On November 24, the death of Maria Susana Flores Gamez sent shockwaves through the news. The 22-year-old was killed during a firefight between a group of cartel members, including her suspected boyfriend, and armed soldiers in the town of Mocorito, Mexico. This tragic case was not highly publicized for its mere violence, however; it’s been all over the news because Flores Gamez was a beauty queen.
Gamez won the Sinaloa Woman contest and competed in the Our Sinaloa Beauty contest, so literally every single headline I found about her used the word “beauty” along with or in place of her name. Seriously. The amount of civilians killed in the Mexican drug wars is truly astonishing, but nearly none of those deaths are given a face, a name and even a tenth of the number of stories this young woman has. I’m byno means saying her death shouldn’t be mourned; I’m simply wondering, “Why her?” as opposed to the now hundreds of others–civilian or not–who’ve died as a result of cartel conflict.
The same type of attention goes for women who have been victims–as opposed to at least partial participants, which it now seems Gamez was–or have disappeared.
Last month, I wrote about the case of Kara Nichols, a 19-year-old woman who went missing in Colorado. Though she was new to the world of modeling and a missing person’s career is rarely mentioned in headlines, every single website read, “Kara Nichols, Lingerie Model, Miss In Colorado” or “Fears for 19-year-old Lingerie Model Who Vanished on Her Way to Work.” Her work, by the way, not being lingerie modeling. And yet, that was a huge reason her case has received so much attention. Not because she’s a missing woman who could be in serious danger or because she has a family who misses and loves her; it’s because of some photos she took in her underwear, and that sickens me. I believe we should care about missing people because they’re missing, not focus on what they look like unless it will help people find her; instead, this whole “lingerie model” kick the media kept adding just opened the floodgates for victim-blaming commenters.
If we go back to JonBenét Ramsey’s death over two decades ago, it’s the same type of pattern: young beauty queen dies and the media’s focus on death and appearance explodes.
Long before that, there was the murder of Elizabeth Short (aka “the Black Dahlia“). Granted, the huge amount of attention her death received is certainly because of the brutal nature of the crime, but it was also due to her forays into modeling, as well as her looks. Decades of speculation on why, how and who; numerous films, books and television episodes; infinite Halloween costume inspiration and undoubtedly 8,000+ Tumblr posts: the Black Dahlia fascinated people, and it still does today. The idea of a stunning beauty being seduced into a world and then ripped out of it is both repulsive and magnetizing to people’s minds, particularly when the media of the time is frequently focusing on those (sometimes inexplicably inaccurate) aspects rather than, say, simply the factual components of the event.
I assume that, at least in part, it’s because our culture idealizes beauty. For some reason, we equate beauty with value, despite outward appearances not being even a remotely foolproof way of gauging a person’s personality. We take the breakups and pain of famous people personally; we’re upset by the deaths of strangers because perhaps, in some strange way, they represent our ideal lives and our culture as a whole. When the young and lovely are attacked, we take it personally–maybe it feels like an attack on our ideals, if not an attack on ourselves in some way.
In the same way the general media tends to take upper-middle class, caucasian deaths more seriously than any others, it tends to prioritize crime involving those deemed “beauties” higher than the rest, as well. Ever notice how that show “Snapped” primarily includes white women? It’s because the network believes viewers are more interested in crimes involving Caucasian suburban folks.
As CNN correspondent Tom Foreman put it:
I’ve seen plenty of stories fall by the wayside, pushed down and out of the show, because a consensus develops that says, “You know, I don’t think our viewers are very interested in this case.”
Is that racism or realism? We can’t cover every murder, but ignoring them all or reporting just statistics seems irresponsible. So how should we decide whose life or loss is covered?
I totally understand that media outlets need viewers and readers (I stress out nearly every day trying to figure out what you lot would be interested in!), but I also think that a certain level of responsibility comes with dispensing information. Standards–like viewers being more interested in the deaths of Caucasians over other races–do not change if you continuously report almost exclusively on those crimes. But whether or not a person looked a certain way shouldn’t be a factor in how (and how thoroughly) a death is discussed, but that won’t change so long as our headlines need to describe dead women as “beauties” in order to gain more hits.
I’m not naive enough to believe that somehow, the media will change overnight and suddenly, people’s deaths will all be of equal importance regardless of appearance. But if we as readers stay mindful of what we’re being shown, as well as what we’re not being shown and why, we can maintain awareness on a more encompassing level rather than just checking out the front page.