Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Another blonde beauty is missing

Today while flicking from one channel (tennis coverage) to another (BBC coverage of the riots in the UK) I heard a voice declaim another blonde beauty missing from Aruba!
I opened a browser window and googled another blonde is missing in aruba and this what came back.
Another american blonde female missing in Aruba
Another american blonde female missing in Aruba (different sites, identical headlines)
Yet another Hot Blonde missing in Aruba (the link is to a message board)
Another blonde chick missing in Aruba (the link is to a message board)
Maryland woman missing in Aruba
Another Blonde American Missing in Aruba
Another American Beauty Missing in Aruba
Another missing Aruba gal
Let's deconstruct those headlines.

Including the information that the woman is either American or from Maryland answers the implicit question why should we care about some woman in Aruba? The headline explains why the disappearance of someone in another country is making news in the United States.

The inclusion of the word "another" is in itself interesting because someone who was not aware of the Natalee Holloway case might assume that American women were going missing from Aruba with some frequency. But since Holloway disappeared six years ago the word another must signify something else. What? Perhaps it encourages the reader to look for parallels between to the two cases. There are both women, both blonde, both Americans vacationing in Aruba.

Aha, as one reads further you realize that both cases allow for a certain degree of salaciousness. And salaciousness sells tabloids. It sells mainstream newspapers. It gives a bump in the ratings of the news shows.

But something else is there. It is the word blonde.

Why is the women's hair colour included in the headline? After all these are not APBs sent out to help people find the missing women.

Telling us that the women were blonde tells us that the women were white.

So this is the story the headlines actually tell us. Another white woman has gone missing under circumstances that are open to salacious interpretation while visiting a country full of not-white people.


  1. While "blonde" may well be code for "white", I suspect that it's also code for "attractive" - because being blonde is decreed to be part of the standard of feminine beauty, always and everywhere.

  2. Firedrake: Gets complicated doesn't it :)
    Because, generally speaking, beauty is also coded as "white." Which isn't to say that only white women are ever described as beautiful but if you look at the literature on body image and African-Americans it is clear that "beautiful" also means "Caucasian featured" as in someone who could pass for a Swede if you were only going by bone-structure.

    So saying that a woman is "blonde" is a signal that she is probably white.

    Saying she is beautiful is a signal that she is probably white.

    Saying (as I found in a number of headlines) she is a "blonde beauty" means that you would probably be comfortable betting your house that she is white.

  3. When a young African-American girl disappeared from my city last year, it was a big local news story. Nationally, not so much; the police were begging the national news outlets for coverage, but didn't get much response.

    Every story I read about her made a point of describing her as a "college-bound honors student." Which seemed to be code for "not the type to run away," but also code for "why we should care if another black kid's in trouble." She was one of the "good kids."

    Sadly, it didn't end well.


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