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.
Guest post by Rachel O (yeah, she’ll be a regular contributor very, very soon):
Despite the fact that’s she been acting since the age of 10, Ellen Page’s career didn’t take off until 2007, when she starred in Juno. Juno was an indie film that got huge, and Ellen Page became a well-known name. Her roles both pre- and post- Juno, have proven good women’s roles aren’t just as “hookers, victims, and doormats” as Shirley McClaine once said. She’s played everything from a young girl who turns the tables on an online perv in Hard Candy, to a kick-ass high school roller derby girl in Whip It.
While Juno raised some questions about its message, and inspired a lot of pro-choice/pro-life debates, I found the film undeniably Pro-Choice. It showed pro-choice isn’t just about having abortions – it’s about having options – whether it’s to have a baby, give it up for adoption, or get an abortion. When asked about the two opposing interpretations of the film, Ellen said in an interview just a week ago,
“I am a feminist and I am totally pro-choice, but what’s funny is when you say that people assume that you are pro-abortion. I don’t love abortion but I want women to be able to choose and I don’t want white dudes in an office being able to make laws on things like this. I mean what are we going to do – go back to clothes hangers?”
Page doesn’t just speak about women’s issues in terms of politics, she addresses the way women are handled in her business – Hollywood. It made headlines last year when the head of Warner Bros. announced they would no longer allow women to be the lead of their films, because women couldn’t bring in box office bucks. Whenever a woman-dominated cast does less-than-stellar at the box office, it is usually dissected. What happened? What went wrong? What does this mean for women in Hollywood and the roles actresses will get? Page has experienced this first hand. Whip It was a huge hit with critics, but only managed to bring in $4 million opening weekend. As if the above quote isn’t enough to make you love her instantly, when asked about what Hollywood is like for women,
“I think it’s a total drag. I’ve been lucky to get interesting parts but there are still not that many out there for women. And everybody is so critical of women. If there’s a movie starring a man that tanks, then I don’t see an article about the fact that the movie starred a man and that must be why it bombed. Then a film comes out where a woman is in the lead, or a movie comes out where a bunch of girls are roller derbying, and it doesn’t make much money and you see articles about how women can’t carry a film.”
As if that’s not bad enough, women in the media business are expected to look a certain way, and shamed, ridiculed, denigrated when they don’t. Even women who promise to be beyond the pressure give in and sell out. Personally, I think Page is gorgeous, but tabloids and gossip blogs aren’t about embracing beauty and making women feel good about themselves. Page admits she’s not beyond this pressure herself.
“I hate to admit it but, yeah. I definitely feel more of a sense of personal insecurity. I really try and smarten up when I feel that way but sometimes it does get to me. The fact is, young girls are bombarded by advertisements and magazines full of delusional expectations that encourage people to like themselves less and then they want to buy more things. It is really sad and it encourages the consumerist cycle. Boys used to have it slightly easier but I think they are now getting more of the same kind of pressure. Look at all the guys in junior high who think they should have a six-pack.”
It’s a little sad that reading an interview like this is such a big deal, because so few people in Hollywood are willing to express themselves in this way, and say these things in a public forum. Having just recently become media literate myself, it’s awesome to hear an actress I admire speak about such widespread but underreported issues. This summer, Ellen will be starring in Christopher Nolan’s new film, Inception. I feel confident the film, and her role in it, will be nothing short of amazing.
Check out Jezebel and Claire Mysko’s pieces on the hypocrisy of women’s health/fitness magazines and the problem with body image role models of celebrity status. Mysko states:
Whenever an actress or pop star comes forward to talk about her struggle with an eating disorder or poor body image, I say a little prayer that she will find true health. I also hope that she’ll speak responsibly about recovery and self-acceptance. Unfortunately, I’m usually disappointed.
The fact is that getting over an eating disorder (or the murkier but more common problem of disordered eating) involves getting away from an obsession with weight, and that’s darn near impossible to do if you happen to be a celebrity–a job that requires you to go on the record about your exercise and diet “secrets” if you want to stay on the publicity train.
As the Jezebel piece notes:
The hypocrisy of women’s “health” magazines becomes fairly obvious just by looking at their covers. For example, this month’s Self magazine features one cover line, “Be Happy And Healthy At Any Size” tucked below a much larger cover line:
“3 Easy Ways To Lose Weight.”
What seems common knowledge to the cultural critic, the sociologist and the person recovering from disordered eating or an eating disorder is often less obvious to most. And one of those things is that magazines hailed as health magazines or gyms euphemistically called “fitness” or “health” (yeah, right) clubs are more about aesthetics and profit. I mentioned this in my December 2008 post:
I’ve known for years that gyms are not health clubs. As Lester Burnham declares in American Beauty, he works out “to look good naked.”
Equinox Fitness is quite candid about it’s true aim with it’s tag line “It’s not fitness. It’s life.”
Our culture increasingly sends contradictory and mixed messages. An ad for ice-cream you can indulge in on one page and an ad for diet pills on the next. While many celebrities are applauded for speaking frankly and candidly about their fight against a distorted body image and unrealistic expectations in the industry, their venue (magazines, television) overshadows their message with a plethora of insecurity boosting themes. Their voice is lost in the cacophony of voices whispering “you’re too fat” or “too flabby” while whispering “eat,” “indulge” (Haagen Dazs tagline “the longer lasting pleasure”) and “enjoy” in the other.