Friday, April 07, 2006

Beautiful Girls

The wonderful and insightful Izzy recently wrote a couple of posts on a topic very near (but not dear) to my heart on how society puts pressure on people - not just women - to look a certain way. When I think of this subject I can't help but remember Rosie O'Donnell as Gina in the movie "Beautiful Girls" and her diatribe against society's idea of what is "beautiful"...

"Implants, collagen, plastics, capped teeth, the fat sucked out, the hair extended, the nose fixed, the bush shaved -these are not real women, alright? They're beauty freaks. And they make all us normal women with our wrinkles, our puckered boobs, our cellulite, seem somewhat inadequate."

[If you haven't already seen the movie - and I recommend that you do - you can read the rest of her tirade here.]

How many times have I felt that way when I pick up a magazine to peruse while waiting for my turn in the supermarket check-out line, or when I flip the television to Entertainment Tonight? In the movie, Gina is looking at a "Gentlemen's Magazine", but it may as well have been any rag you can easily get at the bookstore. The faces and bodies of the women (girls, actually) that Hollywood fawns over stare out at you seemingly chanting "aren't we pretty? Bring us home". Who are these women and where the hell do they come from? The answer to that, of course, is Brazil. But beyond that, what kind of message is the media sending, not only to adult women and teenagers, but to young, impressionable girls by bombarding us with soft core T & A and calling it "fashion". Before I was a mother, the latent mommy instinct would come out when I watched young girls in the food court of my local mall - I wanted to take my coat and cover them up and wet my napkin in a glass of water and wash off some of their makeup. Stop trying to make yourself into something you're not, I'd think to myself. You're beautiful without the WonderBra and the hair extensions! When I became pregnant and, subsequently, found out that I was having a daughter I vowed to keep her locked away from all that nonsense until she was old enough to see through the fluff. I'm thinking that by the time she turns 45 she'll be ready to leave the confines of her windowless room.

I'm not a prude, I was one of those girls once. The one who snuck out of her house with her "cool" (read: trampy) clothes in her backpack, ready to change at a friend's house before going out. I was one of those girls who was influenced by television, magazines, movies and small minded people. I did not fit the beauty "standard" so I tried everything I could to mold myself into it. And I suffered because of it. I'm not quite ready to talk about my own body issues (perhaps after a trip to the therapist and a couple glasses of Pinot?), I will instead refer you back to "Beautiful Girls" and its female characters (because you don't want to get me started on the guys in that flick)...

Who is the one woman who seems the most well-adjusted person in that movie? Is it the lovely Darian (Lauren Holly) with her beautiful home, handsome husband, and cute-beyond-words daughter? Don't think so, she spends her time chasing after an old love until he rebukes her for the tragic Sharon culminating in the embarrassing high school reunion scene where her true "ugliness" comes out. And what about the pretty but tragic Sharon (Mira Sorvino)? She spends her time throwing up her lunch because she doesn't feel thin enough to hold on to her man. Gina seems very confident, but I've always thought she was hiding something behind all that bravado. Jan (Martha Plimpton) is a vegetarian dating a much older, divorced Butcher, so that relationship has the stench of "rebound" all over it. And I'm not even bringing up Uma Thurman's character "An-deee-ra". She's too perfect. She doesn't exist. End of story. It really should be Natalie Portman's character, Marty, but she's only 12 or 13 in this movie so she doesn't count.

{Quick side note: I have yet to meet a man who saw that movie when it came out in theaters who did not immediately become hot for Natalie Portman's character. I'm just saying..}

No my friends, the most together, dare I say happy, woman was the mousey Sarah (Anne Bobby), doing her best Shirley Feeney impression. She had a husband who loved her, two children they adored, a home, a job (I'm assuming she worked in the beauty salon, but she may have been a SAHM) and to my recollection never lamented about her looks or love life. If you blink, you'll miss most of her scenes because happy mother's with middle-of-the-road looks don't sell movies. Or magazines or even CD's. We take them for granted. Society ignores those woman as constant, but transparent. Always there but often overlooked.

I'm raising a daughter in a beauty-obsessed culture and I'm scared sh*tless. I feel ill-equipped to help her through the landmines of Victoria's Secret, Cosmo and Lindsay Lohan, or whoever else it will be when Chicky Baby enters her teen years, because I often fail prey to their tantalizing goodies. Since I have no idea where this train of thought is going, I will open it up to you, Dear Reader. How do you deal with societal pressures on how we should look?


Heather Bea said...

I loved this movie, I was just listening to the soundtrack on my MP3 player (no Ipod for me). I worry about this as well having two girls. I feel like there are more societal pressures now for girls than before. Just check out some of the department store departments for girls. Once they get out of the baby sizes they turn into hoochie mamas. I will go check out Izzy's posts as well. It makes me want to go rent the movie now.

MrsFortune said...

Umm ... ignore them and hope they'll go away, while at the same time wishing I could have those hip bones that stood out like that? I'm serious, I'm not above it, but most of the time I'm at least able to look down on it for what it is.

IzzyMom said...

First of all, thanks for the shout out. But even more, thank you for telling me about the movie and for that quote. It sums up everything I've been trying to say. And your own take on all of this is beautifully articulate and compelling. As the mother of a daughter, I'm afraid. very afraid...

ms blue said...

If we can reflect a love for ourselves, flaws and all, our daughters will take note.

I loved your Brazil reference and the mall girls.

SUEB0B said...

You're asking ME? At 44 years old, I walked into a bathroom tonight and looked at myself and thought "Girl, you gotta get your shit together." For about 30 plus years I have been thinking that one day I will get it together. Hasn't happened.

My parents didn't mention looks. Mom was not a fashion plate. It wasn't til later on in life that I realized that other moms gave fashion advice, shopped with their girls, even swapped cute accessories. I guess I missed out on that, but I also missed out on any pressure to look a certain way.

I have always expected people to love me for me, not for my looks. Then I encountered Mr Stapler, who basically told me we would not have a sex life unless I changed my looks. End of sex life. Why would I not change my looks (lose weight?)? Because I figured (correctly I think) that if it wasn't that, it would be something else - that it was all about control and not about looks.

I guess my advice would be "Do whatever YOU feel like. The people who are going to love you are going to love you. Good people can overlook physical deficits but not character deficits." But on the other hand, if you are young and lovely, work it to your best advantage. Because there is a power in feminine beauty that is unstoppable in the world of men.

Mom101 said...

YES about the Nathalie Portman thing. 15. Oh my God.

And yes, about raising a daughter in the world the way it is. So scary. But I think the best we can do is make sure they have self-esteem, and know that their value goes beyond what men think of them. I think the girls who have something else going in their lives --field hockey, soccer, dance, photography, theater, macaroni necklace making, whater--don't succumb quite so much to the "I am my Prada bag" mentality.

Anonymous said...

Check out this link:

It illustrates why even models don't look like the "people" in the magazines. Photoshop lies, and the results can be freaky at times, but most people pay to see impossible beauty. You can see average faces for free.

Having worked in the evil beauty industry I have a different perspective on this (I actually like most of the images, but I see them as illustrations not reflections of reality). I won't bore you with my thoughts on this (but here's the link in case you want to be bored!

Love this topic.

Sandra said...

I am going out to rent this movie tonight after reading your post.

What young women and girls have to wade through these days is even worse then when we were kids and teens and I know that I was messed up from the negative images we saw. It is terrifying.

As an adult it is even easy to get sucked in and play mind games with yourself feeling inadequate compared to the idea beauty. But I am with Something Blue, reflecting a love for ourselves will be the biggest influence on our daughters.

Her Bad Mother said...

Another movie that addresses this beautifully - with special attention to how it can trickle down from mothers to daughters - is 'Lovely & Amazing.'

Great post. Something I worry about already. Something I haven't figured out.