I finally had the opportunity to see the documentary film America the Beautiful yesterday evening. The film describes how various industries in American culture influence people to think of beauty in a very specific way. The combination of health with rhetoric is one that I can never resist, and this documentary was incredibly insightful as to how advertising can shape our thoughts.
Around 36 minutes into the film, a man on the street talks about how he really wants a six-pack even though his stomach is completely flat. Filmmaker Darryl Roberts asks, “What’s the importance of a six-pack?” After a very long pause, the young man says, “Ummm… I don’t know.”
It’s so true. What is the importance of a six-pack? Yes, muscle is very important in order to be strong and healthy, but to have an actual six-pack is simply not necessary in this day and age. This is the problem. Determining the line between that which is necessary and that which is, well, a little excessive, is really difficult. At some point, we really don’t need to build tons more muscle. At some point, we really don’t need to lose tons more fat. On the other hand, America as a whole has less muscle mass and more fat, and this is where I am torn: having an appropriate understanding of the difference between embracing who we are and loving our bodies, and being healthy.
The documentary follows a 13-year-0ld model who walks with a sexy attitude and who has a body that women in our society would kill for. She’s a child! It is such a strange concept that the “ideal” tends to be that of underage women across all kinds of societies. Another girl in the film – this time a 15-year-old – commented that she wanted liposuction to get rid of love handles and pooch around the stomach. That’s terrifying.
Granted, I’ve had my share of averting my eyes after looking in the mirror. But I don’t recall thinking that way as a child. No one should have to be down about how they look, but children especially should not have to deal with that. Why – why do do we feel as though we need to go through with cosmetic surgery in the name of beauty? In America, people apparently spend more money on cosmetic products than a country in the developing world spends on the total cost of health care. Wow.
I had never seen a cosmetic surgery procedure before this film. I knew that a face lift was pretty much what it sounds like, but… eep. “Knowing” is much different than seeing it. And it is frightening. Ladies and gentlemen, there is absolutely no need to go through the act of getting your face sliced open to get a “desired” look. Sliced open! With a blade! As though the face is a mask! I was squirming in my seat during the 30 second shot of the procedure, and I am not a squeamish person. The documentary even followed cosmetic surgery for animals. That’s right: face lifts and even testicle implants for dogs. Because apparently it’s not enough that we cut tails and crop ears off our pets.
One man in the film made the following statement: “Do I see women as objects? Yes I do.” After a pause, he added, “Well I mean, do women see men as objects? I don’t see anything wrong with that.” Aside from how wrong that statement was and his distastefully off-hand comments throughout the documentary, I think that there are a couple of points that can be taken into consideration:
1) It’s not just women who are victimized by the fashion industry, the media, and eating disorders. Men suffer too.
2) Our society has become one of objectification. I cannot count the number of times that I have seen girls dressed provocatively who then get angry when they are treated as objects. It is rather a conundrum: is the provocative clothing a way to liberate oneself, to feel good about oneself, and simply a preference? Or is it that people feel that they “ought” to dress that way, but then feel negatively about it when they realize they are continuing the cycle of objectification? Do we occasionally enjoy being objectified? Is objectification always negative? Questions to ponder.
The mother of the main model in the film is in her 40’s, and she says that she wants to have a flat stomach at her age and at the age of 90. She says she loves her body, and then followed up with an exasperated, “but it’s just this stomach.” At this point she squeezed a tiny bit of tummy flab (which, I can assure you, is hard enough to get rid of at the age of 20 let alone the age of 40 after giving birth to children). How many of us have said (or thought) the same thing? There’s so much focus on one body part even though in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter.
But that’s the problem: it does matter, to everyone who moans over their body. It matters because we have such a fixed idea of what we “should” look like that many people do not feel good about themselves when they don’t look like their ideal image. And that spawns insecurities and poor body image. And that causes major issues.
The model, when she is rejected by the industry, says that she will essentially “get pretty” by doing three things: straightening her hair, going on a diet, and getting breast implants. Then she mused that she’d also become a socialite. Those would be the qualifications for “beauty”, I suppose? The documentary follows up on her afterward and she doesn’t appear to have gone on to do those kinds of things, but instead goes back to high school and gets away from the twisted industry.
What I love about this film is that the filmmaker ends it by noting that we are doing no good by saying “oh, the average woman is the ideal of beauty”. This will only serve to continue to perpetuate exclusion. The ideal situation would be to acknowledge that there is no one ideal of beauty. Everything is beautiful in its own way; everyone is beautiful in their own way. It pains me when I hear people dismissing a thin woman as being “too skinny”. That’s equally as unfair as dismissing a woman (or man) of being too overweight, too short, too tall, too freckly, or as having too big of ears. We shouldn’t dismiss anyone because we think that they’re too much of one extreme or another. Why can’t we accept people for who they are?
Taking that notion a step further, I think it’s important to also bring the message home when we deal with ourselves changing. Having the same body at 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years old and onwards just isn’t realistic. Age aside, the experiences that we go through are also going to prevent us from having a body we once did. We might find it harder or easier to lose or gain weight depending on how stressed we are and what our relationships with others are like.
As you can see, I found America the Beautiful to be very thought-provoking. I would love to hear anything you have to say about any and all of the above concerns that I have mentioned. What are your thoughts on the beauty industry? The effect it has on us? The notion of beauty itself? This documentary? Share in the comments section below!