Archive for Hollywood

Oscar wrap-up, part two: Why we need to talk about Kim Novak

The Oscars were just over a week ago, but I’m still talking about them because I haven’t gotten around to talking about the appearance of Kim Novak, and I feel I must.

If you don’t know, Kim Novak was one of the most sought-after starlets of the ’50s and ’60s, starring in dozens of films, most memorably as the object of Jimmy Stewart’s obsession in Hitchcok’s Vertigo.


And if you weren’t watching the Oscars a week ago, you may not know that Novak, now 81 years old, appeared there as a presenter, but was almost unrecognizable because of the amount of work she’s had done on her face in order to appear much younger than she is.


When Novak walked on the strage, gripping the arm of her co-presenter, Matthew McConaughey, like she might either fall over or fall apart without him, a hush fell over the Dolby Theatre as everyone in the audience—and all of us watching at home—realized that Novak had decided she would rather her skin appear smooth and artificial than wrinkled and old.

It was honestly the saddest moment of the whole night.

And, in that moment, it hit me that this is what we do to women in this country—we teach them that their value is derived solely from their physical appearance, we teach them that it’s better to look unreal than to look elderly, that it’s better to look plastic than wrinkled, that it’s better to hide who they are than to be themselves.

As Oscar Host Ellen Degeneres jokingly said, “I’m not saying movies are the most important thing in the world. I’m not saying that—because the most important thing in the world is youth.”

In that way, Kim Novak’s appearance at the Oscars last Sunday sums up everything that’s wrong with our expectations for American women, who are taught over and over again that looking young and pretty is a goal worth achieving at any cost.

A cost Novak seems more than willing to pay.

And I’m terrified that I’ll see her choices repeated over and over and over again on the faces of the women around me as time and science march on.

I was lucky enough to be at the beach yesterday, and the middle-aged mother sitting next to me was literally wearing a string bikini.

A leopard-print spring bikini.

I was pretty sure she was around my age, and sure enough, later in the day, I heard her say that she “wasn’t forty YET.” (I’m 43.)

Despite the fact that we are virtually the same age, this woman had the body of a twenty-year-old. Her upper body was flawless—with sculpted abs, a flat stomach, and toned arms—and her legs had only enough cellulite for someone who was really looking to notice.

Still, though a part of me admired her discipline—you don’t keep a body like that into your 40s without a hell of a lot of trips to the gym—I didn’t envy her. Because all I could think was that her charade would soon be coming to an end, and when it did, she’d have to face the fact that she wouldn’t be young forever.

I worry, too, that such a realization will send beautiful women like her straight to the plastic surgeon where they can be nipped and injected and tucked until no sign of their aging appears. But no sign of their former selves either.

Despite this, I can’t help but note that Novak—and other women in Hollywood like her, who have chosen the plastic surgery route over the age naturally route—are the ones who aren’t really working as actors anymore.


Though you wouldn’t know if from the pictures above, at 82, Maggie Smith is only one year older than Novak, and despite the fact that she has chosen not to hide her age, she continues to work with much success.

Judi Dench, 79, too has embraced her age, and her career is thriving…

Judi Dench

Though younger than Novak, Smith, and Dench, Susan Sarandon, 67…


and Diane Keaton, 68, have done the same…


So if the women who are getting work in Hollywood are the ones who are not afraid to age naturally, I can’t help but wonder why Novak—and others like her—are so afraid to do so that they engage in such risky behavior.

Perhaps looking into Novak’s past will give us the answer.

When Novak was twenty, the modeling agency where she worked described her this way: “Hands, marginal; legs, hefty; neck and face, flawless.” Pretty soon “studio executives made her cap her teeth, bleach her hair, shrink her body with a strict diet and exercise regime, and perpetually paint her face with the help of a personal makeup artist.” And Novak’s agent used to “read her every bad review she got. And she got plenty; Novak was never a darling of the press. If she tried something dramatic, she was wooden. If she did a sexy role, she was too heavy, too dumb. When she went to the Oscars one year and posed on the red carpet, one columnist sniped that Novak was ‘aping Marilyn’s every move.’”

It’s not hard to understand why someone whose been put through that kind of scrutiny would be afraid to be herself. My God, it seems that Hollywood probably destroyed not only Novak’s self-esteem but her looks as well. Perhaps the reason that actresses like Dench and Smith were never obsessed with staying young is because their faces were not as famous as Novak’s in their youth.

And maybe what we can learn from Novak is that, unless we stop worshipping at the alter of youth and physical perfection, then we all run the risk of some day, like Novak, falling victim to the belief that there is only one kind of beauty.

It’s sad to admit, but it seems that Novak has suffered such a fate.


The best moments at this year’s Golden Globes
… a.k.a. Take that, mani-cam!


The Golden Globes were last Sunday night, and though there were a few disappointments, it was mostly a great night for women (a fact one NY Post reporter actually had the hutzpah to complain about).




On the red carpet, one of the stars of Mad Men summed up how we all feel about the head-to-toe scrutiny of women when Elisabeth Moss flipped off their ridiculous E! mani-cam. Thank you, Elizabeth, for doing what we all want to do on the red carpet. Lord knows how many times I’ve flipped off the mani-cam and the glam-o-strator and the 360 degree room and whatever other bullshit they come up with to reduce women to their looks. And, wow, was it fun to see Giuliana Rancic freak out like that.



During the ceremony, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler KILLED it with an outrageously funny opening “monologue” and other hilarious bits throughout the evening including a great rejoinder to the inherent sexism of “Miss Golden Globe” by pretending Fey had an illegitmate son who was the night’s “Mr. Golden Globe.”

They didn’t shy away from women’s body issues either, explaining that “For The Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey lost forty pounds. Or what actresses call being in a movie” and encouraging the men to “kick off your shoes, try on the ladies’, and see how awful they are.”



Men who date younger women got BURNED when Tina and Amy introduce Gravity as “the story of how George Clooney would rather float away and die than spend one more minute with a woman his age.”



Philomena Lee stood up for solidarity among women, saying that the movie based on her life is “not just about me; it is about all the women who have still not gotten justice.”



Emma Thompson showed us what it means to be a strong woman in Hollywood when she came out to present an award carrying her high heels in one hand and a martini in another. “That red you see is my blood,” Thompson said as she held up her shoes, eventually chucking them behind her.



Several winners called attention to how much their mothers helped them, including Amy Adams and Matthew McConaughey.



Amy Poehler won best actress in a television comedy for playing feminist Leslie Knope on Parks & Rec! As one of my friends said, I don’t know who to love more—Amy Poehler or Leslie Knope—because both are such wonderful role models for women.



Amy Poehler made out with Bono after her name was called, finally getting revenge for what Adrian Brody did to Halle Berry at the 2002 Oscars.



Diane Keaton continued to challenge gender roles 37 years after she first did it in Annie Hall by wearing a men’s suit to accept the honorary Globe for Woody Allen.




Melissa McCarthy presented an award, and no one made any jokes about her body. It’s the small things, isn’t it?



Jimmy Fallon and Melissa McCarthy had phenomenal chemistry, making me believe they could star in a rom com together about a skinny dude and a bigger woman. Come on, Hollywood, make it happen!



Robin Wright ran to the stage in her giant heels, proving that women can do anything, and despite what Meryl Streep’s character said in August: Osage County, Wright canoodled with fiance Ben Foster, showing that women really DO get better with age.



Okay, I admit this one isn’t related to gender or body issues, but I also loved it when, in a moment of rare Hollywood camraderie, the cast/crew of 12 Years a Slave helped director Steve McQueen remember who to thank when he won Best Dramatic Motion Picture.





In addition to all the normal annoyance on the Red Carpet (including the aforementioned mani-cam, glam-o-strator, and 360-degree camera), a new tradition was introduced in which entertainment reporters repeatedly asked celebrities how much their jewels were worth, highlighting how out of touch Americans are with the state of the world.

Parks & Rec, one of the smartest television shows about a strong woman EVER, lost the Golden Globe for Best Television Comedy to Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Really, Hollywood Foreign Press? Really????!!!!!!

Diane Keaton made us cringe by reducing the female actresses in Woody Allen’s film to “Woody’s Women” and then desecrating A GIRL SCOUTS’ SONG ABOUT FEMALE FRIENDSHIP by singing it in tribute to Allen.

And possibly most important of all, the Hollywood Foreign Press ignored all of the amazing movies made by women this year. In fact, not one woman was nominated for Best Director or Best Screenplay even though 2013 brought us excellent films written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, Lake Bell, Greta Gerwig, Sarah Polley, Sofia Coppola, Julie Delpy, and many more.

What are we teaching our students? Or why I almost never feel like Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society

Last week I watched clips from Dangerous Liaisons and Cruel Intentions with the students in my Creative Retellings class during one of the student’s presentations. (If you don’t know, Cruel Intentions is a contemporary retelling of Dangerous Liaisons.) The discussion of the two films was excellent except for one notable part…

My students didn’t understand why the two men in Dangerous Liaisons—played by John Malkovich and Keanu Reeves—would be more attracted to the character played by Glenn Close than they were to the character played by Michelle Pfeiffer.

That part of our class discussion went something like this:

“But Pfeiffer is smoking hot,” one of the students explained. “Why would anyone pick Glenn Close over her?”

“Maybe they were drawn to things besides her looks,” I offered. “Like her confidence and power or her intelligence and wit.”

“I don’t know,” one student said, and the others agreed, nodding and twisting their faces in a way told me they were not convinced by my argument

“And it’s not like Glen Close is a monster or something,” I countered. “She’s attractive too.”

Again my comment was met with disapproving, confused looks.

I was horrified that my students, for some reason, had gotten the idea that women have to be hot to be attractive to men.

So I explained that back in my day—yes, I really said that—women in Hollywood were not all “smoking hot” and that they didn’t all look exactly the same either. Award-winning actresses like Glenn Close, Margot Kidder, Debra Winger, Shirley MacLaine, Karen Allen, Whoopi Goldberg, Angelica Huston, Geena Davis, Jodi Foster, Susan Sarandon, Alfre Woodard, Christine Lahti, Sigourney Weaver, and Meryl Streep played the romantic lead in Hollywood movies while actually looking like regular people. Sure, none of them were homely, but they also didn’t look like they belonged in an episode of Gossip Girl either.

That seemed to satisfy my students. Their twisted faces were gone, replaced by  bright eyes and nodding heads. They seemed to get it. I was finally getting through to them.

So imagine my surprise when Dangerous Liaisons came up in class again this week, and one of them said, “I still can’t believe that John Malkovich and Keanu Reeves would go after someone who looks like Glenn Close.”

Sometimes I feel like I can’t win.

Dear Jonah Hill, I have a request: Just say no to diets

On Tuesday, I mentioned that there were two things I noticed about the Golden Globes last Sunday night. The first one was that it was a big night for real-looking women like Lena Dunham, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Jodie Foster.

And the second is this: Diets aren’t just bad for us regular people. They’re bad for celebrities too.

I thought about this because of Jonah Hill.

I like Jonah Hill. I really do. My respect for him started with Superbad and peaked after I saw his subtle yet empathetic performance opposite Brad Pitt in Moneyball last year.

But not long after Hill shared the screen with America’s Golden Boy, he did something unwise: he went on a diet.

Admittedly, after the diet was over, Hill looked like this:

Of course, this whipped the media into one of their diet frenzies. Everyone on the planet—from the Daily Mail to Shape to Ellen—was talking about Jonah Hill’s diet and how great it was.


Because on Sunday night—about a year later—Jonah Hill was at the Golden Globes, looking like he’d gained back much of the weight he lost:

Listen, I’m not trying to be a hypocrite or a jerk. I like Jonah Hill and think he’s a talented actor. And I feel for him. I know what it’s like to gain weight back after losing it, and I don’t wish that on anyone.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to use his weight gain to point out that diets don’t work. They don’t work for Jonah Hill, they don’t work for Seth Rogen, they don’t work for Carnie Wilson, they don’t work for Kirstie Alley, they don’t work for Oprah Winfrey, and they don’t work for us regular folks either.

I mean, think about it—if wealthy celebrities who can afford personal trainers and nutritionists and private chefs can’t keep the weight off, why do the rest of us think we can do it?

We think we can do it because the media keeps telling us we can, but they’re wrong—diets don’t work.

What does work is being dedicated to healthy living… every day for the rest of your life. Not for six weeks or six months or even a year. But every single day. And a big part of being healthy is accepting yourself the way you are.

I only hope Jonah Hill realizes that before he goes on another ridiculous diet.

The Golden Globes embrace Lena Dunham and simultaneously change our notion of what it means to be a Hollywood actress

If you live in a cave (or avoid Twitter, Facebook, and the internet in general), you might not know that the Golden Globes were this past Sunday night. During the show, I noticed two really important things—one of which I want to talk about tonight.

The most important thing I noticed during the Golden Globes is that it was a huge night for women, especially regular women who refuse to pretend to be something they’re not.

1) Tina Fey and Amy Poehler KILLED as the co-hosts of the ceremony, doing a better job than Ricky Gervais, Jon Stewart, or David Letterman combined and proving that women really are funny despite what sexists like Christopher Hitchens and Adam Carolla have wrongly claimed in the past (or what Jay Leno implied Sunday with his backhanded compliments on the red carpet). If you didn’t see their opening monologue, you really owe it to yourself to do so.

2) Jodie Foster came out of the closet—again (was no one listening the first time?)—and said she refuses to put her life on display reality-show style, insisting that privacy and happiness are just as important as being a movie star.

3) But the most groundbreaking moment of the night was when Lena Dunham of HBO’s Girls won the Golden Globe for best performance by an actress in a comedy or musical television series. Her win was especially significant to me—and to I Will Not Diet—because it signals a clear shift in our expectations for women in Hollywood.

This is because Dunham does not look like a leading actress—she’s short and average looking and has bad posture. She has a nose that’s bigger than the noses of most women in Hollywood, and she has medium brown, wavy hair. In other words, she’s the kind of woman you see everywhere—in every office, in every classroom, in many homes.

But even more important than Dunham’s looks is her body. Because Lena Dunham has a very real body.

No, she’s not fat (even though Howard Stern, desperate to hold onto his biggest-woman-hater-alive title, called her a “little fat chick”), but she’s not Hollywood skinny either. In fact, the most notable thing about her body is how incredibly average it is. She has slightly meaty thighs, arms with a bit of flesh on them, and a belly with just a little bit of fat.

In other words, she’s perfectly normal.

So when the Hollywood Foreign Press gave Dunham that round gold statue, they also sent a very important message to the rest of the women in the world—It’s okay to look normal, they said. Your work is more important than how you look. Give us your best work, and we will love you.

And that, my friends, is a huge change in the world of Hollywood. HUGE.

And I am incredibly happy it finally happened.

During her acceptance speech, Dunham said, “This award is for every woman who ever felt like there wasn’t a space for her,” and she couldn’t be more right about that.

Extreme Weight Loss for Roles is not “Required” and not Praiseworthy

This cross-post was originally written by Robin Hitchcock for Bitch Flicks.


Kale and dust. Hummus and radishes. Two squares of dried oatmeal paste a day.

If you recognize any of these phrases, then you’ve probably been hit by the Anne Hathaway starvation-diet-for-her-craft marketing blitz.

In the unlikely event that you haven’t heard about this already, I’ll catch you up: Anne Hathaway, slim to begin with and already leaned down to catsuit size for The Dark Knight Rises, lost 25 pounds to more realistically inhabit the role of starving-and-dying-of-tuberculosis Fantine in the upcoming movie musical Les Misérables. Actors forcing dramatic body weight changes for roles is nothing new and nothing unique (see the similar-yet-tellingly-different coverage of Matthew McConaughey’s weight loss to play an AIDS sufferer in The Dallas Buyers Club), but Hathaway’s weight loss has become The Story of the production of Les Mis: a subject of endless discussion on celebrity gossip sites, the talk show circuit, and the cover story in the December issue of Vogue magazine.

Why is a skinny person getting skinnier garnering so much media fascination? Are hummus and radishes so much more fascinating than Les Mis director Tom Hooper’s decision to have the actors sing live for the cameras? And even if we insist on reducing an actress to her physical appearance, couldn’t we just talk some more about Anne Hathaway chopping off all her hair?

When discussing her weight loss with Entertainment Tonight‘s Mark Steins, Hathaway says, “It’s what is required. It doesn’t matter if it’s hard.”

“Required”? Really?

This makes two gigantic assumptions: 1) That physical frailty is necessary to properly play the character Fantine.

Patti LuPone as Fantine, 1985 London production


Sierra Boggess as Fantine, current West End production


Randy Graff as Fantine, 1987 Broadway production


An assumption I think it is fair to reject: these women are slender, but not emaciated, and they are able to play the character convincingly.

But let’s give Hathaway the benefit of the doubt and say the intimacy of a filmed adaptation requires more stringent realism when it comes to Fantine’s body size. This still assumes that the actor actually losing weight is the only way to portray her extreme physical condition.

Skinny Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger


Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


Yeah, nope.

So let’s be clear: Anne Hathaway’s extreme weight loss for Les Mis was in no way required.  But while it is artistically a wash; as a career choice, it was clearly a good move.  The film benefits from all this attention, and Hathaway enjoys the “she so devoted to her craft” kudos that often translate into statuettes.

But it is bad for women, and bad for our culture. More diet talk, more body talk, perpetuation of the myth that weight loss is a noble pursuit and merely a matter of dedication.  Voluntary adoption of disordered eating is not praiseworthy. These types of body transformations are not artistically necessary, and certainly not “required.” So let’s hope actors stop endangering their health for roles. We can suspend our disbelief over a few dozen pounds.

Robin Hitchcock (no relation to the Master of Suspense) is a Bitch Flicks weekly contributor. In May 2012, she reluctantly left her home of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to move to Cape Town, South Africa with her husband. Robin is a Contributing Editor, a weekly guide of things to do in Cape Town. You can also find her writing at the mostly-dormant feminist pop-culture blog The Double R Diner and her personal blog

Appreciation sandwich for Mindy Kaling

Can I just say how much I love Mindy Kaling?

Girfriend is the whole package—real body, fabulous sense of humor, and obvious brains. She also has the ability to laugh at herself and not take herself too seriously, which I appreciate more than I can say.

I’m also glad that Kaling—like Baby in Dirty Dancing—refuses to be put in the corner. In the whitewashed world that is American television, Kaling isn’t afraid to say, “I belong here. I’m just as funny and interesting and talented as you are. Put me on center stage.”

I love that too.

If we all took a page from Kaling’s playbook—and didn’t let other people tell us that we’re too curvy or too real or too different—we’d all be much happier.

The good news is I’m not the only one who values Kaling, so she’ll be getting her own show on Fox next fall.

If you’re looking for some fun and insightful commentary from the kind of woman we need more of in Hollywood, be sure to follow Kaling on Twitter, watch her show in the fall, and read her book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

This is important because if we want to see more real women like Kaling on our screens, we need to keep supporting women like her.

Travel post #5: Flaws make the woman

This is the fifth in my series of short travel posts from the road as my husband and I drive from one side of the country to the other. See highlights from our trip here: Across the Great Divide.


After spending three days in Los Angeles, I am more opposed to the idea of plastic surgery than ever.

Don’t get me wrong—I have never been in favor of plastic surgery. But after seeing so many artificial-looking women walking the streets of Hollywood, I have an even stronger sense that natural is better.

In Hollywood, I saw women who looked more like cartoons than real people.

I saw women whose mouths had so much collagen injected into them that their lips jutted away from their faces like appendages.

I saw women with skin so tight it looked like a CGI special effect.

I saw middle-aged women wearing skirts that barely grazed their buttcheeks, tops that plunged to their navels, and five-inch heels that would have been beter used as weapons than footware.

Listen, I love Lady Gaga as much as the next person, but dressing like Jessica Rabbit is meant for the stage, not Rite Aid, which is where I saw some of these women.

And I love to dress up as much as the next girl—but five-inch heels and crotch-grazing miniskirts are the stuff of fantasies.

I have many, many, many middle-aged friends who look beautiful because they look real—they have crow’s feet from squinting into the sun when they go to the beach, lined foreheads from nights they spent reading and thinking about the meaning of life, and a few pounds of fat around their middle from the children they brought into this world.

And they all look gorgeous.

Right now I’m driving back across the country, and, as a result, I’m in awe of the beauty of the natural world around me, reminding me yet again how important it is to leave things of beauty—be they the human form or a mountain pass—pristine and untouched.

The shoe on the other foot: Jason Segel gets put on a diet to appear opposite Emily Blunt in The Five-Year Engagement

This weekend Dave and I went to see The Five-Year Engagement starring Emily Blunt and Jason Segel. It’s not the best movie I’ve ever seen, but it had its moments. And I was pretty entertained by the jabs the writers took at higher education. Suffice it to say the movie accurately captured what it’s like to work in academia, especially when you’re married to someone who needs a job too.

But academia is not what I want to talk about tonight. (Lord knows I’ve been thinking about it all day, which is enough.) What I want to talk about is Jason Segel, the film’s male lead.

Segel is probably best known for his role on the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, but he’s also a regular fixture in Judd Apatow-produced projects such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Knocked Up, and Freaks and Geeks (one of the best TV shows nobody watched).

Since he’s starred in other Apatow films, I was shocked to find out that Segal was put on a strict diet by studio execs when he began making The Five-Year Engagement. According to Segal, “I was told that it had to be conceivable that Emily Blunt would ever choose me to be her husband.”

And that’s why they put him on a diet.

Segal goes on to say: “I didn’t enjoy it, but they sent a trainer to set and I had to work out twice a day, and then he would watch me all day and monitor my eating.”

It sounds just awful—can you imagine having someone watch you eat all day?

But Segel claims he still got his fill because he played a chef in the film and would eat on set: “I paid my costars a nominal amount of money to forget their lines,” Segel explains, presumably so they would have to do multiple takes of scenes in which eating was required.

I’m not thrilled that Segel was put on a diet for the film—as so many actresses have been forced to do before—but I am happy that, for the first time I know of, studio execs are thinking about the fact that audiences might not always buy some of the movies in which they pair gorgeous actresses with schlubby actors, a problem I’ve been complaining about for years.

(See my “Thank god somebody finally said it” and “Holy hypocrisy” posts for more on that issue, and see “Is she really with him” for a photo collection of these mismatched couples.)

Could this be a sign that Hollywood is finally getting the message that we don’t believe it when people like Emma Stone end up with people like Jonah Hill (as she did in Superbad)? And that it’s unfair and unhealthy to expect women to look perfect on film while letting their co-starring men appear more like real people?

I really hope so, but I also know that change in Hollywood happens about as fast as change happens in Washington. In other words, it doesn’t happen.

Keep your fingers crossed that I’m wrong about this.

For probably the first time ever, I posted early. . .

If you’re here for Tuesday’s post, please see my review of The Hunger Games below. I got excited and couldn’t wait until today to post it, so it went up Saturday afternoon.

Also, if you’re going to be in Bowling Green, Kentucky, this Thursday, you are invited to come hear me give a talk about the blog at WKU. The talk is called “When Hairy Met Sally: Why the Schlub Is as Good as It Gets for Some Hollywood Beauties” (see the hilarious poster above) and will begin at 4 p.m. in McCormack Hall as part of the WTF Potter College series. You can also RSVP on Facebook

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