Thinky Post: The Pretty White Woman Success Story and How to Deal With Her

This post is inspired by reality TV! Specifically Ananya Panday and Paris Hilton in context of their (successful powerful) families, and their social status as very attractive young famous women. But does that mean they accomplished nothing? Or we should treat them like they accomplished nothing? How do we make fair judgements?

Years ago I read an online comment about Gwyneth Paltrow, “born on 3rd and thinks she scored a home run” which I think is PERFECT. If you don’t know American baseball, a home run is when you hit a ball so well that you round all the bases in one go, first then second then third and finally home. But if you are Gwyneth Paltrow, you stroll from 3rd to home and think you did the same as the once in a million skill and talent effort of the person who hit the ball and ran all the bases. There’s probably a similar metaphor for other sports, I just don’t know it.

Anyway, the point is she wasn’t “born” on home. She had to do that last leg of the journey to success on her own. But she thinks that is all there is, she thinks because she did that last little bit she should be treated the same as folks who started with nothing and nowhere and made it all the way.

Gwyneth Paltrow I feel like I know how to handle. She is talented, yes. She has achieved success on her own merit, yes. But ultimately there is this sort of gloss of unawareness and floating above the commonfolk-ness that makes me think she truly does not understand how easy her life has been and how little of it she has earned for herself.

But let’s look at Alia Bhatt. She had a leg up in her chosen career, for sure. But I think she has worked and worked and worked and earned her own place. To go back to baseball, I would say she was born on 3rd but then after reaching home hit her own home run and rounded the bases again purely on her own merit. Like, she used her advantage as a jumping off point and then just kept flying higher and higher.

Both of these are examples of nepotism, but that is not the only privilege they had going into their career. Both women are white (Alia is “white” for India), both of them are naturally beautiful, both of them started their careers extremely young. The privileged beautiful young white woman. Second only to the White Man in being handed things they do not deserve.

And this brings me to Paris Hilton. And also Britney Spears, and Ananya Panday in India. Oh, and Taylor Swift! And Janhvi Kapoor! If you are a beautiful young white woman, it is very easy for you to be dehumanized. To become a punchline that everyone can stomp on because you are so enviable, because you have everything, because you never worked for it.

And now I am watching a recent Paris Hilton reality TV show, and following along the Britney Spears story, and seeing Ananya and her family in Bollywood Wives, and it’s making me go “hey! These are PEOPLE!” That’s disturbing. That I had forgotten they were people until it was forced in front of my face.

Paris Hilton is the one I am now fascinated with. First, in the past couple of years she has gone public with her advocacy against the “Troubled Teen” industry. And revealed that she spent 18 months at a school in Provo Utah that has multiple documented stories of horrific abuse, while she was a teenager, right before she became famous. If you are American and were around in the 90s, I assume you know about this? There was at least one kid from my church who was sent off to these camps, I was just reminded of it when he died recently at age 35. Parents were encouraged to send their children off to be “fixed” for such ills as smoking marijuana, using bad language, dying their hair black, or in the case of Paris Hilton, sneaking out at night. And these places were truly the worst of the worst. Emotional, physical, and sexual abuse was accepted, hundreds of kids died from things like dehydration or starvation, none of the teachers were trained, just a nightmare. And of course the kids were told their parents approved all this, and the parents were told to trust the system and not listen to their kids. Maybe there were some schools that were good and some teachers that were good, but if your basic business plan is “give me your child so I can scare them straight and you don’t have to deal with them”, abuse is kind of baked in.

So we look at Paris Hilton in the early 2000s, this thin blonde rich teenage girl who can’t say anything without using a baby voice and is constantly making faces for the camera and holding her toy dog and think “what a total caricature of a person”. And now I am looking back and thinking “she was 19! Why did no one wonder what was going on with her? Why was no one trying to help her?” And she herself is now explaining that she was terrified of ever saying or doing the wrong thing or revealing her true self, while at the same time desperate to gain independence so she didn’t have to rely on her parents. And, she didn’t say this but now I am thinking it, maybe that little toy dog we all laughed at was an emotional support animal?

And I’m looking at Paris Hilton now who is a freakin’ GENIUS. She’s quietly become a major business mogul, is fully independent of her family and everyone else, and essentially pulled an Alia Bhatt and ran round the bases again all on her own. Maybe the Hilton name got her noticed to begin with, but what she built it into is all her.

This is, in American culture, the ultimate in famous-for-being-famous, universal punching bag, no one cares kind of person. And now I am forced to acknowledge that she is way more than just famous-for-being-famous, and that she went through some real legitimate trauma, way worse than all those people who are making fun of her for being out of touch ever experienced.

Now let’s look at Jhanvi Kapoor. I find the goldfish like memory of the public so frustrating with her. When Sridevi died, everyone acknowledged that Jhanvi was completely traumatized, was in a horrible position, and rightfully deserved pity (yes, even though she was rich and young and beautiful). And then SO QUICKLY it turned back into being allowed to make her a punching bag.

There’s something about beautiful young “white” woman, there’s just an odd “fair game, not real people” vibe about them. I should say there is a similar vibe about lots of other groups as well, but specifically this group also has very specific vibe. If you can present yourself as “serious not pretty” you can get away with stuff. Or, “older than her years, really more of a mature adult”. Or, “off beat and artistic”. But just being someone who presents as “I am young, I am pretty, I like clothes, I like fun, and I am happy to make all these things part of my celebrity” leads to a very specific kind of backlash.

For myself, I am just going to try to be more aware of my attitudes in future, because I shouldn’t be dehumanizing anyone no matter their privilege. Britney Spears should have been released from the control of her father years ago. Paris Hilton should not have felt she had to wait to age 40 to start talking publicly about her trauma. The reason nothing happened was because they were getting a clear message from the world “we do not care about your pain, you are not real to us”.

19 thoughts on “Thinky Post: The Pretty White Woman Success Story and How to Deal With Her

  1. Does Britney Spears fall into the same category as these other ladies? She came from a poor Louisiana family with absolutely no connections. So both her careers – child mouseketeer and young adult pop star – were legitimate home runs.
    In fact I wonder if her humble background added to the public’s vitriolic shaming & mockery of her nervous breakdown? A schadenfreude of sorts – “if britney can make it, then why haven’t you achieved your potential” turns into your justification for not reaching for the stars & living a safe life when she has a nervous breakdown.

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    • Thank you! There’s yet another blindspot in my prejudices. I look at Britney and see the early success and whiteness and prettyness and fill in privilege, but it isn’t there. So that’s even worse than the other examples, she is being punished for something she never had, just is perceived to have had.

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  2. I don’t know, I have mixed feelings about these people. On the one hand, it is true that society dehumanises the pretty privileged women and believes any struggle she has is invalid. However, with cases like Ananya and Janhvi, the frustration comes from them getting opportunities others are not getting yet consistently not proving to be up to work.

    It’s also true that society loves the story of the pretty privileged woman struggling and kind of invalid other women’s struggle unless compared with the pretty women. What about the outsiders who deserve to get a home run but just have deadly snakes that are not letting them move to first. Also, I wouldn’t agree that all these no products have been born in 3rd and then continued to run to hit more home runs. Most of them get to first base and are applauded for having the tenacity to run when the outsider ran the whole way with no shortcuts and more hurdles.

    I am saying this because I am a privileged woman who is decent looking. I know that my life has been far easier than it ought to have been. This is why I try not to look at these stories as inspiring and just look at them as people.

    For example, Janhvi is a person I like, she seems nice and sweet. However Janhvi as an actress, I don’t like. She is always Janhvi and can’t put her emotions on screen. It’s the same with Alia. While I feel she’s a great actress, she has also grown tremendously fast because she has been offered amazing opportunities and was born with enough money to take risks and have few consequences. All these little things make a great difference. The truth is money will always make a difference in someone’s life.

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    • Same here. It was especially frustrating seeing Shanaya and Ananya in Bollywood wives. I was hoping for them to display another side to them, but they both came off so vapid.

      I was cringe-watching that episode when Arjun Kapoor booked the cinema hall to see her trailer/ad? It was a nice thought, but completely tone-deaf in how it would come across to the public.

      Also, these two girls just look so, so young. They have been groomed since a young age, had plastic surgery (at least Shanaya has had some very visible work done), gone to the best schools, and got the best of everything to “launch” them. And in spite of all this, they seem barely tolerable. Not because they are rich, but they just seem so clueless and unaware of the world around them. How do they act if they don’t have any life experience at all and live in this bubble? Bollywood has almost become like a debutante’s ball that rich people would have during the olden days.

      Now, we are supposedly living in a more egalitarian world, so it’s still frustrating to see such rampant nepotism in the industry.

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      • Just out of gossipy curiousity what plastic surgery has Shanaya had done? I really like Anaya Panday as an actress, she is a presence on the screen and while I haven’t seen much from her, what I have seen was very good. I’m thankful for her leg up because it has given me a chance to see a good actress.

        My father was a professor of city planning. My sister is a partner in a large planning firm. His background definitely influenced her career, I kinda think that is normal. In my small town locals or people with family connections to the area are more likely to be hired than people applying for the jobs who don’t have a connection to the area. When I moved here I resented it as part of the “Good Old Boys” club, but now realize the logic. Most people who move here without connections leave after one or two years. So if you’re looking for someone to stay in a position for a while, you try to hire someone with a connection to the area.

        Basically I’m saying I’m cool with nepotism. It is everywhere. Sometimes it is a pain (OMG the idiot Vice Principal we used to have), but often it just works. And if Shanaya sucks, she won’t go that far.

        Except Arjun Kappor breaks my theory. I just don’t like him as an actor, I think he sucks, and yet he STILL gets roles. hmmm.

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        • I have to say, I feel like you about nepotism. My current job I got through an open ad on pure merit (beyond the general “knowing how to present myself” privileges). And then every hire since me has been a word of mouth recommendation, we haven’t had a single public job posting. It’s worked for us, maybe there’s someone AMAZING out there who we will never know about, but on the other hand it’s a small office and an intimate co-working situation so we work better if we all know and like each other already. From what little I know of film/acting/artistic kind of things, it’s similar. You are working together very intensely, having a pre-existing connection leads to a better product. And it’s all nepotism on some level, the “open casting call big break” is pretty impossible. If you worked with someone in the college drama department who is working with someone who is working with someone, you’ll get a chance.

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        • She’s definitely had a lip job done, some major corrective action on her teeth. Jahnavi’s is even more obvious – a nose job, a boob job, maybe more. Her earlier pictures, she is unrecognizable.

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    • I guess with Ananya and Janhvi what I am trying to do for myself is keep an open mind. Just because they got a leg up at the start, doesn’t mean that they won’t go on to surprise me in future. I shouldn’t blind myself to accomplishments just because of privilage, in the same way I shouldn’t blind myself to real traumas and tragedies just because someone is richer than me.

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  3. The way you juxtapose these women with more mature or artsier types makes me think that part of the problem is that we resent society for still trying to sell us on the ideal of young, pretty and into shoes. I mean, that’s kind of what I think of when the term “trophy wife” comes up. And in that case, too, it doesn’t feel like they’re a trophy for anything they themselves have done.

    So if I feel like someone is only famous because they are young and pretty, I might lash out because how is it my fault that I’m not as pretty and I don’t even want to be pretty and shallow like that, but if I were I’d set a much better example for young girls to strive for. (Maybe even with a secret side of why do they get to be shallow just because they’re pretty.)

    And I’d forget that I don’t even really want to be famous like that. Because actually, that’s the real work. And all of these women seem to be doing pretty decently at that, because they’re still around.

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    • Yes! And then you think about it, and just as these women might be pretending to be silly and like shoes and so on in order to be successful, so might other women be pretending to be “artistic” and intelligent and whatever in order to achieve a different kind of success. All celebrity public personas are created in the end, no one is “real”. On the other hand, they are also all “real” in that you can’t keep up a persona forever unless there is truth at the core of it.

      So I am trying to give the young-white-pretty persona people a pass, because we don’t really know if they are faking, or playing into social constructs, or whatever. Give it a few dozen years and see what happens to them. Or, try to find something a little deeper about them and then judge them.

      There’s also the “white women attacking white women” issue. People are more likely to notice and resent the success of folks who are similar to them than others. And assume it is unearned too. Or maybe there is also a bit of an “I expect better of you/worse of others” element as well? With the Real Housewives genre in America, the most successful widely watched popular of all the shows has a mostly Black cast. But it is the shows with white casts that get the complaints about trash and shallowness and bad behavior and etc. Does that make sense?

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      • Oh, they don’t even have to be faking it. It wouldn’t be equal rights if we didn’t grant everyone the right to just like being pretty. That’s no crime, it’s as legitimate an interest as liking Indian films. It just seems to be over-emphasized in the media. And maybe that type fits best with the old idea that men do and women are, something that irks every woman who wants to do something herself.

        And in terms of being able to live with the fame: Maybe nepotism kids are actually better suited for that, too. They would have already practiced that part of the job to some degree.

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  4. ” I shouldn’t be dehumanizing anyone no matter their privilege.”

    Couldn’t agree more with this statement, but that might be the only statement that I do agree with.:-) Just as Alia, Jhanvi, Ananya, etc. shouldn’t be vilified for their youth, beauty and privilege they should also not be feted for any of those things! Youth and beauty (especially beauty based upon poisonous notions of skin color) aren’t accomplishments, yet the world, including these young women themselves, treats them as tremendous achievements. Indeed, colorism’s pernicious hold on the Indian psyche is the reason that despite how nice and hardworking she may be as a person, I can’t cheer for Katrina Kaif professionally. Her singular “talent” is her white skin.

    I also don’t agree that Alia made the walk from 3rd base to home base and has hit home runs on her own thereafter. I think she was carried from 3rd to Home by Karan Johar and continued to be carried by him till fairly recently. It’s true that women, especially young women, aren’t given credit for successfully managing their careers, but I think in Alia’s (and Jhanvi & Ananya’s) case the charge has merit.

    IMO, most of the vitriol that is directed Karan Johar’s way is baseless and unwarranted, but after watching him rebuke Siddhant Chatruvedi on a recent KWK episode for “upsetting” Ananya by a comment Siddhant had made last year on her “struggle” I think he (and Bollywood in general) deserves some of the criticism he’s getting on the nepotism issue.

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    • Thank you for bringing up colorism! That is one of the hidden elements of nepotism that I think isn’t called out enough. First, if you are from the Kapoor family for instance, you are genetically more likely to have pale skin. Even in an open casting call with no last name used, that still gives you an unfair advantage because of who your parents are. Second, the skin tone is something that can be seen from a very young age. Alia got the acting offers and was primed from babyhood almost to be a star. Her big sister did not, because she didn’t have the right skin.

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    • Karan also makes a conscious effort in all his KWK episodes to emphasize Alia’s success and, in the process,low key put down the guest actresses.
      In KWK, he kept asking kriti if she feels bad that she isn’t as successful as Alia or something to that effect. Kirti was of course smart enough to answer that she wished she had the opportunities alia had.
      He also asked Samantha what does she feel about “beating Alia” and being the number one actress in the country (according to the polls) .
      All his episodes has some mentioning of Alia and her success. It is very annoying. I think a lot of the bad rap these actresses gets is because of their association with Karan.

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  5. I largely agree with Shalini above, especially the last bit about Karan Johar. It’s those subtle ways in which he treats outsiders differently like he did Siddhant that has really been bothering me recently. Not to mention his embarrassing mid-life crisis in general…as much as I enjoy KWK and Karan Johar as a director and most of the time as a personality, his snarkiness lately has taken on a much meaner edge. Well, I understand that the trolls have been pretty relentless, there is something to be said for perspective and grace under fire. That’s what so many of these people lack. I’d like to think that those in power in the Hindi industry do see a period of major transition coming and it’s totally freaking them out, from lower box office, to competition from the South, the pan-Indian film movement, and pushback on the nepotism. I do think there’s a much larger right-wing political context for a lot of this as well, an anti-elitism that is inherent in the populist movements that have been happening in the US, India, and around the world.

    As for the larger question of nepotism, I do think it’s everywhere in every industry. Star kids have never truly bothered me. I feel the same way about Tiger Shroff that someone above feels about Arjun Kapoor, but I do see why they both still get opportunities. I do believe that eventually merit usually kicks in, but that they obviously get many more opportunities. For every Alia, Ranbir, or Ananya, there is an Anushka, Deepika, or Sidharth. It balances out eventually. And for everyone of them there are also the nepo kids that flame out quickly, have C-list careers, or are DOA (Fardeen Khan, Jacky Bhagnani, and Armaan Jain). The three most recognizable and bankable stars were all outsiders when they began (Amitabh, SRK, and Akshay). And for every nepo kid of the new crop, there is also Kriti Sanon, Rajkumar Rao, Ayushmann Khurrana, and I could name many more doing great work that are not star kids (though many have privilege in other ways because of class and education.

    I do have an aversion to Ananya and Shanaya (already) because of their vapidness on full display in Bollywood Wives and I don’t get any of the praise Ananya has received for her work. I thought she was really out of her depths in Gehraiyaan.

    And clearly in the case of the Hindi film industry, colorism is everywhere as well which adds a whole other layer. I think that bothers me way more than the nepotism. The fact that talented actresses like Radhika Apte are always going to have a different kind of career than most actresses (whether or not it’s her choice). Or that Konkona Sen Sharma (a nepo kid!) was always going to find it more difficult to be accepted in mainstream films because of colorism. She’s one of my favorite Indian actresses and she’s managed to do a little bit of everything (and probably was better suited for indie cinema because of her mom’s influence anyway) and I love that about her, but she’s a case where colorism in many ways cancelled out nepotism. I always try to be optimistic that things will change and casting like Prajakta Koli in Jugjugg Jeeyo will start to shake things up in mainstream cinema. And I think the Hindi industry isn’t unaware of the global success of actresses like Simone Ashley and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan and must realize it’s time to change things in that area.

    This is probably a jumble of conflicting opinions, but I do know that I’m always happy to hear when someone like Paris Hilton ages well and doesn’t end tragically like Anna Nicole Smith. I always thought in Paris’s case she was in on the joke.

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    • “For every Alia, Ranbir, or Ananya, there is an Anushka, Deepika, or Sidharth”–
      Anushka and Deepika had to start their production companies to keep working in Bollywood. Sushanth was asking people in insta to watch his films bcoz he has no one to back him up if he flops at the b.o. Karthik Aryan is doing the same. Asking people to support him on insta. Despite giving the biggest blockbuster of the year, he is still insecure and unsure of his future.
      Alia, Ranbir and Ananya will keep getting opportunities bcoz of their godfathers. I don’t know when is the last time Ranbir gave a hit before brahmastra. But he will never have to worry about getting a producer for his movies. Same with Arjun Kapoor.

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    • Agree about KJo. I’ve always enjoyed his personality but nowadays the meanness keeps surprising me! Maybe it was always there and I was too young to notice (I’ve literally grown up watching KwK). I keep thinking it’s his way of lashing out after two years of vicious attacks. It’s not even about how he is to outsiders vs insiders, it’s about who has more cachet with respect to him. If Suhana ever appears on the show, I can bet she is going to be treated a lot differently than Ananya or Sara or even Janhvi. Ishaan made a sly reference to Siddhant maybe dating Navya (Amitabh’s grandkid) and Karan brushed right past it without taking the bait. Basically he won’t touch SRK and AB, but everyone else is fair game!

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  6. I don’t think the DCIB folks are the type to dehumanize anyone, least of all you Margaret! I have no opinion on the Western women you mentioned, but I have no issues with the Indian ones. Only thing that matters to me is whether I like them in their movies or not. I might get annoyed or laugh at their personalities in interviews or reality shows, but that’s not a deciding factor when it comes to their acting. Based on the only movie I’ve seen and liked Ananya in, I look forward to more of her. I haven’t seen Jahnvi or Shanaya acting, so no opinions yet. I roll my eyes at all the hatred and backlash against these people, because nowadays it’s all a part of a larger agenda, I can’t take them seriously. If someone has a genuine reason for disliking them, just stop watching their content, that’s what I do. If producers are spending their money to make something, they have the right to cast anybody in the world, that’s my feeling on nepotism. The audience has the power to vote with their money, they should use that wisely, I don’t see the need for toxicity.   

    Interestingly, Siddhant said something very similar to what you’ve written about the privilege of nepotism. Paraphrasing – ‘their struggles start where our dreams come true’. It stuck with me because it was so precise. Of course people started using it to bash insiders and specifically Ananya, who was in that interview with him. I didn’t see it as him being mean, just an acknowledgement of the truth. It was brought up again in his KwK episode (which you should watch, it’s Katrina with Siddhant and Ishaan, it was a riot!).

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