My FB doppelganger…my…self?

Desktop.jpg 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]( 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. :o(“

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](”. 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!”

“I don’t look like Apu or that girl from the “Office”, so I guess I can’t play. Bummer.”

“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…

86 thoughts on “My FB doppelganger…my…self?

  1. greetings to SM from bengaluru. my first tim in this town since i was a kid.

    when i was a kid, ppl thought i looked like the guy from temple of doom who ripped ppls hearts out. I was a skinny little kid with glasses. (sigh). all look same.

  2. Haha, honestly all of my desi friends are putting up pictures of white/indian celebrities alike. The similarities are far beyond skin color…its in smiles, eyes, cheekbones..anything really. My friend is hella dark, but she has the exact same smile as Kajol. So it definitely resembles her when she made it her profile picture. I look nothing like Jyothika (a south indian actress) but we have the same cheeks…and there it goes. Its all good.

    I feel bad for the girl who didn’t find anyone she looked like..isn’t that a compliment? You’re unique in the world 🙂 By the way, Anna, you and Hema Malini both have amazing eyes. I think that’s probably the biggest similarity!

    I have a feeling I totally misunderstood the comments on this blogpost, but I just had to say this. oh, and its fun to explain to other people who don’t know who your profile picture is! At least to me 🙂

  3. No one’s ever compared me to a celebrity, but I’ve definitely found similarities in features among some actors and friends (one reminds me of Rosario Dawson), co-workers (it’s like I’m working with Kate from Lost!). I also remember thinking my older cousin looked a lot like Ricky Schroeder when he was younger. Same hairstyle, smile, face, etc. But very different coloring. Almost like inverse doppelgängers, if that makes any sense. 🙂 Though the comparison hasn’t held up over time, judging by a recent photo of Schroeder, who looks much older than my same-aged cousin.

  4. it’s like I’m working with Kate from Lost!

    I know some people whose interest would be piqued. Please send biodata.

  5. From Vin Diesel, and Dwayne Johnson (a.k.a., The Rock) and Keanu Reeves to Tiger Woods, Mariah Carey, Mattel’s Madison doll and American Idol’s Jordin Sparks, mainstream society is reminded that multiracialism is not only our destiny but our reality.” Popular reality television shows like America’s Next Top Model have even gone so far as to steer contestants through a makeover process in which they become biracial because the ethnically ambiguous look is the latest trend in marketing.

    A quick look over recent decades reveals that this is really old news. We’ve been asked to celebrate several milestones of mixedness to prepare us for this alleged post-racial moment. Two milestones are virtual miscegenation in the form of a computer generated “image of the new Eve” as “the new face of America” on the cover of a November 1993 issue of Time Magazine and the model of digital pastiche on the cover of Mirabella in September 1994. Another milestone is the “check all that apply” option on the 2000/2010 U.S. Census as an opportunity to refute the need for future race based government initiatives. Then there’s the public presentation of race as a figment of the social imaginary per PBS in its 2003 three-part series entitled, Race: The Power of Illusion. Finally, there’s the election of Obama.

    for more please see…

  6. greetings to SM from bengaluru. my first tim in this town since i was a kid.

    pinda, you bride hunting?

  7. That’s not even to mention the fact that the doppelganger meme leaves out overweight women of all races. I’m not a minority but I can’t find a single celebrity who looks like me, simply because the handful of celebrities whose bodies look like mine deviate in some significant way in the hair color/face/etc. Reflecting later on the way this perpetuates a very racist/fattist/sexist view of beauty encouraged me to opt out of the meme.

  8. It was important to me to choose a large woman so I picked Camryn Manheim although the resemblance is very superficial. I wanted to celebrate a woman who has been active in the size acceptance movement. Oh and I’m not in the urban dictionary either…instead I just gave the story behind my name. Now there’s something going around about sibling pictures–and I’m an only child.

  9. I’ve always thought that Will Smith reminds me of my brother, even though we are very pale Anglo. It’s something about the ears and the nose and the shape of his head, I think… totally ruins any sexy scenes Will does, that’s for sure. 🙂 Lots of people have suggested that he can’t possibly look like my brother, because he’s black we’re not, or if he does, then it must mean that we have African ancestry in there somewhere (remotely possible, but highly unlikely given our family origins).

    I guess although there are some features that are more common in certain races, they’re by no means limited to those of a certain shade of brown (or pink)?

  10. I never really thought of participating, but I did start finding it weird when all of a sudden the avatars of my friends’ facebooks suddenly changed. When I found out it was a Doppelganger meme, I still found it weird, but it never crossed my mind to participate. I wouldn’t be able to find any celebrity who looks like me, and I don’t mind at all. I like not being that type of recognizable :).

  11. Anna mole’y, which one is Hema? Hema and you have what we say in Tamizh – Lakshanam – a beaming presence!

  12. Frankly. I think its depressing that we have such little diversity in Hollywood. Its rather boring to see the same skinny, blonde, white faces over and over again, and frustrating to see actresses who are pretty and don’t fit that mold starting to shift that way(Lindsey Lohan for example). The most aggravating part of it all is that the same actresses of color get cast over and over and over again. If they need an Asian woman, they get Lucy Liu, if they need a black woman Gabriel Union or Queen Latifa. Its so rare to see fresh new faces that aren’t pasty white and just plain boring.

    Btw… Using a cartoon character isn’t cheating- I used Velma Dinkly.

  13. I am actually pasty (not just white, but pasty–think fatter, lighter-skinned, short-haired St. Pauli girl), and my #1 match was Tina Turner on that doppelganger thing, for what it’s worth.

  14. I’m white and redheaded, and I have more “doppleganger” choices than PoC. That’s fucking sad. Redheads are only 2% of the population… and yet, there are a million images (from Disney movies characters to popular celebrities to historical European monarchs) to choose from. PoC only have some token characters to choose from, if they appear at all. Lame.

  15. When I posted a link to this article on Facebook, I prefaced it with “The racial politics of Facebook memes? (I don’t have a celebrity doppleganger in Hollywood, or Bollywood for that matter. Also, the urban dictionary entry for “Prerna” is actually just a real definition. And it has a grammatical error, so I refuse to post it.)”

    And I got these two responses: “Kelly from the office, lol. You kinda look alike and can act alike at times.” “Ilove Kelly, yes defineyly”

    I honestly look nothing like Mindy Kaling. Le sigh.

  16. ‘For a long time people kept telling me I looked like Abishek Bachchan and both me and my mother would say “That’s ridiculous.”

    And then I drew on a beard for a Halloween costume and, upon seeing myself in the mirror, had a “Holy Shit!” moment.’

    feel free to hit me up…anytime. 😀

  17. Food for thought, folks – why are we (desi or not) waiting for anyone else to tell us who our doppels should be? My choice for myself is Sunanda Biswas.

    Who? Sunanda Biswas. She’s a breaker / dance teacher based in the UK. Why’d I choose her? Oh, something to do with this image of her, modeling fashions against the Berlin wall.

    I’ve no connection to her (unless you count the shared desi heritage). It’s just that I saw her picture in an in-flight magazine, and thought wow – that image captures how I see myself, in so many subtle ways. I felt this before I realized she was desi, actually.

    As I’ve mentioned in an off-line conversation with Anna, I find it baffling that we (desis) are satisfied with the obvious choices of others choosing our image for us, even in a simple meme. And why must those choices be desi at all – what would be wrong with a Latino or black doppel? Or, even a non-actor/actress, such as Sunanda?

    The meme’s meant to be light-hearted and ephemeral – I get that. I simply think that if we’re not seeing ourselves easily in popular representation, and allowing others to see for us, then we’re not really seeing ourselves.

  18. You do look like Hema Malini, Anna. I put Nargis up as my facebook picture six months ago because I looked exactly like her as a child until the age of thirteen and resemble her as an adult more than any other person on earth. I even had a haircut that looked like hers and my hair is wavy just like hers. Our body types differ though.

  19. And then I drew on a beard for a Halloween costume and, upon seeing myself in the mirror, had a “Holy Shit!” moment.’ feel free to hit me up…anytime.

    Umm… by beard, he meant it in the Mrs. Larry Craig sense. Hence the holy shit moment. So, got to find someone else’s beedi to jala with your jigar.

  20. tee hee. Funniest face myHeritage pulled up for me. . .

    Fred Astaire!!! Now that would be a great doppelganger. Too bad I’m so slow.

  21. This is the primary reason why I didn’t participate in the meme. When I first heard of it, I just thought, “Great, another way for black people to be left out.” Underrepresentation in Hollywood, etc., which is connected to all sorts of racist practices…And, no one really looks like me. I have an older sister, and no one in Hollywood really looks like her either, but her college friends will just be like, “OMG, Gabrielle Union! You look exactly alike!” And, um, they really don’t. I feel like in those situations, it’s “they all look alike!!!11” working there.

  22. “Frankly. I think its depressing that we have such little diversity in Hollywood. Its rather boring to see the same skinny, blonde, white faces over and over again, and frustrating to see actresses who are pretty and don’t fit that mold starting to shift that way(Lindsey Lohan for example). The most aggravating part of it all is that the same actresses of color get cast over and over and over again. If they need an Asian woman, they get Lucy Liu, if they need a black woman Gabriel Union or Queen Latifa. Its so rare to see fresh new faces that aren’t pasty white and just plain boring.”

    I agree with you, but I also think that is changing. Just take a look at some of the most popular t.v. shows these days: Lost, Grey’s Anatomy, Heroes. Some of my favorite characters are played by Sandra Oh (A Korean-Canadian), Chandra Wilson (an African American without the skinny fake Hollywood body), Naveen Andrews (Anglo-Indian, very attractive), Daniel Dae Kim (born in Korea and raised in the U.S.), Sendhil Ramamurthy (I think you all know who he is), Masi Oka, etc etc.

    Other shows like Bones have actors if various mixed racial background- Michaela Conlin (Chinese/Irish descent), Tamara Taylor (African-American/White descent). Both of these ladies are amazingly beautiful and unqiue compared to most of Hollywood.

  23. Diversity is a relative thing. Most people in the world have black hair and eyes, including about a billion people in China. I suggest targeting the Chinese film industry for greater celebrity diversity. Desis, with our our varying skin colors and hair form, our wide, expressive, and occasionally oddly colored eyes, our noble, individualistic noses, our womanly curves or manly shapes (depending on gender), are way more diverse than the Chinese. I’m just sure of it and I’m sure they’ll agree, too, that we browns are more interesting and beguiling to look at than they themselves. When i was in Shanghai I noticed an alarming propensity to blond-i-fy their mannikins and perhaps their doppelgangers, probably just to get more attention, like the Japanese anime. We can help them find more appropriate objects of desire and aspiration. Sonal Chauhan beats any of those all-of-a-kind !@#@s any day. “Race” is illusion?” somebody said? Then wtf are we doing here, all “brown” and all, griping about the lack of diversity in that home of the blonde bombshell, Hollywood? How about more Africans and Chinese in Bollywood? Race may be a social construct depending on circumstances, but it is something we take quite seriously when we’re looking for bone marrow donors on sepiamutiny, or finding a deeply appropriate doppleganger.

    Seriously. Desis in America need to make films–write them, direct them, produce them. And why Hollywood? The Hollywood aesthetics reflect those of the white Americans, and European Jews who invented it and still do most of the creating almost 100 years later. Maybe it’s just their thing and we’ll end up doing something altogether different? I don’t doubt that with our headstart in the Indian industry (not just Bollywood), desis will make a mark in the American film industry eventually and the names of Sonal and Aish will be widely available on cheap souvenirs in tacky gift shops all over America, right next to Tammy, Beyonce, and Britney.

  24. for the record, i got kirsten dunst and annasophia robb. i didn’t get any indian celebrities, interestingly enough, and i also michelle tratchenberg a few times. were there others that didn’t get any indian celebrities as doppelgangers (deep political race discussion aside)?

  25. Wow..Anna… you got me thinkin. as a South Indian man who often gets mistaken for a myriad of ethnicities (none of which are ever South Asian!) I do remember having this moment of FB trauma when i didn’t know who to post as my doppelganger. Should I post a picture of a well known African American actor whom people think i look like and incur the wrath of my family that say i’m “trying to be Black”? do I put up the Gajini image of Amir Khan since he’s the only SA actor i can think of that sports a shaved head like me? Or do I post an image of President Obama, whom my extended family loves to envoke during family gatherings with “well hello! I didn’t know Obama was going to be here…” Getting to uncomfortable with so much introspection at work, i quickly put it on the back burner and conveniently forgot about this topic…until i read your post. Now i’m still processing my own ability to “forget” to think of some famous person’s image to post as my profile pic while looking at my (often white) friends’ updated images. don’t know if I make any sense but thank you for you thought-provoking post….

  26. I was told I resembled Rajnikanth and Devanand at different times in life. Now I look like what you’ll get if you put DeNiro, Federer and Ben Kingsley in a magic bullet.

  27. “The meme’s meant to be light-hearted and ephemeral – I get that.”

    Was the author feeling “light hearted” after catching onto this game? How much weight do intentions carry in discrimination?

    If you are of a certain type – white, slim, of average height, symmetrically faced, harboring few sizable visible birth marks on your skin, with fully functional limbs and neurosystems – then perhaps you easily participated in this game. More telling, the only “second thoughts” you would be having are “Yes! Now everyone will see the true similarity between me and Helen Hunt (or me and Rick Springfield).” This wonderful post showed how a large part of the population was dissed by this light hearted game. Thank you for your writing.

    I’m reminded of a Bloom County cartoon where Oliver points out that the pale shade of Band-Aid is labeled as flesh colored – although that color of flesh is worn by a minority of humans. I believe that the manufacturers changed their labels soon after…