Rewind 10 years. That's when singer Christina Aguilera dropped her album Stripped that made headlines for provocative tracks such as "Dirrty." But racy song lyrics weren't the only source of controversy for Aguilera in 2002. As she promotes her new album, Lotus, Aguilera says that record label executives also took issue with her appearance.
"During the promotion of my album Stripped, I got tired of being a skinny, white girl," Aguilera recalled during an interview for the Sept. 29 issue of Billboard magazine. "I am Ecuadorian but people felt so safe passing me off as a skinny, blue-eyed white girl. The next time my label saw me, I was heavier, darker and full of piercings! Let me tell you, that wasn't an easy pill for them to swallow."
Aguilera, whose father is Ecuadorian and mother is Anglo, is revisiting this time to describe why she's now telling her record label that she's in charge of her appearance. "You are working with a fat girl. Know it now and get over it," Aguilera says she told them. "They need a reminder sometimes that I don't belong to them."
While coverage of Aguilera's remarks will most likely focus on the weight angle of the story, I find it interesting that Aguilera says that not only was her size an issue but also her decision to turn up with darker hair and skin. When Aguilera rose to fame with her hit single "Genie in a Bottle" in 1999, it seemed as if her label was promoting her as a squeaky clean, blond girl next door. I can still remember a Mexican-American friend of mine grumbling at the time, "She don't look like no Aguilera to me."
Of course my friend realized that Latinos come in all hair colors and skin tones, but his point was that Aguilera was being hyped as a sort of race-less Disney kid, and her "ethnic surname" didn't fit that image. More than a decade later, it's interesting to hear that record label executives wanted Aguilera to downplay her Latino roots--at least in appearance. Aguilera, after all, has recorded Spanish-language albums, but the cynic in me says that her record label probably urged her to make that move because it was a moneymaking opportunity. She could maintain as WASP look while capitalizing on the Spanish-language market.
Historically in Hollywood, a number of entertainers--from the biracial Indian Merle Oberon to the part-black Carol Channing to the half-Bolivian Raquel Welch--felt pressured to pass for white. It's absurd that in the 21st century, celebrities are still being told to look as white as possible. It's not exactly a surprise, though. Many celebrities, including Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez, have all been accused of looking less like people of color and more like Europeans as they have grown more famous.
Update: A rep for Christina Aguilera denies that the pop star made the above comments to Billboard magazine.