Beauty Shop: Miss Universe, Latino Heritage, S.C. Gov.

GUESTS:

Danielle Belton, BlackSnob.com Author

Galina Espinoza, Latina Magazine Editorial Director

Mary Kate Cary, U.S. News and World Report Columnist

Leila Lopes is the first woman from Angola to become Miss Universe. Latina Magazine is celebrating its 15th anniversary. And South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is under scrutiny for her remarks about a female reporter. The Beauty Shop ladies weigh in.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

And now, we go into our Beauty Shop. That's where we get a woman's perspective on the news. First up, the Miss Universe pageant crowned its new queen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MISS UNIVERSE PAGEANT)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Miss Universe 2011 is Angola, Leila Lopes.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MARTIN: Leila Lopes is the first Miss Universe from the African country of Angola. She's not the first woman of color to be crowned Miss Universe. It's important to say that she's the fifth, actually. Her win has stirred a lot of excitement among women of color.

Perhaps not you. But Danielle's looking at me like, what? Really? You can throw your pumps at me if you want to. We can talk about that in a minute.

We're also going to kick off Latino Heritage Month with Latina magazine, which is celebrating its quinceanera. That means the magazine is 15 years old this month and marking the occasion with a star-studded issue.

Also, in politics, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has been under fire for comments she made about a woman reporter last week.

And a new book reveals the thoughts Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis heard are recordings taken not long after the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy.

With us to talk about all this, Mary Kate Cary, columnist and blogger for US News and World Report and also former speech writer for President George H.W. Bush. Danielle Belton, author of the blog, the BlackSnob, there with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. And with us from New York once again, Galina Espinoza, editorial director of Latina magazine.

Welcome to you all.

GALINA ESPINOZA: Good morning.

MARY KATE CARY: Great to be here.

DANIELLE BELTON: Morning.

MARTIN: As we just heard, Leila Lopes from Angola was crowned the new Miss Universe this week and - I'm sorry. Danielle, what with the gimlet eye?

BELTON: Oh.

MARTIN: What's up with that?

BELTON: I think it's - you know, it's great. You know, I'm not a beauty pageant person. Like, I think beauty pageants are nice, especially if there are scholarship programs so you can go to college and get a nice degree and hopefully get a good job and be a productive citizen and contribute to society.

MARTIN: But you know what I was wondering was that you think that they - oh, so that was kind of mean. I just got that. I just got what she was saying. You mean, after you're done being in a beauty pageant, you can contribute to society. Got it. Sorry. I just caught up.

But do you think that beauty pageants do shape standards of beauty? Because, remember, this is one reason why I think that a lot of women of color who felt shut out of that whole beauty thing are excited about it because they feel it does kind of shape the culture. Do you think so?

BELTON: I can see to a certain extent, but I feel like industries like the entertainment industry and the fashion industry have a lot more pull over what's considered acceptable in mainstream female beauty than a beauty pageant does.

I mean, most girls aren't obsessed with having bikini bodies and being as thin as possible because of the Miss Universe pageant. Those women look healthy. They look like they're gorgeous, they're thin, but they're not overly skinny. The reason why people are fixated on that is because actresses and models are extremely thin. Those are the people that folks are looking to for what they want to emulate, so I don't know.

It's just one of those things where I feel the whole pageant thing is somewhat antiquated because I don't feel like it's as big, it's as looming a thing in women's lives.

MARTIN: Galina, what do you think, particularly given that you work at a lifestyle magazine and beauty and fitness is part of it? I also felt that Miss Universe is a bigger deal in Latin America, I think, than it is, perhaps, in the U.S..

ESPINOZA: Oh, absolutely. And I mean, I think as much as we would like to think the idea of beauty pageants is antiquated, this show is still on the air, it still attracts millions of competitors around the world every year, and it still attracts pretty good ratings. So there is something about the pageant circuit that is still resonating with a lot of women.

And I actually do think that winning a pageant is important in terms of helping to shape cultural standards of beauty because any time we can see ourselves represented in a positive light and being acclaimed for the way we look is a positive aspect of ourselves.

I think that's really important. I think that, sometimes, we perhaps get too hung up and feel like, oh, but we need to show ourselves achieving this and achieving that. And obviously, of course, we do, but there is nothing wrong with saying, hey, there is someone who looks like me that culture values and thinks is beautiful.

We all want to feel beautiful and I think the more positive images of beauty we can see of ourselves that look like us, the better.

MARTIN: And she is of dark skin. She's visibly identifiable as a person of African descent, which I think is something that a lot of people were...

BELTON: I think that's incredible.

MARTIN: You know, excited. But Mary Kate, what do you think?

KATE CARY: Well, I did a little beauty pageant research for you guys. The ratings in the United States over time for Miss Universe and some of the other big pageants have declined since the '70s when they were at the top - Phyllis George era - that sort of thing. But worldwide this one the other night was a billion viewers worldwide in 190 countries, and a record number of the contestants, seven out of 16 semifinalists were Latina.

So as you said earlier, and I think Galina, you agreed, wildly popular in Latin America and big on Facebook and Twitter, all the who-should-win kind of stuff.

My take on it is, you know, she's really proud of the fact that she's a natural beauty. She doesn't want any plastic surgery. She wears sun block and that's about it. If that's where beauty pageants are going, great. I'm not a beauty pageant person either, but if we're moving towards natural beauty and her outspokenness about HIV in Africa and drawing a spotlight to poverty in Angola, you know, if that's her ticket to getting that done, good for her.

MARTIN: I wonder, too, do women root for this the way like well, I root for the Jets, too.

KATE CARY: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: So, you know what I mean? It's not just a man thing. But it's just a thing where it kind of moves beyond ethnic pride to that's just your team.

BELTON: Yeah.

MARTIN: You know, like you, you know...

KATE CARY: Right.

MARTIN: ...you want the Jets to win, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: But you're not going to go stab somebody if they don't. You know, it's just like it's all fine. It's all fine. Only other point I'd make about this and the hair thing, I know people, sometimes people think we make too much of the hair thing. I just wonder where do we get to the point where people with naturally curly hair get the same cultural respect as people with straight hair, because all the contestants have that straight hair.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: They have to have the tight bun.

KATE CARY: Right.

MARTIN: And, you know, I was at an HBCU football game over the weekend and even all the dancers have - sorry young ladies - weaves, and I'm just like what is up with that? You know, when does it happen that people with naturally curly or African hair get the same cultural respect. That's all. I'm sorry. I'll climb down off the soapbox. Sorry.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Galina? Galina?

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ESPINOZA: Like hair issue is big because The Donald is involved here...

MARTIN: Yeah.

ESPINOZA: ...with the Miss Universe Pageant.

MARTIN: Don't get me started.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Galina?

ESPINOZA: Yes.

MARTIN: Congratulations.

ESPINOZA: Thank you.

MARTIN: The magazine is celebrating its 15th anniversary. Now was 15 an important big part because the tradition of the quince in Latin American culture?

ESPINOZA: Oh absolutely. It's obviously, you know, the biggest birthday that you can celebrate in a Latin girl's life. So there was kind of a nice synergy there for us. But I think what's more remarkable to me about the number is thinking of what a difference, what a different place we are in today in 2011 versus 1996, which isn't really that long ago, but in terms of the Latin population here in the United States, it's light years.

MARTIN: Well, tell me why you think that?

ESPINOZA: I mean in everything from the growing numbers of the Latino population to the huge cultural shift we're seeing in terms of language. You know, 15 years ago when Latina started, every single article we did in the magazine was fully done in English and in Spanish. And over the years we've lessened the amount of Spanish that we've had in the magazine. And today we actually have no content that's produced in Spanish. It's only produced in English, and it really reflects the shift in the population, where our growth is being driven not by immigration but by births, with one out of every four Hispanics in this - one out of every four kids being born in this country being of Hispanic descent.

So there are just kind of huge demographic shifts that have happened. And then culturally, you know, the fact that we were able to put 15 huge celebrities on our cover. Fifteen years ago that could not have happened. Even five years ago when we had our 10th anniversary, we had Jennifer Lopez on the cover which, of course, makes sense. And this year we felt like the real story of where we are today is that there are Latinos in every aspect of the entertainment industry who are really having profound impacts on American culture and that's something we are really proud of.

MARTIN: Well, shoot. I would have been scared to be in those meetings where you figured out which five were going to be on the cover.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Oh, you should see...

And which five are going to be on the fold-in part. Oh my goodness. Do you have the bruises to...

ESPINOZA: Yeah. Oh, yeah. I mean you should see the feedback on our Facebook and Twitter, not just like how could you not have but so and so on the front panel versus the second or third panel, to how could you have forgotten so and so. I mean but it's great. It's great that there's debate. And what's really great is that there were even more than 15 women who we had in consideration for this cover.

MARTIN: Okay, but I'm going to be mean. How come Sonia Sotomayor is not on the cover?

ESPINOZA: Because we kept is strictly focused on celebrities. We wanted to have a strong editorial point of view.

MARTIN: I think she's famous.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: She's kind of famous.

ESPINOZA: Not in quite the same way. I mean you could have argued. We could have put Hilda Solis on there. I mean obviously there are all sorts of amazing Latina groundbreakers, but we felt that was too diffuse and we wanted to take a strong editorial point of view with these are the women who are shaping American culture - pop culture. Everyone from Selena Gomez to Selma Hayek to Shakira to Jessica Alba.

MARTIN: America Ferrera. Shakira.

ESPINOZA: You know, it was just such a great story.

MARTIN: Zoe Saldana.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BELTON: Zoe Saldana. You're listing names.

MARTIN: Okay, I'm sorry, I'm just being mean because you're in New York and I'm in Washington and you can't throw your pumps. So...

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MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our visit to the Beauty Shop with Danielle Belton, author of "The Black Snob," the blog; Mary Kate Cary, columnist and blogger for U.S. News & World Report; and Galina Espinoza, editorial director for Latina magazine.

Now turning, now again back to women in politics, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley came under fire for a comment she made about a female reporter. The reporter had written a story about taxpayer money that Haley and other government officials had spent on an overseas trip, aimed at bringing business to South Carolina. This is one of the sort of hardy perennials, should you go or should you not go, especially when your state isn't doing so well economically.

This is how Governor Haley responded to the reporter's article. She was on "The Laura Ingraham Show."

NIKKI HALEY: ..TEXT: MARTIN: So Mary Kate, of course a blistering - a columnist at the paper said you are so far out of line. Here you are, the first woman governor of your state and you are the target of some fairly scurrilous attacks which are probably because you're a woman during the campaign which you surmounted now you're going to go to little girl? What's up with that? But other people are saying well, it's kind of a Southernism.

KATE CARY: Yeah.

MARTIN: Kind of like you good 'ole boy.

KATE CARY: Right.

MARTIN: How did you read it or hear it?

KATE CARY: From my girlfriends I heard this is a Southern thing, Northerners don't call people little girls but Southerners do, and we're all a bunch of Northerners reacting to this. But my take politically was rookie mistake. If she had a problem with what was in that article she should have put out a fact sheet. She should've said five million governors go on these boondoggles all the time. Sometimes you get deals, sometimes you don't, but here's a breakdown of the cost. Because in politics an attack unanswered is an attack believed.

And when she came forward and apologized, which I thought was a good move...

MARTIN: Well, kind of.

KATE CARY: ...she added a couple digs in the apology.

MARTIN: Yeah.

KATE CARY: And she should have done that. She should've just had...

MARTIN: Everyone - let me tell you what she said.

KATE CARY: Okay.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KATE CARY: Yeah, you don't keep doing it.

MARTIN: What's up with that?

KATE CARY: She should have put out the fact sheet. She should still put out the fact sheet and she should - she should have apologized in a higher ground type of way.

MARTIN: What do you think, Danielle?

BELTON: Well, you know, I'm from St. Louis, Missouri. My parents are from the South. I still feel like the way she used little girl, I mean that's a way to put somebody in their place. It's a way to, you know, she was still being somewhat demeaning.

KATE CARY: Well, yeah.

BELTON: It wasn't like a friendly you go girl. It was that kind of girl.

KATE CARY: Yeah. No.

BELTON: It was a little girl - that little girl at the newspaper. You know, how those young kids...

KATE CARY: And the whole bless her heart kind of thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BELTON: Yeah. Exactly.

KATE CARY: Yeah.

BELTON: That's very passive aggressive and condescending.

ESPINOZA: You know, and language is very powerful. There's actually a really great cover story in New York Magazine this week on Zooey Deschanel, who is - a lot of women are conflicted about her because she's so adorable, and there's a lot of concern that she plays her cuteness up too much at the expense of her womanhood and her strength. And she had this great quote where she said, you know, we need to really examine the idea that somehow being girlie takes away your power. And I think that's because in this culture saying things like little girl or referring to someone as girlie is an insult. It is denigrating you. And whether that's right or wrong it is what the language right now and culture says, and we need to be careful in using that kind of language when talking about other women.

MARTIN: Well, thank heavens she didn't call - if that person was a man of color, she didn't call him little boy.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BELTON: Yeah.

ESPINOZA: That would have been very...

BELTON: That would have went over just - yeah.

MARTIN: Well, speaking of race and I don't know how much you care about this. There's another story around Nikki Haley too, which is that the Democrats found her voter registration records from 10 years ago where she identified her race as white and now her Democratic critics are saying she's only claiming her Indian heritage when it's convenient. And this is a tricky one.

KATE CARY: That is tricky.

MARTIN: This is a tricky one. Because the census says you can say whatever you...

BELTON: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...you are whoever you say you are. I don't know. Galina?

ESPINOZA: And identity for many people is a journey. You know, we get a lot of complaints from our audience anytime we write about Jessica Alba, who very famously years ago downplayed the fact that she is of Mexican heritage and talked about how she didn't consider herself Latina. And today she has come full circle and is like the proudest Latina out there. She was just at the ALMA Awards this weekend honoring Latino excellence in Hollywood, and yet our audience still has a hard time accepting her because they feel that she's fake.

To me it's a very natural journey that women of color in this country often go through, where because you're so afraid of being categorized as other you kind of want to downplay that side of yourself and you want to be just like everyone else. And I think it's only as you grow in confidence and maturity that you start feeling like you can own all aspects of yourself. So I think it's a lot more complicated than her just using things to her political advantage.

MARTIN: Well, interestingly, it's interesting. I feel like were going to be talking more about Nikki Haley because she's certainly a...

BELTON: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: ...just a very interesting figure, just seems to push a lot of people's buttons both positively and negatively. I feel like we're going to talk more about this. But, you know, talking about kind of owning your own power, finally, I think a lot of people - I'm very interested in how you all are reacting to this new book unveiling a series of conversations with Jacqueline Kennedy, recorded in 1964 by historian and Kennedy aide Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

There were eight hours of interviews recorded, and the first lady offers up some very candid thoughts about people that I think are very unexpected because she has this image of being very delicate and feminine, and she had some kind of cutting remarks about Martin Luther King Jr., Lyndon Johnson, Indira Gandhi. She also talked about her views on marriage and her role as the president's wife. Do we have time to play a short clip? Here it is.

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JACQUELINE KENNEDY: Someone said where do you get your opinions? And I said I get all my opinions from my husband, which is true. How could I have any political opinions? You know, his were going to be the best.

MARTIN: Danielle, you know, Caroline Kennedy I think, you know, kudos to her for releasing this because she didn't have to. And she says her own granddaughters are - I'm sorry - Jacqueline Kennedy's granddaughters, Caroline's daughters are horrified by some of the things she heard. But what do you think?

BELTON: Well, I think I feel like people have to remember the context. This is a woman who was still dealing with a great deal of pain. Her husband was assassinated, a great deal of pressure, she's a former first lady, and this is a woman who up to this point in her life had been raised and bred to basically be the wife of a man from power. So you have to consider the time period where she's coming from personally and then dealing with that stress and strain of what she had just gone through. So I feel like we can't judge Jackie Kennedy's statements from then and a now context.

MARTIN: Mary Kate?

KATE CARY: I watched it last night. There was this two-hour special. And I don't know if you could hear it in that clip, but she struck me as sounding a lot like Marilyn Monroe - her voice. I felt like if I closed my eyes it was Marilyn Monroe. But the words that I wrote down last night as just sort of big picture take away were: sad, wise, sensitive, dignified, smarter than I thought.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KATE CARY: There was a lot of the human condition to it for sort of a moment in time. You could hear the Arthur Schlesinger pouring her a Scotch. You know, you could hear him lighting the cigarette with a lighter. It was just a moment in time. It was fascinating.

MARTIN: And also, I have to say as a woman whose husband is occasionally in the news, I don't like people who criticize him either.

KATE CARY: No. You can't blame her.

MARTIN: Yeah. I mean...

KATE CARY: It's only four months after. I mean....

BELTON: Yeah. It's a - you're going to be protected.

MARTIN: Very interesting.

KATE CARY: Yeah.

MARTIN: Mary Kate Cary is a columnist for U.S. News & World Report and a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. She was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio along with Danielle Belton, author of the blog "The Back Snob." With us from New York, Galina Espinoza, editorial director of Latina magazine. She was with us from our Bureau in New York, celebrating the 15th anniversary of Latina magazine.

ESPINOZA: Woo hoo.

MARTIN: Woo hoo.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: You go girl.

ESPINOZA: Thank you

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Thank you all.

KATE CARY: Thanks.

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