Media Representation of Young Women in the Dominican Republic: An Ethnographic Study of Dominican Women's Perceptions of Beauty and Blackness

Open Access
Brown, India Latina
Graduate Program:
Media Studies
Master of Arts
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
March 25, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Anthony Olorunnisola, Thesis Advisor
  • women
  • dominican republic
  • beauty
  • enthnography
  • blackness
  • media representation
In many cultures and nations throughout the world, such as the Dominican Republic, color serves as a root of disruption and stratification within a culture and/or ethnic group. The Dominican population is a mix of Spanish, African, and Indigenous cultures; however, the African heritage is often overlooked. This thesis combines historical aspects of Dominican culture and identity with Dominican media analysis to investigate the notion of the rejection of African heritage within the culture. A significant premise in this body of research incorporates the theories of colorism, postcolonial theory, contingent self-esteem theory, and African self-consciousness. Prior research has explored Dominican identity, but few studies have explored the influence of advertisements on their identity. Additionally, few studies have explored media influences on Dominicans’ association with their African heritage. This study evaluates the influences of model images in print ads on Dominican women and their identity. The study combines the theories to test and examine the correlation between print ads and Dominicans’ level of African self-consciousness. The study was administered in the Dominican Republic as opposed to the United States because the social contexts of the two are very different. The United States has different racial tensions from the Dominican Republic. Twenty-eight female, Dominican university students participated in focus groups during which they completed questionnaires, viewed and discussed beauty advertisements of a Dominican magazine, Pandora. Four main themes emerged from the discussions: real versus commercial beauty, authenticity, self-critique and unattainable beauty, ‘mestizaje,’and Haitian relations. The participants acknowledged they are a mix of European (Spanish), African, and Indian but seem to prefer to associate primarily with their Indian roots. Most of the beauty advertisements were of very fair models and did not reflect the discussants. The images in the magazines, which are supposed to represent beauty, are disconnected from the real images of a Dominican woman, which can impress not only identity conflicts but also impose esteem issues. It is hoped that results from this study will not only offer further insight into issues pertinent to the Dominican identity, but also be applied to advertising practices, especially those that are ethnic-specific. Advertisers have responsibility to properly represent the cultures to which they promote products.