About a week ago, I noticed that many of my friends on Facebook had changed their profile pictures to images depicting various celebrities. “Maybe they were bored”, I thought. Perhaps there was a current event which was prompting this; when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, I made an image of her my profile picture. So I barely paid attention and wasn’t super-curious as to what was going on. I prefer Twitter to Facebook, anyway.
I became a little more surprised when I noticed that some of my friends had changed their profiles more than once a day and that each update was accompanied by either accolades or criticism. Despite reading, “that totally looks like you!” a few times, I didn’t immediately figure out that this was [a meme](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme_(Internet) or a game, and that people were doing this to participate in some greater movement until one of you spelled it out, in the comments section under your newly-changed picture. Don’t blame me, unlike you MIT-alums or Ivy Leaguers, I went to a state school. Suck it, with your superior deductive skills. At least I figured out the “bra color in FB status” thing without googling it. Go me!
Obviously, I’m not writing this to tell you about a “hot, new trend!”. I’d be more than two weeks late for THAT. I’m writing because I noticed something very interesting occurring in my feed, and many of you are responsible for that. It started simply enough, with this:
“I’d participate, but there are no Hollywood celebrities who look like me. (“
And with that, so much was conjured. Memories of being at Disneyland or airport souvenir shops, standing next to my sister as I excitedly snatched a license plate or key chain emblazoned with, “A N N A”…while she glumly turned the display to “V”, where there was nothing which read “Veena”.
“Is someone feeling left out because they are Brown?”, I wondered. “Because THAT’S a post!”. I had no idea how much of a post it could be until my own Facebook profile became a hotbed of discussion about why people were participating, what it meant to participate, as well as questions of representation, inclusion and “[passing](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passing_(racial_identity)”. The original point of the game may have been to simply change your profile pic to that of a celebrity whom you allegedly resemble, but I sensed that there was more here than a mere meme.A smattering of relevant comments:
“I’ve noticed that most of my friends of South Asian descent have changed theirs to Kal Penn when they don’t resemble him in the least… “all look same” syndrome, perhaps? “
“A number of the South Asian women posting doppelgangers apparently think they look like Priyanka Chopra.”
“I’m only half-brown, and I hate that my doppelganger is white. I feel like I’m insulting my Dad with that picture. I’m not just white, even if I look it. I’m Indian, too!”
“lnitially I’d posted mine as Disney’s Jasmine (but) I’ve got Sridevi posted right now…sadly many of my non-desi friends haven’t noticed that it isn’t me. I guess we all look alike… ”
And then this, from someone who is usually mistaken for African-American, Dominican or anything but Desi, who decided not to participate in all the wackiness:
“The only time in recent memory I felt South Asian was after 9/11 and at Russell Peters’ recent show in DC when he made a joke about my nose as the dead giveaway that I was Indian.”
More, from Mutineers who opted out:
“I haven’t had a moment to figure out which Bolly-celeb I look like. (I didn’t even consider finding a mainstream/Hollywood celeb.)”
“I know I do not resemble anyone in the small group of desi celebs familiar to most Americans (e.g. Mindy Kaling, Padma Lakshmi, etc.). I couldn’t instantly think of a Latina/Persian/Arab/other brown-skinned celeb familiar to most Americans that I might resemble. (This is a small pool too! How many can you think of? The Kardashians don’t count ! Therefore, the number of potential possibilities seemed much larger in celebs more famous in South Asia than in the US. “
“Racially ambiguous looking, that’s my excuse. My growing list of what people think I am: Latina (but depending on my shade at the time anything from Argentine to Mexican), Native American, Filipina, Mongolian, Greek, Spanish, Italian, Turk, Arab, Chinese… “
All of this because of a Facebook meme? Wow. And I didn’t even include the people who emailed me privately to bemoan how this silly game made them feel like losers because they don’t look like ANY celebrity, from either Bollywood OR Hollywood, and yes, they know it’s a teeny, tiny problem to have, so there’s no need to judge them for their dismay, because they feel lame enough. Whatever, Desis. Once again, many of us were on the outside, looking in. Hello, fifth grade. Right? And ironically, it was a BROWN PERSON named Bob Patel who came up with the whole damned thing (thanks Disgrasian and Nayantara)! We were doing this to ourselves.
With all of this consternation, you’d think we’d avoid this meme as if it were H1N1. Not. Even. Close. Someone I met almost twenty years ago wrote to me to say that she had proudly changed her picture to one of Preity Zinta’s. Why?
It seems like fun and it was simple enough so why not. I picked someone based on whom I’ve been told I look like by others…otherwise I wouldn’t know where to start! It’s interesting to see who people are coming up with (for their own). At first I don’t see the resemblance but slowly you get to see a small glimpse. I guess I’m hoping that people agree with my choice!
Another Mutineer volunteered why she had participated: it required no extra effort. Apparently LiveJournal had been infected with a “Who would star in the movie of your life?”-meme before Facebook became a sea of celebrity. For this frequent commenter, it was easy to shift her “star” to her “doppelganger”. It didn’t hurt that her doppelganger was a point of pride, someone with whom she identified, a woman she genuinely liked.
Until I found this image, I hadn’t found anyone desi that looks like me. I’ve a bit of a nose, and I’ve danced. While I’m by no means a breakdancer or street (hah!), I feel that this image captures me perfectly: posed, poised, colorful.
I asked her if it mattered that the woman was Brown?
It definitely matters…because growing up in the hinterland of the USofA, there weren’t any good contemporary brown iconic images, other than from the desh. And those were mostly Bollywood, and completely disconnected from my reality…
She went on to say that she probably wouldn’t have participated in this strange little FB game, unless her doppelganger were Brown. I don’t blame her. I’ll confess to feeling the same way. I’ve been told that I resemble various people, throughout my life. My extra-pointy chin reminds people of Reese Witherspoon, but her pale skin, blonde hair and bright blue eyes have nothing in common with my brown, brown and brown…everything.
Aside from her, I often got compared to Princess Jasmine from Disney, mostly because of the waist-length hair, large eyes…and well, whatever else. I saw “Aladdin” when I was 17, and immediately after, the toddlers in front of me in the movie theater all turned around to stare and point, “She’s Jathmine!”. I know, I know…I recognize that THAT occurred half a lifetime ago, when I was in my teens, so I tried to think of something more recent. Hmmm.
Well, I occasionally have someone tell me that I look like “those girls from ‘Sister, Sister’”, so when I first realized what was transpiring on Facebook, I thought about changing my picture to one of either Tamera or Tia Mowry OR Princess Jasmine. I was reluctant to do so, and I immediately felt ashamed. PJ was a cartoon, what was my excuse for the other two? Was it because they were “African-American”? I called myself out. I’ve been surrounded by stupid “White is right”-prejudice my whole life; was I secretly in agreement? Was it worth even playing along, if it inspired all of this angst?
It was, if it meant keeping myself honest and hyper-aware of the bullshit with which we are conditioned. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been told, “If only you weren’t so dark…you’d be so pretty.” Eeew. If I was really honest with myself, the truth is, I’ve had people compare me to a different celebrity two to three times more often than I get the Mowrys or anyone else.
That’s why I ended up updating my Facebook profile with her image (even if my “white” friends and sorority sisters had no clue who she was), because merely based on the numbers, it seemed like the right choice to make if I were actually going to play along. Who was my “doppelganger”? I am chagrined and ashamed enough to admit that I compared myself to the luminous Hema Malini, but in my pathetic defense, there is no celebrity I’ve evoked more comparisons to, more often, for my entire adult life. Maybe to Northies, all South Indians look the same.
Even with all that empirical data, my choice left me feeling guilty. Hema was pasty, y’all. Was I secretly wishing I were paler, even as I scolded my little sister–who is currently in Kerala– for believing what my cousins told her: that “Fair and Lovely” was merely sunblock? I hoped not. And so, my compromise was to create a collage. Three pics of Hema and one photograph of me. You decide. I couldn’t take this anymore. All of this navel-gazing and reflection was exhausting, if you were Brown. My paler friends hadn’t spent anywhere near as much time worrying about what their choices might signal; conversely, they weren’t gifted with treats like “You ain’t THAT light” in their comment feeds. Ah, white privilege. Will your power know no end?
No matter. Facebook has already moved on to a new meme. See, now you’re supposed to look up your first name on Urban Dictionary and post the first user-submitted “definition” as a comment under the status which proclaims that you are participating in such shenanigans. What’s that you say? Your very South Asian name has a horrid, racist definition, which mentions tech support, which contrasts uglily with all the other, far more benign results like, “The name for the most awesome person ever, It is impossible to fit so much awesome into any other person.” Hmmm, I smell another post…