Image source: Getty / Kim Kulish / Timothy A. Clary
Ever since the premiere of the real-life crime drama “The Dropout” and “Inventing Anna”, America has been entranced by the stories of Elizabeth Holmes and Anna Sorokin. Each series produced numerous hot shots on social media, with talks about how two women managed to deceive the country’s “elite” and the heads of multimillion-dollar companies, using what turned out to be elaborate schemes.
We are not here to discuss whether the victims of these scams deserved their fate, or whether the consequences were matched with crime, but rather we illuminate a fact that has become clear with these stories: these women have been able to execute scams of this extent only because of the way they appear. It just wouldn’t have been possible if they had been black.
No, it’s not that blacks should have an equal opportunity to be scammers. However, the reality is that Holmes and Sorokin were able to commit these crimes because they met the outdated criteria of society-accepted beauty standards that favor white, Eurocentric features. Historically, white women have been rated as prettier, more trustworthy, and more feminine than their counterparts. (True: until 1940, Miss America’s rules – a contest dedicated to valuing someone’s “beauty” – stipulated that contestants must be “healthy and white.”)
As a result, both Holmes and Sorokin were able to escape the radar as they committed large-scale fraud.
What pays to be “beautiful” in the United States
Since white is considered the standard of beauty, this means that Sorokin and Holmes could be perceived as financially reliable and of a certain socioeconomic class, simply by existing.
Studies show that beauty is directly related to financial success, with attractive people receiving more job calls, better negotiating results, and frankly, the benefit of the doubt. In a study published in the “American Economic Review,” researchers not only found that workers deemed more attractive are considered more capable by employers, but also that physically attractive workers have oral skills (such as social and communication skills). which led to wages.
Since whiteness is considered the standard of beauty, this means that Sorokin and Holmes, despite their different aspects and approach to their beauty rituals, could be perceived as financially reliable and of a certain socioeconomic class, simply by existing. The preconceived notion that they could be financially reliable or wealthy never seemed too outlandish because they seemed the part.
Along with the general privileges that come with adapting to certain beauty ideals, studies also show that people like people who look like them. One sentiment that was often repeated in “Inventing Anna,” the story of how Sorokin came to scam some of New York City’s wealthiest, was that Sorokin simply watched as if he belonged to the upper echelons of society. A quick Google search will show you that this phenotype is typically white and skinny.
In an interview with the “Call Me Daddy” podcast, Sorokin herself said she found it easier to get into high-net-worth spaces and ask for large sums of money, because people already thought she was rich, so they were more prone to give her what she asked for.
Holmes had fans show up at his trial wearing her signature low bun and black turtleneck, even after it was revealed that she scammed her investors for no money. This is just further proof that adapting to the traditional Eurocentric beauty standard grants you social capital that can guarantee your success despite your criminal record.
Why black women did not have the privilege of “merging”
When wealth in the United States is split between a fairly homogeneous group – whites – and the country’s beauty standards are equally westernized, this leaves little or no opportunity for black women to enter the spaces these women have done without scrutiny. which comes from being seen as an “other” both physically and socio-economically.
The way black women have been supplanted by conversations about “conventional” beauty, as well as the benefits that come with it, is systematic. In the 18th century, Louisiana Governor Esteban Rodriguez Miro enacted the tignon laws which required black women of New Orleans to wear a tignon, a type of headdress or scarf, to completely conceal their hair. The law was enacted because white women complained that liberated black women could attract white men with their hair. Scarves would also serve as a social indicator, to prevent fair-skinned black women from being mistaken for white women. It is only recently that the CROWN Act, a law that aims to ban hair discrimination based on race, gained momentum after being passed by the House of Representatives.
Historically, black women have never been given the opportunity to “merge” culturally, socially or physically, because the canvas has always been white. The struggle for a larger society to see and accept black as beautiful – and to give them the same social capital and benefits as white – has cost black women the funding for their businesses, their lifelong earning potential and a host of other socio-economic perks that their white counterparts enjoy.
At the end of the day, Elizabeth Holmes and Anna Sorokin are not outrageously beautiful women. On the contrary, they are the beneficiaries of a racist society which grants them the gift of irrelevance. This in turn allowed them to be bold – and delusional to the limit – in pursuit of their desires. These women used white as a stepping stone and protection.
Blacks, and black women in particular, are not given that luxury. Holmes and Sorokin represent the same racism that keeps blacks away from the opportunities offered to their counterparts, but also from society that accepts it as normal, as long as there is a TV show they can watch later.