for women to be gorgeous in the white-washed patriarchal society, they need to put on literal masks of makeup and fully buy into the consumerism of the beauty sector, since they almost have no other selection. Practically the very first words of the function, Champ commences with the discussion of her mother’s varying hair colors: “for the last handful of months she has been a platinum ‘Light Ash’ blond, just before that a Miss Clairol ‘Flame’ redhead, before that Champ couldn’t even identify the color—somewhere among orange and brown, a ‘Sun Bronze.’ The only way Champ knows her mother’s accurate hair color is by her roots which, like death, inevitably rise to the truth,” (Viramontes 1301). “Inevitably” rising to “truth” is Arlene’s black roots “like death,” the roots of her culture as a Chicana woman, in which she kills or disguises to essentially white-wash herself to conform a lot more to American beauty requirements. Herein, hair color becomes an identity for Arlene, in which she is in a position to become whomever she wants, and try on various personas. Arlene utilizes hair dye to both attempt to match into American beauty requirements of lovely “Light Ash” blond girls, and she also makes use of it to actually “mask” her roots—which doubles as her cultural roots. By dying her hair, a ridiculously light shade of blond, Arlene is literally killing her hair (culture), with the peroxide, in the end meaning that she aspires to recognize more with American beauty standards, than that of her Chicana culture.

Following deciding on a hair colour, Arlene requests Champ’s help in choosing out a nail color: “She lastly settles for a purple-blackish colour, Ripe Plum, that Champ thinks looks like the colour of Frankenstein’s nails,” (1301). Initial off, the color purple/black is repeated all through the work, possibly as an allusion to the old anecdote “beauty is discomfort,” or it could also be a nod to Arlene’s past relationships and the physical and mental bruises that they have left on her. Secondly, the reality that Champ references the color of her mother’s nails to Frankenstein implies that she is pretty imaginative, yet naive. Also, Champ is not particular when she references Frankenstein, she could either be speaking of Doctor Victor Frankenstein who designed the monster, or she could be referring to Frankenstein’s monster. Analysis of this quote could go either way: either Arlene is Dr. Frankenstein and she is about to mold a sexualized, “whitewashed”, feminine monster out of Champ when she comes of age, or Arlene is Frankenstein’s monster—a sewed up construction of parts of the dominant Anglo culture. In the operate “Tapestries of Space-Time: Urban and Institutional Spaces in Helena Maria Viramontes’s Brief Fiction,” authors Gutierrez and Muhs argue that, “Viramontes cautiously lists several brand names: Aqua Net hairspray, the Maybelline ‘rack of make-up’ in the store, Jean Nat bath crystals, and the Calgon commercials that Arlene’s afternoon bath mimics. By supplying such a detailed list, Viramontes parodies the relentless target advertising schemes of the cosmetics business,” (Gutierrez and Muhs 126). To reference all of these distinct beauty items in such a short story emphasizes the reality that women are anticipated to acquire into this consumer culture of the beauty market as fashioned by the patriarchy.

Though not listed by certain names, the reader is overwhelmed by an additional excessive list of beauty items when Champ goes hunting for a bobby pin, Champ: “goes in the steamy bathroom, checks the drawers. Hairbrushes jump out, rollers, strands of hair. Rummages by way of bars of soap, combs, eyeshadows, finds nothing at all pulls open yet another drawer, powder, empty bottles of oil, manicure scissors, kotex, dye instructions crinkled and botched, lastly a couple of bobby pins,” (Viramontes 1302). This comprehensive list of beauty goods nods to the ridiculous beauty standards place on ladies by society. In order to be deemed “beautiful” in the eyes of society, 1 need to consistently alter and/or dye their hair, and basically cake on a mask of makeup in order to disguise “ugly” organic functions. For Champ, “though makeup and femininity all seem foreign and strange to her, Champ realizes that her mother is not only attempting to sexualize herself, but, far more specifically, she is attempting to conform to the white beauty standards that dominated, and nonetheless manage to dominate American culture,” (Guti?rrez and Muhs 125). Not only are beauty requirements terrible for all ladies, but they are particularly terrible for girls of color in a white-washed world, for that reason generating them have to acquire into the market tougher, and primarily disregard their culture in order to really feel quite in the eyes of male-dominated society.

Even though Arlene tends to be far more of a romantic, she tries really hard to sexualize herself to make herself look far more pleasing in the eyes of guys, and therefore attempts to conform to the dominant Eurocentric feminine beauty standards of the time. Amongst the first descriptors of Arlene is when she is shopping in K-Mart with Champ, and she is “wearing a pink, strapless tube top. Her stomach spills over the hip hugger jeans.” (Viramontes 1301). The colour “pink” for a tube top screams femininity, due to the fact that pink is culturally connected in America as an incredibly feminine color. Also, the image of Arlene’s stomach spilling over her jeans implies that they are also tight and constricting her womanly body. As Viramontes describes Arlene’s outfit, one particular cannot help but examine it to that of a teenage girl. Arlene is desperately trying to be sexually eye-catching, even even though her physique does not match into what the perfect Eurocentric cultural building of what beauty is, but given that she is desperate to conform she shoves herself into pants two sizes also tight to exactly where she is incapable of even bending down. The subsequent sexualized and significant detail that Viramontes offers readers of Arlene is that, “she has a tattoo of purple XXX’s on her finger like a ring,” (1301). It is substantial that the tattoos on Arlene’s finger is a “purple XXX,” the purple, which is a recurrent colour throughout the piece nods to the domestic violence that Arlene has endured from prior relationships with males, and the bruises that she had to show from the failed unions. The “XXXs” are a common cultural symbol for adult content or pornography, and considering that they are wrapped around “her finger like a ring” this implies that Arlene is married to the overt patriarchal construct of feminine sexuality.

An additional instance that illustrates Arlene’s uncomfortable conformity to feminine beauty is when Arlene is squeezing herself into her buddy Pancha’s dress: The dress is made of chiffon, with satin-like material underlining, so that when Arlene very first tried it on and strutted about, it crinkled sounds of elegance. The dress fits as well tight. Her plump arms squeeze by means of, her hips breathe in and hold their breath, the seams do all they can to preserve the physique contained. But Arlene does not care as long as it sounds appropriate. (1302). The dress “crinkled sounds of elegance,” which implies that Arlene does not care if she is uncomfortable, due to the reality that her in the dress sounds like cash. But, however again, the garment is “too tight,” and it keeps her physique constrained, primarily to the mold of attractive femininity. Appearance versus reality becomes a prominent theme all through the piece. None of these clothing that she is squeezing herself into permits her any space to breathe, she is constrained physically by her garments, and she is constrained metaphorically by the patriarchy. This quote is also a nod to Arlene’s sub-proletarian class, she does not have adequate income to afford her personal fancy dress, but rather, she has to shove herself into her pal Pancha’s dress in order to have the appearance that she is wealthy and living the whitewashed American dream. But in reality, Arlene is a Chicana woman who will never ever be able to conform to Eurocentric notions of femininity. In his post “’You talk ‘Merican?’: class, value, and the social production of distinction in Helena Maria Viramontes’s Beneath the Feet of Jesus” Dennis Lopez argues that in “Chicano nationalist discourse, Chicanas can occupy only one particular position, either as the self-renounced female, lamadre abnegada (suffering mother), the passive virgin, or the embodiment of female treachery and sexual promiscuity,” (Lopez). In “Miss Clairol,” Viramontes breaks this Chicana stereotype through the character of Arlene. Arlene is a struggling single mother, but, she is not exclusively the “self-renounced female,” or “the embodiment of female treachery and sexual promiscuity,” but rather, she is just a woman who is undertaking the greatest that she can. Even though she is a mother, she breaks the Chicana stereotypes. It is created clear that Arlene has sexual demands, and that she requirements males in order to be happy—which somewhat takes over her care for her children.

All round, Arlene does the very best that she can to live her ideal life, despite her inability to completely conform to whitewashed feminine beauty standards. All through the story, there is a tension amongst Champ’s innocent youth and her upcoming sexual maturity. Arlene spends a excellent deal of the brief story contemplating how to have “the talk” with Champ concerning her impending womanhood. Gutierrez and Muhs argue that “Arelene is estranged from a lot of realities in the narrative, including single parenthood… Arlene’s alienation is so thorough that she opts for romance more than reality where her daughter’s emergent sexuality is concerned. When Champ begins puberty, her mother is prepared to lie about her own sexual initiation. (129-130)” (Gutierrez and Muhs). This duplicity is produced most apparent when Arlene thinks back to her first time possessing sex, and contemplates regardless of whether to inform her the reality, or the romanticized predicament. The story that are Arlene desires to inform Champ is: “the very first time she created adore with a boy, her awkwardness and shyness forcing them to go below the residence, where the cool, refined soil created a soft mattress,” (Viramontes 1303). But the reality, the story she will not tell Champ is: “that her 1st fuck was a guy named Puppet who ejaculated prematurely,” (1303). In this first quote, the idealization of a romantic initial sexual encounter, Arlene makes “love” to the boy, which has constructive connotations. Nonetheless, in the second quote, Arlene talks about her first “fuck,” herein, this language is extremely harsh, as opposed to the latter, and it illustrates the reality of what losing her virginity was like, and she knows that Champ will have to go through a related encounter, but she thinks that by romanticizing the expertise Arlene will be a excellent mother and ease the awkwardness.

According to her personal account, Arlene lost her virginity at eleven years old, and Champ is ten years old, which implies that Arlene is under the impression that the sexualization of Champ is waiting proper about the corner. However, Champ does not feel comfortable with her impending womanhood, as an alternative she dresses up in “one of Gregorio’s white T-shirts, the ones he washes and bleaches himself so that the whiteness is impeccable. It drapes over her deflated ten-year-old physique like a dress.” (1302). The T-shirt “drapes” over Champ’s “deflated” ten-year-old body, this implies that she has not but been sexualized, she has not but hit puberty. In addition, the T-shirt becoming draped over her “like” a dress, furthers the notion that Champ has yet to be sexualized, and she does not know how to really feel about her physique at this point in time and she for that reason hides it behind a baggy boy shirt. The fact that Champ is wearing a single of Gregorio’s treasured white shirts implies that at this point in her ten-year-old life, she is not a slave to gender norms, as opposed to her mother Arlene.

In “Miss Clairol,” Viramontes shows the perpetuation of beauty requirements and femininity by way of Arlene’s generation to Champ’s. Even though at the time of the story, Champ has not yet been sexualized, 1 is consistently reminded of the impending doom of puberty and the challenges Champ will have to face in order to thrive in the male-dominated Eurocentric globe. Nevertheless, by way of Champ’s character, Viramontes gives women a glimmer of hope, yet, will not conforming to requirements of the patriarchy let one particular to reside a pleasant life?
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