Project Runway’s Chicana: Deported from the runway

Designer Beatrice Guapo from Season 10 of Project Runway

In recent months, I have made a dramatic change in my life: I have been watching much less television than ever before. The only time I watched less than I do now was in my senior year of college, when I moved in with my then-boyfriend, a history grad student who saw himself as far too intellectual to partake of pastimes that entertain the masses. By contrast, the all-time high came when I was married, because watching television was more or less the only thing my ex-husband and I did together; each night came with a particular schedule of shows. It was very depressing. Lately, though, I’ve been so busy that I made an inadvertent, surprising discovery: The less I TV watch, the less I miss it. I realize now that for the most part, TV provided a background chatter so I didn’t feel so alone during the day as I worked from home.

That being said, however, there are three shows that I commit to watching, no matter what: Mad Men, Top Chef and Project Runway.

So you can imagine my excitement that a new season of Project Runway just debuted last night. Woo-hoo! And–hold onto your seats, folks–there was a Chicana contestant vying for the ultimate prize!

She is 28-year-old Beatrice Guapo from Southern California. Pretty, personable, and seemingly down-to-earth, totally not one of the attention-hogging diva designers. In the hour-long “Road to the Runway” preview that aired before the season premier, we saw pictures, like the one below, of Beatrice with her family, and in one touching moment, she tearfully spoke of losing her father.

La familia Guapo, rockin’ classic ’80s style.

The clothes she designs are drapey jerseys and knits, comfy-but-stylish concoctions designed for the chic, modern woman-on-the-go. (An incredibly skinny white woman-on-the-go, but still, I get it.)

What more did I need to see? I was on board: Her clothes look like something I’d wear and, as a bonus, she’s Chicana. Go, Beatrice!

I began to get worried, though, as soon as Beatrice admitted to having trouble sewing and needing more time for her designs than the challenges would allow. And sure enough, the dream of a Chicana designer actually walking away with the top honors ended all too soon. Beatrice was the first contestant to whom Heidi Klum bid “auf wiedersehen” on behalf of the judges’ panel.

It turns out that the judges were not a fan of what she sent out onto the runway. First, there was a gray knit dress paired with a printed cape:

And a gray knit skirt and shiny, gauzy shirt combo:

The judges didn’t like the “sad” colors of her designs and didn’t think she effectively articulated a larger design vision, beyond an enthusiasm for knits and jerseys.

Michael Kors went as far as to describe the cape from her first look as an “Aztec bathroom rug”:

One online commentator (I can’t seem to find the link now) wonders whether there’s a racial meaning behind Kors’ description: Beatrice is Mexican, therefore an ugly pattern she picked must be “Aztec.” The viewer who left the comment thought that the pattern could be better described as “Navajo.” Though his choice of words didn’t strike me as racist when I saw the show, it’s an interesting read. I thought I’d throw it out there…discuss amongst yourselves. (Btw, I googled “Aztec bathroom rug” and actually found one here.)

To me, an even more critical, unexamined racial moment is when Beatrice gives a walk-through of her apartment and holds up a glass monkey designed by her grandfather:

Woah! Note to Beatrice: Please educate yourself ASAP on the history of minstrelsy and racist sambo imagery, mmmkay? I know that your grandpa made it and it has sentimental value for you, but this is not something to proudly display. Yes, Mexicans have their own terrible history of racism towards people with African ancestry. Check out Afro-Netizen’s post about sambo stamps printed in Mexico in 2005. Yikes!

Okay, back to the show: To her credit, Beatrice took the news of her elimination like a trooper, politely thanking the judges for the opportunity and managing not to shed a tear on camera as she bid farewell to the other contestants. In her exit interview, she calmly shrugs and expresses a wish to have simply experimented with her fabrics while she had a chance. She seems like she has a strong sense of self, and I wish her good luck in her future endeavors!

Nevertheless, even though Beatrice left the competition before getting to show us her broader range, it was just a thrill for me to finally see on television a positive representation of a real-life Chicana pursuing her passion. For one wonderful, ephemeral moment, here was on national TV a Chicana to whom I could relate. Of course, I don’t know Beatrice in real life, and despite the “real life” they claim to portray, reality television shows are highly crafted fictions who exploit certain kinds of characters for drama and entertainment. All that (plus one horrible glass sambo) aside, though, it was cool to see a Latina like me, someone who started out as a sweet but dorky, glasses-wearing kid:

to a teenager involved in extra-curriculars in school:

and finally to beautiful, successful and ambitious woman pursuing her passion:

Why can’t we see more Chicanas and Latinas like Beatrice? Someone who is not representative of the cholas and maids that we’re usually portrayed as, but instead this other kind of Chicana, one you actually might encounter in every day life. A real person, not a walking stereotype.

I must admit that the significance of this point is forever lost on some people though, like a blogger who describes Beatrice as a “spicy, exotic Latina.” Excuse me while I barf. What exactly is so exotic about her? She’s from friggin’ Marina del Rey, not Amazonia. She has blond highlights, for god’s sake!

Tonight I’m going to light a big ol’ Virgen de Guadalupe candel, light some copal and blow a conch shell to the four cardinal directions in the hopes that next season, Project Runway and/or any other reality competition might feature another Chicana, and maybe next time, she’ll make it past the first episode. Dare I continue to dream that one will make it all the way?

About these ads

4 thoughts on “Project Runway’s Chicana: Deported from the runway

  1. Love your “easy, breezy” style, your sense of humor and of the ironic, and your insights. I think your instincts are very good especially as the racism of popular culture is concerned. Laughed out loud at your reaction to the glass monkey — reminded me of hearing a white co-worker who loved to brag about her greatgrandfather who had been in big demand back in the day for his minstrel band. “We still have the black stuff he used to put on his face!” I look forward to reading more of your observations.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s