May 5, 2010

A letter to Hollywood and its beauty myth

Written by Dororthy Snarker. Originally posted at Cross-posted with permission.

Dear Hollywood Dream Factory,

For decades you have been the Pygmalion to our humble lumps of clay. You have molded us, cajoled us, berated us and pretty much forcibly formed us into whatever shape you wanted. You have made us feel bad about our bodies, made us nip and tuck and enhance and suck ourselves to meet your standards. We’ve plumped and sculpted and even paralyzed vast swaths of ourselves to win your approval. Quite frankly, all this trying to look like Barbie is exhausting.

Now that some of us have reached the zenith of Plasticine perfection, are so taut and shiny that we stretch the bounds of reality, you decide you want something else. Plastic is out, according to a new article in The New York Times, and natural is in.

And so, for the first and possibly last time in my life, I feel bad for the Heidi Montag’s of the world.

Now, of course, I applaud any championing of normal and natural beauty standards. Women come in so many different and beautiful sizes and shapes that to expect us to conform to one singularly strict standard is not only absurd but unconscionable. Perfection is boring; flaws make us special.

Still this recent about-face from you, Hollywood, smacks not of an earnest belief in the underlying value of everyone’s true self, but a trend as fickle as flapper dresses and fake tans. While the Times article touts the “small but significant” wave of filmmakers and casting executives who are “beginning to re-examine Hollywood’s attitude toward breast implants, Botox, collagen-injected lips and all manner of plastic surgery,” if you read a little deeper you realize why.

It’s not that they suddenly grew a conscience. It’s that “the spread of high-definition television — as well as a curious public’s trained eye — has made it easier to spot a celebrity’s badly stitched hairline or botched eyelid lift.” Basically, the seams are showing.

So now instead of favoring the cookie-cutter American beauties you have so long demanded, studios has started casting overseas actresses – where there is less of a penchant to go under the scalpel – to pretend to be all-American girls. Over the last few years the influx of imported talent has been obvious including Anna Torv (Australia), Lena Headey (England), Rose Byrne (Australia), Yvonne Strahovski (Australia), Anna Friel (England – and as long as I’m ranting, I miss Pushing Daisies, dammit!).

And again, this is all fine and good. I’ve often praised our overseas counterparts for their fastidious refusal to futz with their faces. If you need to see what aging gracefully (and sexily) looks like, look no further than Helen Mirren. Wrinkles are hot, pass it on.

But instead of telling overly enhanced actresses the reason they’re being passed over for parts (and therefore stopping the cycle of unending alterations in its tracks), executives seem to be snickering behind these poor women’s backs. They are purposely not telling women with too much plastic surgery that that is the reason they aren’t being cast. Yet still they have no problem telling a newspaper that they think that “everyone either looks like a drag queen or a stripper.” This is an instance when being kind to someone’s face is really the cruelest thing you can do.

Look, Hollywood, you created this monster. This is your doing. You can’t just stuff it back into a box so simply. And you can’t pass value judgments on these women who were only doing what they thought you wanted in the first place without some serious soul searching. What is beautiful shouldn’t be based on the latest trend or the emergence of high-definition TV or anything but actual beauty. Is it good that you’re finally tired of the silicon and stretched faces? Yes. Is it your fault they exist in the first place? Big fat yes.

Gabourey Sidibe – beautiful. Meryl Streep – beautiful. America Ferrera – beautiful. Amanda Seyfried – beautiful. All different, all beautiful. Beauty isn’t a trend, it just is. Get it together, Hollywood.

Ms. Snarker