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Nikki S. Lee is a young Hispanic lady who can be distinguished easily by her blend of clothes, makeups, hair extensions, tanning salons, smallness of the mouth, nose, eyes as well as her skin color, as can be depicted in the photo. In this photo she has perfectly immersed herself and assumed a Hispanic identity and lifestyle. In this particular project, it becomes too obvious to associate her to a Hispanic young girl.
In the site Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Hispanic project has addressed the issues of both social and cultural identity. Just as Lee once commented “…essentially life itself is a performance. When we change our clothes to alter our appearance, the real act is the transformation of our way of expression- the outward expression of our psyche…” (Albright-Knox Art Gallery).
John H. Lee., in Nikki S. Lee: Becoming Someone Else., comments about the photo and says that “…Nikki is dressed as any young Hispanic girl on the LES, with big gold hoop earrings, and a boob tube top, a hairstyle left over from the ‘80s, and some desperately in situ makeup. She looks to be very comfortable in the environment…” (John).
Her choice of skin color also adds to her identity very much that it makes one find it difficult when isolating her from other regular Hispanic ladies. Just from the face down to the arms, she has managed to bring out a uniform tannish skin color.
Perhaps, the skin color cannot independently stand out alone to give out the impression of a typical Hispanic lady. In addition, perhaps Nikki is aware of this. She, therefore, manages to camouflage herself into a Hispanic identityby changing her outward look and blending herself with her surroundings. Although she has managed to do this for each group over a period, her way of adapting to these particular mannerisms and gestures ultimately documents her new look with a snapshot camera.
Her eyes and eyebrows have depicted a typical Hispanic origin. They have immersed her into a Hispanic culture and have made the transformation of her physical body have an appearance that is socially acceptable within the Hispanic environment. This kind of metamorphosis is portrayed through snapshots. She has shaved off their eyebrows and has drawn new ones using what I can describe as a black sharp marker. In order to confirm her chameleon nature correctly, she has also given a focused look using her triangular eyes, something that is usual to most Hispanic ladies. One simple fact lies in the bottom line that Hispanic is not a race so you cannot really have “Hispanic features in its entirety” and it depends on the racial group that is dominant in a given bloodline, be it European, African, or Native American. Mostly Hispanics are known to have very full round faces. Others are indistinguishable from other Caucasians, including having light skin, hair and eyes.
According to David Smith’s What are Hispanic facial features? “…Majority of Hispanics have warm colored skin, deep rich brown to black hair and rich brown eyes…” (David). Their eyes are observed to be large in general, and almond-shaped with thick, dark lashes. Arched eyebrows frame them. At the same time, mouths are generally big or pinched but wider with lips. The face shapes range from round and full-cheeked to thin and aristocratic. The same holds for the noses, though the author has rarely seen the “…’ski-lift’ shape nose on any Hispanic woman...” (David).
There is also another salient feature in Nikki’s image that reminds the viewer something new. Although, the fashion can give different hairstyles, there are some common facts about Hispanic hairs. One such a thing is that Hispanic women have curly or you can call it wavy hair. The hair color ranges from brown for copper to black. It is also known to be long and in most cases, it goes beyond the neck.
The hair and skin characteristics of Latinos as they are sometimes called are generally excellent for hair restoration. Thick, dark, wavy hair provides them with excellent coverage and their darker skin enhances visual effect. The average number of hairs/cm2 appears to be slightly higher in Caucasians compared to Latinos, although the greater hair shaft diameter compensates, enabling the hair transplant surgeon to produce great results. (New Hair Institute).
New Hair Institute, a medical group of physicians specializing in hair loss treatment, and surgical hair restoration, gives this description.
Mary Romero, in her book “Challenging front eras: structuring Latina and Latino lives in the U.S.”, insists that:
Hispanics are physically, as well as culturally, heterogeneous group. Five hundred years of conquest, immigration, and intermarriage have brought together peoples from Europe, the Americans, Africa, and Asia. They cannot be classified into any one racial category. Within them one finds the entire human range of physical characteristics: tall and short, fair, brown and black eyes. Even within families, skin colors often range from dark to light. Latinos challenge the social construction of both ‘whiteness’ and ‘non-whiteness’. Research on the social construction of racial identity among Latinos suggests that Latinos do not construct racial identity simply on genetic and physical characteristics but include social class, language, phenotypic variation within families and neighborhood socialization. It is not that uncommon to find Latinos who claim a dual or tri-racial heritage, a combination of African, European, and indigenous ancestors.”
Therefore, one cannot fully find a common feature to Hispanics. Despite this, Nikki has perfectly given concentration to those features that are generally peculiar for Hispanics. It is also good to mention something small about the Nikki’s mouth. The black-red combination of the lipstick has helped Lee to fit to this culture as well. It has given the best look in her undertone skin color. The mouth is slightly open, and one can easily see the white teeth that are appearing underneath. This has perfectly fitted the background as well as the facial expression that Lee has given in this particular image. Nevertheless, it has brought kind of a person who could be sited at some place just to enjoy the scenery surrounding her.
At the extreme end is Nikki’s dress and earrings. Ranging from their color to their makeup, the impression of a Hispanic woman cannot be easily lost. She has correctly made use of dress and personal appearance to differentiate and identify her with the Hispanic background. This is a powerful tool that helps the viewer to study values, attitudes and beliefs that are related to Hispanic clothing, a powerful instrument for studying human behavior. Nikki seems to know that fashion and clothing are manifestations of individual, cultural and social processes. In addition, that clothing portrays the meaning of these processes in a symbolic way. As much as the language of clothing varies according to the different cultural and social norms that exist in our society, these norms and values are built, learnt and communicated through social interaction. In regard to this particular group, clothing and appearance may have different connotations especially for women. This is largely due to the fact that the history, geography and cultural factors are salient. Other differences arise due to the difference in the level of acculturation. The underlying assumption is that Hispanic women have associated themselves too much to the American culture, which means that the function and symbolic meaning that clothing has for them are bound to change. All these factors taken into account still make the fitness of Lee to this particular group even much deeper and clearer.
For an individual analyzing this image cannot afford to forget the contribution that the cameraman has given this discussion. This image stands out well simply because of the atmosphere and its mood. There are two things that create this mood. They are the expression on Nikki’s face and the lighting that was used. The technical quality and its composition have greatly supported the complete impression and intention of the image. The cameraman has positioned Nikki right at the center while allowing some background images to also appear. The cameraman has deliberately held the camera in a vertical format. The extra space caused by holding the camera horizontally has helped to improve the atmosphere of the image. It has utilized the empty space by giving the image a focused relation mood and an active appearance.
To conclude, one can say that Nikki S. Lee is a perfect chameleon. She has made it possible to take on the pattern of her surroundings, and fully inhabits them. For this particular case, she has managed to mimic a Hispanic young lady. Through her pictures one can easily suggest that there is no individual who belongs to a certain ethnicity, otherwise this issue affects people in a natural way such that we are subjected to adapt to any social categories given all the underlying factors pertaining to that category. In any case, the Bible traces the origin of men and women to the original couple (the family of Adam and Eve).