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The Haifa Wehbe to Megan Fox Pipeline: A Deep Dive into Tokenism

Staff writer Farida El Shafie lays out exactly what she thinks about brown tokenism as she experienced it growing up, and what it means for us in our so-called modern times.

Every middle schooler’s healing period necessitated a periodic indulgence in Megan Fox’s Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen's antagonistic portrayal of the high school mean girl. Carla Santini was just that bitch, a walking emblem of hotness that propelled the hallways of her fabricated on-screen high school to vibrate in her presence. Not a single moment went by where viewers did not envision what it would be like to stand in her ether, absorbing the insults and side-eye and deconstructing her eye makeup to replicate in future occurrences. A few years later, the Carla of our childhoods went on to occupy another venerated role as ‘the transformers girl’ and the transformers girl went on to be Jennifer in Jennifer’s Body, a role that eventuated in what can only be described as that naughties’ not-so-chill obsession with brunette bombshells. 


Yes, as a 12-year-old navigating pop culture for the first time, there was something rather hypnotic about the ways in which gossip magazines dropped the thin-lipped likes of Jennifer Anniston and latched on to the peripheral darker-haired beauties. My lil bubblegum pink sequin encrusted heart did not fathom a realm outside a blonde balayage and thigh gaps. As you might have already guessed,  that precise epiphany punctuated my spiritual awakening. If Megan wore silver shadow, over plucked her eyebrows, and slathered her lips in frosty lip gloss then so must we. If Megan smoked black liner till her waterline dissipated then our eyes must burn bestie. There was no escaping the socio-cultural ripple effect of Megan Fox. 


What Megan represented was not just a semblance of venerated white beauty standards, she occupied a liminal space of beauty that was closer in proximity to that of brown girls but that was just far enough out of reach that it was justifiably deify-able. It is only now that I realize what Fox represented for me was a malleable projection of a set of rules I didn’t even know I lived by. It’s like my subconscious knew, way before I ever did of my own self-abnegating deeply-entrenched eurocentric gaze. Years on, and many late-night shower thoughts later, this prepubescent obsession began to make sense, and it inaugurated a much-needed introspective coming of self. 


Megan is the token-non-ethnic-ethnic-brown-white-girl of our upbringing. Lemme break it down. Through no fault of my own, I had perpetuated the culturally hegemonic trait of seeing traditionally brown features as valuable only when they’re on the face and figure of a white girl. Her Haifa Wehbe's long dark locks, full lips, and curvy figure are akin to the ones that punctuated my upbringing, and in turn, they were never that far off from what I saw in my day-to-day life. But it also was. It bordered on uncanny for me, because it resembled ‘realness’ in a way that was visually tangible to my eye, and yet - laced with whiteness - Megan’s exterior was not fully brown-adjacent, never fully real. Fueled with nothing but spite for the predicament, this instigated a remarkable amount of untangling on my end. To say this was akin to a child opening its eyes for the first time would be a mega understatement. For the first time, I was angry at the world because I saw demonization being morphed into veneration at the sight of a white figure. Why wasn’t Haifa Wehbe part of the Western canon of beauty? And for those who do position her at such, why is it borderline p**n*graphic? 


Of course, the Hollywood star encountered her fair share of public sexualization. Even when Fox realized the extent of the publicly-sanctioned damage and stepped away from the limelight, she could not escape the torrential amount of global sexualization that has permanently embedded itself within the public eye. As contradictory at is sounds, this precise form of sexual perversion originates in the exact same predicament delineated earlier. As a matter of fact, this wasn’t anything remarkably new in nature; this is a direct offshoot of mass colonialism. In a sense Fox was turned into a product by Western culture, a reverse colonial mimic of brown tokenism. 


Perhaps the lesser-known sister of many global evils, tokenism situates itself between flat-out racism and exotification. Again, lemme break it down, brown girl is hot because brown girl looks like a spicier version of white girl, and therefore she has earned her ‘objectively hot’ hot girl badge. And Fox, much like many ‘racially’ ambiguous women of the sort, was swept up amongst the multitude of brown women who’ve endured the same level - more or less - of sexualization than she has. In a perverse way, I was viewing Fox’s public sexualization as the tip of the iceberg and a sliver of what celebs amongst the likes of Haifa Wehbe, Zendaya, Jamila Jamil, Salma Hayek, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, and even more recently Megan the Stallion, currently face. 


Whilst Hollywood attempts - emphasis on attempts - to deconstruct their own racial biases and actively include people from all walks of life, there is no reifying this type of racial indoctrination. In their continual attempts to keep the scene inclusive, they end up further highlighting differences and transposing the emphasis onto the ‘exotic’ person on show rather than the who they are and what they have to offer. Additionally, they continue to situate those who are from non-white backgrounds but who fall-in-line with canonical beauty standards as the propetiers, as the token ‘seasoned’ babe of the season, that’ll absolve them of any racial prejudice insinuations and critiques alike.