InStyle Makeover: Rita Hayworth’s Ethnic Makeover Was “Worth It”

When I meet someone new and tell them about this blog, the responses I get usually fall into two categories. Most often I hear, “Oh! Totally! I stopped reading those magazines years ago.” And sometimes I get, “Well…what kinds of things do you write about, exactly?” InstyleMakeover_Sept2011_RachelBilson

From now on, when someone asks the latter, I’m just going to hand them “The Hollywood Hot Machine” from InStyle Makeover’s September issue. This single page manages to include pretty much everything that’s wrong with women’s magazines: obsession with the male gaze, extreme beauty regimens, impossibly strict diets, and a dash of shocking ignorance. Handy!

The article features six actresses who’ve made major adjustments to their appearances to launch their showbiz careers. We aren’t talking about going from a side part to a middle part here, you know? If the fact that these women had to dramatically change their hair, faces, bodies and even their names–or at least felt they had to–isn’t maddening enough for you, maybe you’ll hate the breezy tone InStyle uses to describe their transformations. I sure did!

For instance, the article says Joan Crawford (née Lucille LeSueur) used “rigorous diet and exercise” to become “sleek.”

Reportedly, she even chewed gum in an attempt to sharpen her jawline.

Apparently no celebrity plastic surgeons were available to comment on the merits of Orbit as a cosmetic technique. Try it at home, readers!

The article goes on to mention haircuts and wardrobe changes for Marilyn Monroe and Diana Ross, and says of Jane Fonda:

Fonda’s first husband, Roger Vadim, directed her schoolgirl-to-sex-kitten makeover. He’d done the same for previous wife Brigitte Bardot.

And a man habitually directing his wives into “sex kitten” makeovers isn’t creepy or predatory at all!

Oh, and what about Jennifer Aniston?

Yoga, hairstylist Chris McMillan, and a salad for lunch almost every day for 10 years helped Aniston morph into this honey-dipped goddess.

So we again have a man to thank. And of course there’s that salad-a-day for a decade thing. Is that a healthy diet, a reasonable approach to eating, or just something Aniston’s publicist made up? Who cares? The real message here is that she’s whippet-thin, as anyone who’s seen her wearing scanty underthings in Horrible Bosses can tell you. 

But I’ve reserved the bulk of my outrage for the Rita Hayworth entry, which reads:

Painful but worth it: In two years, Margarita Cansino raised her hairline almost an inch with electrolysis. And when she went red, a star was born.

“Painful but worth it”? WHAT THE HELL. Do InStyle’s offices not have access to Wikipedia? I have to assume that’s the case, because obviously no one at the magazine knows why Hayworth had that electrolysis: at the behest of Columbia Pictures, to make her appearance less Hispanic and therefore more marketable. That’s also why she dyed her hair red and bleached her skin. 

(Incidentally, that second link has a context-sensitive ad for a skin-lightening treatment that reads “InStyle Award Winner!” Wow.) 

Celebrities change their appearances for all kinds of reasons, but praising a racially motivated, excrutiatingly painful cosmetic procedure as “worth it” is, at best, insensitive. (And at worst? I really don’t want to break out the “r” word.) Did Hayworth look better than Cansino did? That’s subjective. But there are some ugly, ugly implications attached to glorifying a makeover designed to hide Hayworth’s heritage. I mean, what’s the reader takeaway supposed to be here? That everyone looks better as a white person? That the agony Hayworth must have gone through was “worth it” to not look Hispanic?

This is tricky territory, and InStyle could have provided context or sidestepped those implications entirely. But they didn’t, and that’s the problem. Articles like this propagate the idea that beauty is pain–and that beauty is determined by men, and it requires expensive, painful treatments, and it demands extreme, restrictive diets, and that only certain kinds of women (namely thin white women) are beautiful. Perhaps expecting InStyle Makeover to acknowledge as much is ridiculous. 

Still, it’s been more than 80 years since the picture of Lucille LeSueur on this page was taken. Eighty years after LeSueur tried to reshape her face by chewing gum, and Jennifer Aniston eats arugula every day. Eighty years. That’s a long time for so little to have changed.

17 thoughts on “InStyle Makeover: Rita Hayworth’s Ethnic Makeover Was “Worth It”

  1. Beautifully written, right-on-the-money rant. Good for you for pointing all this out so eloquently! I’m in the group that hasn’t read any of these magazines for over a decade; how sad that nothing about their content has changed.

  2. While I think your blog is awesome (I wish there were more posts!), I’d like to point something out: Your section on Rita Hayworth “glosses over” the fact that Rita Hayworth was half-Sephardi (Mediterranean Jewish), not Latina. (Lea Michele is Sephardi too e.g.) Harry Cohn, the Ashkenazi (German Jewish) Columbia Pictures studio boss thought that she looked too “dark” and as Sephardi people were not “on the radar” of the average White American, she was “identified” (coded) as Latina. So the whole Rita Hayworth shtick is offensive on even more levels. She “looked Hispanic” to White viewers! Harry Cohn was a huge sleezebag BTW who demanded sex from young actresses for being in films. He would threaten to squash their film careers before it had even started if they refused to service him sexually. He also demanded sex from Hayworth according to her autobiography.

    I read the cracked article. Lindsay Price’s father is German, not Korean. Her mother is Korean. The article got that mixed up. Other examples for a career launched (or in Reed’s case: boosted) by an ethnic make over are Nikki Reed who bleached her skin and dyed her hair for the Twilight saga, “Tinsel Korey” who is actually Asian Indian, not Native American (again: Twilight saga) and Taylor Lautner, whose “darker” complexion comes from Southern French (Mediterranean) ancestry, not any Native American ancestors who are far further back (so much that he did not “discover them” prior to “Twilight”). Needless to say Twilight is just “Fake Ethnicity” central…

  3. @Kat

    Rita Hayworth’s real name was Margarita Carmen Cansino. Her father was Eduardo Cansino, who although Jewish, was born in Spain and his father (Antonio Cansino) was also a Spaniard. How was she not a Latina again? Both her father and grandfather were considered two of the best if not the best Spanish dancers of their time. Sephardic Jews have been present in Spain for centuries but that does not make them any less Latin. Perhaps you should research the presence of Jewish people in Europe. Had you done that to begin with, you would not have looked like an uneducated oaf.

  4. @ OrchidBlack

    Granted, defining oneself is not easy and various people can self-identify however they like, but the general definitions go a little like this:

    ‘Hispanic’ usually refers to anyone of Spanish descent (including from Spain), generally as a result of colonization. Most people who are Spanish (from Spain) do not claim to be Latino/a. They may speak of Latin culture, etc. but do not say they are Latino/a. Most importantly, many people who identify as Latino/a find the term, Hispanic, derogatory.

    Latino/a usually refers to anyone from Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean either of European (Spain-Spanish) or Mestizo or Indian descent or African descent (Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, etc).

    I would like to stress that there is a ton of physical diversity amongst Latinos due to colonization (and with that came African slaves via Spanish ships like the one Columbus came on). Not to mention, there were people (Indians) living all through Latin America already as descendants of the Incas and Mayans, etc. Don’t even get me started about the origins of Chinatown in Old Havana or Fujimori, the Japanese President of Peru.

    In sum, there is a lot of mixing and a lot of diversity from Lynda Carter, a Mexican American woman (Wonder Woman!), & Cameron Diaz to America Ferrera to Zoe Saldana to Reagan Gomez-Preston. Really, it’s best to know there’s Latino/a look.

    Check it out.

  5. Hayworth was of Spanish descent. Spain is in Europe, which would make her white. Her makeover was to make her appear more northern European.

    It’s funny how when the imperialistic and colonial sins of the Spanish are discussed, they’re whites, but when some consider the appearance of many Spaniards versus what they believe to be stereotypical white traits, all of a sudden Spaniards are spicy and exotic Latinos who must have been subject to horrible subjugation by those terrible whites.

  6. Is it possible that the annoyance being directed at various posters concerning Cansino/Hayworth’s true heritage ought to be aimed at the InStyle writer who ignored those factors entirely? The initial article seems to have been far more inaccurate and insensitive than any of the comments posted here.

    I appreciated Cat’s post because she mentioned that Cansino was half-Sephardi as well as Spanish and added that that might have been the reason for the insistence on her skin being bleached.

    People sometimes forget that actors were often dismissed as “too ethnic” as a euphemism for Sephardic. It is especially depressing that the discrimination sometimes came from moguls and execs who happened to be Jewish themselves. In the industry’s eyes then, and the public’s even now, she seemed to have been more acceptable as Spanish than Jewish.

  7. Rita Hayworth was most certainly NOT JEWISH! She was not of Sephardic descent, she was of Spanish (Andalusian) and Irish (Celtic) ethnicity. Why this rabid need to make her Jewish?? I do not understand it unless you are all Jews and want her in the “tribe” because she is so beautiful. She stated many times how proud she was of her Spanish roots and it was well known to the service men who adored her in WW2 that she was half Spanish. The term Latina/o was not used in the 1940s often if at all.
    Jews in 1940s Hollywood tried to hide being Jewish though. There was lots of Anti-antisemitism around them and it was hard I’m sure.
    Rita never slept with Harry Cohn, she always refused. He was obsessed with her and made her life miserable.
    She did not bleach her skin, that is a recent internet rumor that is incredibly stupid! she had olive skin that tanned well but was naturally light/medium.
    And Spanish is a Mediterranean race of Europeans, a Jew living in Spain is still a Jew descended from a people from Israel. A Jew is a Jew no matter where their parents settled because it is a race too.

    I am Spanish and Hungarian and find these lies about Rita Hayworth a lovely woman shameful!

  8. Lenerha, many sources say that Rita Hayworth’s father was Sephardic Jewish, although she was not raised Jewish. That’s why there is discussion about her being of Spanish-Jewish ancestry, not because we are “all Jews” who want her in our “tribe.” What’s your source that Eduardo Cansino was NOT Jewish? And what’s so “shameful” about her being considered Jewish?

  9. Love your blog, but this post and the comments it generated just really turned me off. I don’t come here to read arguments about race or accusations of racism, and I am disappointed to see this kind of obnoxious stuff on here. In the future, please don’t feed the feminists. ;)

  10. PS: Whether Harry Cohn was a jerk or not has nothing to with him being Jewish, yet this is the connection that is implied. Some of the other comments here are pretty anti-Semitic as well. Pot meet kettle. This is why I am educated and liberal but would never identify as a feminist. They cry racism at every turn where it concerns black, latino, or asian people but have no problem hating on white and Jewish people. I have been a reader from the beginning, but I won’t be reading this blog anymore.

  11. SSS, for the record, I’ve written about race before. This post in particular is one of the most popular in the site’s history.

    This blog has always been written from a (not the) feminist viewpoint. If you’re uncomfortable with feminism or people calling themselves feminists, then I agree this probably isn’t the blog for you.

  12. I just found this blog and had a good laugh at SSS and her point of view regarding Cohn. Nothing was implied, the person simply stated two people’s ethnicities. But, then she brings in the “educated and liberal” and I lost it. Hilarious!

  13. Don’t be stupid. Rita Hayworth NEVER hid her Spanish heritage. She only decided to look less Latin because she did not want to be restricted to those “Exotic Latina” stereotyped roles. I don’t even believe she had her skin “bleached”. How would she do this – like Michael Jackson? Ha Ha Ha! I am half-Spanish on my father’s side, I am proud of my heritage, and she makes me even prouder of it. I am from Brazil, and this makes me a Latina. More than this – Rita Hayworth makes me proud of being a WOMAN.

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