Tag Archive for beauty

Tackling the Teen Movie:
How the messages in Mean Girls go beyond “On Wednesdays, we wear pink!”

Usually when I start a new show or look for a new movie, I try to gauge whether or not it’s going to frustrate me too much.

There are some movie tropes that I absolutely adore despite how problematic they might be—for instance, the makeover montage, the mean girl’s comeuppance, the pining best friend, and the musical number (thanks Ferris Bueller and Easy A!).

But there are a few things that end up being deal breakers for me.

If there’s a diverse cast, queer characters, or even just a cast that’s made up mostly of women, I’ll look into it. However, I can’t stand it when all the women hate each other or are competing for This One Guy who’s actually not that attractive when it comes right down to it.

Has anyone seen John Tucker Must Die and understood why he was that sought after?

Has anyone seen John Tucker Must Die and understood why he was that sought after?

Or when two female leads are both drop dead gorgeous, but one of them isn’t blond and has glasses so she’s the one that’s presented as undesirable or even ugly.

“Designated Ugly Fat Friend” where?

“Designated Ugly Fat Friend” where?

As a writer and an English major, I literally cannot stop myself from analyzing the media that I consume and support, and the more I do so, the more I realize that it’s something we all should be doing.

To start with, Mean Girls is a great example of a film that offers a fascinating commentary on the struggles of young women as they grow up and learn to navigate the world, specifically in regards to dieting, diversity, and solidarity.

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Mean Girls established itself as a cultural fixture not long after it was released in 2004. So much so that it’s rare for me to meet anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, and I can still quote almost the entire movie with the same tone and inflection that the original actors used.

It’s easy to tell that the script was written by Tina Fey, who also plays a significant role in the film, as the biting wit and humor mirrors the very real issues that women—teenage girls in particular, mostly demonstrated through the main character of Cady (played by Lindsey Lohan)—face when trying to navigate the path to adulthood. Romance, friendships, school, work, beauty, body image, and self-respect are all addressed in different parts of the film, and while they’re not always addressed perfectly, Mean Girls has a lot of really important messages to communicate.

One of those important messages is about dieting…

Despite being considered one of the most beautiful girls in her high school, the character of Regina George (played by Rachel McAdams) complains throughout the film about how she needs to lose a few pounds and keeps trying crash diets like juice cleanses, all-carb diets, or “weight loss nutrition bars.” She is so obsessed with losing weight that one of the first times we hear about Cady’s interest in math is when Regina is worried about the caloric content of her food.

While it’s played off as a joke, this behavior and the references to “girls who eat their feelings” and “girls who don’t eat anything” mirror the terrifying behavioral patterns that young women fall into while trying to achieve American beauty standards. The connection between eating disorders and dieting, while not stated outright, is made abundantly clear.

Additionally, after Regina says, “I really want to lose three pounds,” she pauses expectantly for her friends to tell her—in what sounds like a rehearsed, ritualistic response—“Oh my god what are you talking about? You’re so skinny.”

But why is this comment necessary? What is so bad about not being skinny? Skinny doesn’t mean healthy, and healthy doesn’t mean skinny either.

Of course, Regina’s skinny body—and the skinny bodies of almost all the main characters—send a message about which characters  have worth, about characters are valid. Most of the time, movies that are marketed towards young, American, and usually female audiences have a thin lead actor and a cast full of similarly skinny actors. The movies and television shows that follow this pattern all send the message that the only stories worth telling are about skinny people.

Janis (Cady’s best friend played by Lizzy Caplan) also identifies this conception of a thin female body as a “hot” body—with “hot” in quotation marks—as she maintains that Regina has a “technically good physique.”

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It’s striking to see the way that Janis writes hot with quotation marks. It seems that in doing so she recognizes the way that hotness is constructed rather than inherent and that Regina’s shape and size have a lot to do with this concept of hotness.

In recognizing this pattern, the girls in the film are able to exploit it for their own agendas. During Janis and Cady’s plan to sabotage Regina, they give her nutrition bars meant to put more weight on her and recommend that she eat all kinds of food that could do the same.

It’s honestly really depressing how much Regina’s weight gain affects her. It’s difficult to tell that she’s gained weight just by looking at her (and maybe that’s the point), but the other characters make sure that the audience is in on the joke when they laugh at Regina after she puts on a few pounds.

That’s always how it happens, isn’t it? Other people feel the need to comment on your weight in real life, and this truth is demonstrated in the film as the others make jokes both behind her back and to her face.

At one point, she even tries on a dress that she’d put on hold only to find it no longer fits. While this scene is mostly there for laughs, the moment is actually heartbreaking. There are few things more discouraging than going shopping and finding that the clothes you thought would fit don’t anymore. This is the moment in Mean Girls when the comedy becomes all too real.

 

Another important message in Mean Girls is about diversity…

The majority of the cast is female, and the fact that this is something that we need to celebrate is a little bit sad. But stories like these are essential: stories about women, by women, and for women, stories that acknowledge the limitations that popular culture and the powers-that-be place upon us. These stories can expose and criticize these limitations by pointing out how gender roles and stereotypes consistently devalue women and their contributions to the world around them.

The movie also features a few people of color, such as the principal, some of the boys on the Mathletes team, and others in more minor roles.

Furthermore, women of all body types are featured in the film as well. Tall girls, short girls, skinny girls, chubby girls, and even a girl in a wheelchair. Some of them even look like they’re actual high schoolers instead of just hot twenty-something actors.

In these ways, Mean Girls does an excellent job of being inclusive and showing a more accurate picture of the world we live in than most teen movies.

However, one thing that’s always bothered me about this movie is the treatment of queer characters.

Damien (played by Daniel Franzese) is very obviously a gay man, but most of the time it seems as though he’s played off as a joke. And he doesn’t get the typical teen movie happy ending—a romantic partner—which sets him apart from the other main characters: Janis who ends up with a boyfriend and Cady who finally wins over Aaron Samuels by being herself.

Additionally, the rumor that Regina started about Janis that sparked Janis’s resentment back in middle school was that Janis was a lesbian. Not only did Janis vehemently deny that accusation in the past and not want to mention it to her new friend Cady in the present, but it’s also implied that she was severely hurt by the rumor as well as being ridiculed and isolated because of it.

And in the end, it’s all treated like a big joke that Regina made, brushing off the major impact of the rumor and ignoring the harmful message that it sent.

Sure, Damien is allowed to be the token gay character—albeit a flat one without his own storyline—but the thought that a straight person like Janis is called a lesbian is laughable, even unthinkable. The implication is that there is no worse insult than calling someone gay who isn’t.

This movie came out years ago, so I suppose that this kind of homophobia is a smaller problem in the grand scheme of things, but it’s important to note that there’s definitely room for improvement.

 

Finally Mean Girls says something important about solidarity…

In a somewhat cheesy speech toward the end of the movie—even the principal tells Cady that a speech isn’t necessary—Cady reinforces why girls fighting amongst each other is the worst thing we can do. During the speech she makes sure to compliment the girls who aren’t considered pretty by “Plastic” standards, girls who are chubby or disabled or isolated, and in the same speech she equates all the girls with each other, no matter how pretty or popular people think that they are. Cady says:

“I mean, I think everybody looks great tonight. Look at Jessica Lopez! That dress is amazing, and Emma Gerber that hairdo must have taken hours and you look really pretty. So why is everybody stressing over this thing? I mean it’s just plastic, it’s really just [she breaks the crown and starts passing it out]. A piece for Gretchen Wieners, a partial Spring Fling Queen. A piece for Janis Ian, and a piece for Regina George. She fractured her spine and she still looks like a rockstar, and some for everybody else.”

The breaking of the crown represents Cady’s final denial of an unattainable ideal. Talk about a powerful moment. She’s literally taking a symbol of feminine power, breaking it down, and distributing the power to all the women around her, empowering and uniting all the girls who now share ownership of the crown.

Mean Girls might seem like typical teenage comedy, but it’s really important to emphasize messages of female solidarity, and Cady’s speech does just that. The “divide and conquer” approach is a legitimate strategy to weaken a group of people since they can’t organize and challenge authority or an opponent if they’re fighting among themselves. Women share common struggles, so why shouldn’t these same struggles bring us together instead of allowing petty competitiveness to keep us apart?

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Say what you want about Tina Fey, but this teen movie has become iconic for quite a few excellent reasons… it’s quotable, it’s hilarious, it’s relatable, and, most importantly, it speaks to issues central to being a woman. I cannot stress how refreshing it is to see an articulation of the struggles that women go through and have them treated as relevant difficulties, even in a lighthearted manner. No, it’s not a perfect film, but it’s just as important to celebrate what is working as it is to be critical of what’s not working.

 

janis and damien scared popcorn
—Molly Couch

The influence of celebrities: good or bad?

It’s no secret that every generation attaches itself to a celebrity and idolizes everything about that person—to the point that they are changing parts of themselves to be more like said celebrity.

When I was growing up, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were the celebrities every young girl wanted to be. Naturally I thought they were fantastic. More than anything I wanted to have their amazing clothes, which were never worn twice, and perfect hair—their hair never seemed to move out of place (which lead to my discovery of hair spray and the fact that using half the can still didn’t make my hair flawless).

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Eventually I grew out of my infatuation with Britney and Christina and realized that perfect hair and wear-only-once outfits aren’t part of reality for us non-celebs.

Still, I worry about the celebrities young girls are idolizing today. Specifically I worry that our current crop of celebs are making young women obsess about more than perfect hair and stylish clothing.

Take, for instance, Kylie Jenner. What kind of influence does a celebrity like Jenner have on young people today?

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Kylie’s family made their debut on a reality TV show called Keeping up with the Kardashian’s, and fame really suited her—within a year, she was so invested in cultivating her image that she no longer looked like a young girl going through puberty. She had perfectly styled hair and make-up, not a single pimple, trendy clothes—the works. Kylie is also known for her flawless lips, and she can work a nude lipstick like nobody’s business. They are so perfect, in fact, that they’ve launched their own movement: the “Kylie Jenner Challenge” or #kyliejennerchallenge, which shows young women putting suction on their lips to make them as big and full as Kylie’s. Apparently these young women use an object like a jar or glass to draw blood to the surface of their lips, causing them to swell and seem fuller than in their natural state.

Is it just me or is this the last thing we want the young women in our society to be doing? And doesn’t it send the absolute wrong message? The message that women need to harm themselves to be attractive or get the look they want.

It makes me wonder why girls who want to be like Kyle don’t just dye their hair blue. Wouldn’t that be a simpler way to emulate their favorite star?

Or better yet why don’t they follow in the footsteps of someone like Ian Somerhalder who plays hunky vampire Damon on The Vampire Diaries and started the Ian Somerhalder Foundation, which strives to improve and impact the earth and all living things on it. Why can’t he be the kind of celebrity that young people want to emulate?

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I suppose the answer is that it’s just not cool to be a do-gooder. Instead, young women today would rather stick a vacuum on their mouths and wait for the real and metaphorical bruises that will eventually come with that decision.

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But if they really want to be like Kylie, they should take the advice she’s been offering on her Twitter account: “I want to encourage people like me to be YOURSELF and not be afraid to experiment with your look.”

Enough said.

Brittany Eldridge

The imperfect figure: accepting our bodies

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We are all born to look a certain way. It’s not until we are exposed to beauty expectations that we start to have issues with the parts we have.

Have you ever looked in the mirror and decided there was something about yourself that you didn’t like? I can answer be honest and say that, yes, I have had that experience.

The women in my family—including my mother, my grandmother, and me—have all been “blessed with” a not-so-prominent backside. I’m talking about our butts. This fact was so well known that for a while I was called “little butt.” To me, the name was always a joke until one day I looked at it in the mirror and was like, “Wow, they weren’t kidding!”

I’m sure that each and every person alive—man or woman—has looked in the mirror to observe a part of their bodies at least once. But what tells us something is wrong with the way we look? Is it the magazines that retouch every photo we see? Take Kim Kardashian, for instance: she’s well known for her booty, so why is it that her photo was still fixed to make her bust, waist, and hips look smaller?

Kim Kardashian

Kim shared this photo with fans and even admitted to having cellulite and not being bothered by it:

“So what? I have a little cellulite.”

This makes me wonder why is it that we label people or point out what’s different about their bodies. Small, skinny, thin, big, wide, fat, average: the names are endless and pointless.

Comfortable is a word that should be used more often, followed by happy.

When I look at myself in the mirror now, I say that my size isn’t small or skinny or thin or average. It’s just my size. And unless I decide to have surgery or retouch every photo I’m, in I’ll always look like this… until I grow old of course. Even then I’m going to accept my wrinkles like I’ve had them my entire life because they won’t be going anywhere.

When it comes to self-acceptance, there isn’t a limit on how much we can achieve. Simply put, we all need to love our bodies and everything that comes with them.

Brittany Eldridge

Freckles: beauty or beast?

Freckles

I got my first freckle when I was almost nine; I had noticed it on the left side of my chin. My first case of denial was born; I didn’t want freckles. I wanted to have clear skin like the numerous models I had seen in make-up commercials.

Since I was still a kid, I had never paid attention to the fact that everyone in my family was covered in freckles. Especially their arms. When I finally did notice, I was terrified. I couldn’t tell you a specific reason why freckles scared me, but I knew I didn’t want them.

Skip ahead to when I was thirteen: the dreaded puberty began, and so did the agglomeration of freckles. My arms were targeted first and then my face. For a long tome I had a bridge of freckles that traveled from one cheek, across my nose, and to the other. It sure wasn’t the way to make me feel pretty. I hated them, and I hated when people would point them out and call them cute. What was cute about freckles? The way they made people stare? No.

When I first started experimenting with make-up about a year later, I discovered concealer, but to my dismay it refused to work for freckles. Still, I was determined to make them disappear. I wanted my skin to appear smooth and free from any sort of discoloration.

But what I didn’t know then was that I was doomed from the start. They just kept appearing, and eventually I started to lose track of how often new ones would pop up. Before I knew it, I was covered from head to toe.

Yes, they are even on my feet. Weird, I know.

And my upper lip. I literally have a freckle mustache.

The strange part about it all? I started to be okay with it. I suppose once you’re forced to deal with something for so long, you learn to accept it. And the thing is, no one really cared that I had freckles. It was just me. And now, at almost twenty-one, I wouldn’t want to look any other way.

I love my freckles. To be honest, they make me feel pretty. I think they draw out the better things about my face, and without them I  wouldn’t recognize myself. They have become an integral part of my identity. I smile when I see them, and while it took me a good amount of time to get to this point, I can honestly say I’m happy to be here.

Embrace the freckles.

Brittany Eldridge

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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and Diane Keaton, 68, have done the same…

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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.

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This story is worth more than a thousand words

I went to the funeral of my last living grandparent today—my paternal grandmother, Margaret McCaffrey, who was 96 years old when she died on Sunday.

Oh, I loved this woman dearly. We all did.

And during the funeral, her youngest daughter, my Aunt Janie, lovingly captured why we all adored her: she was a giver. With tears in her eyes, Jane read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree and then told three moving stories about her mother helping those who were less fortunate.

I won’t repeat those stories here because those are Jane’s stories, not mine, but I will tell you that these weren’t stories about simply volunteering at a shelter or giving to charity. These were stories about standing up for people who were different than her at a time when it wasn’t popular to do so.

But I will tell you that these stories fit with what I already knew about my grandmother, which was that she really seemed to appreciate everyone she met. The funny thing is that I didn’t put this together until I heard Jane’s touching speech this morning. I knew she loved and appreciated me and everyone we knew, but Grandma did it so quietly that you almost didn’t notice (unlike Grandpa, who I loved just as much and who was just as giving but who showed his appreciation of others with a volume and humor that sometimes overshadowed hers).

It wasn’t just that Grandma appreciated people for who they were. She also appreciated them in ways others didn’t. She saw the intelligence in the child who struggled in school, the discipline in the adult who hadn’t made it yet, the potential in everyone.

And though I was the awkward sister for many years, Grandma never saw me that way. She saw my beauty before anyone else.

I’ll never forget when I first realized this. It was during the summer of my thirteenth year, between seventh and eighth grade. For some reason I can’t remember, I had decided to visit both sets of my grandparents on my own for a week each. And while I was with my dad’s parents, my grandmother made me pose for a photo one afternoon.

I was wearing a very eighties outfit of short white shorts and a lavender-colored shirt with a matching bandana, and when the photo came back, Grandma went on and on about how beautiful I looked.

“Look at your legs, Molly,” she said. “They are so long and lovely.”

It was true that my legs were long and lovely, but I couldn’t see that because I was too focused on what I saw as my lesser qualities: my shiny forehead, wide nose, and too-short hair.

“And your tiny waist,” Grandma said. Then she turned to me with a sincere smile. “You are such a pretty girl.”

At the time I thought Grandma was either just being nice or starting to show signs of age. After all no one thought I was a pretty girl. My sister was the pretty one. My cousin Amy was pretty. I was the smart one, the thoughtful one. But I was not pretty.

To my great horror, Grandma made copies of the photo and gave them to my parents and other family members. She even had it blown up and framed for me. But I hated that photo because I thought it represented all that was wrong with me and hid it in one of my drawers as soon as I got home, determined that no one would ever see it.

Unfortunately I got my wish. I haven’t seen that photo in years. And now I would do almost anything to find it, to see what Grandma saw years before even I could.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the beholder is YOU

What is it that makes one feel attractive?

Is it only when we look like the people in the movies?

For men, is it when they have a McDreamy-like thick head of hair?

Or a sculpted Brad Pitt face?

For women, is it having the big-but-not-too-big boobs of ScarJo?

Or eyes as seductive as Mila Kunis?

Tonight I heard about a little boy who wonders why his mom doesn’t dress like the other moms because she spends her days in yoga pants and t-shirts. He also worries that he’s not handsome because he has moles.

Marilyn Monore had a mole that defined her.

So did Cindy Crawford.

And people actually complained when Sarah Jessica Parker got rid of her famous mole. (To those people I say, get a freaking life.)

That’s because, as most of us know, determining what is beautiful really all depends on who you’re asking.

As for the little boy’s other concern, according to Glamour magazine, the majority of men find women most attractive when they’re wearing jeans and a t-shirt. It turns out, we wear dresses and heels for us rather than for them.

But isn’t that okay? Isn’t it okay if we all like different things about ourselves rather than trying to be just like McDreamy or Scarjo? Or just like each other?

I know I feel fabulous when I arrive at work or go out on the weekend in killer heels and a clingy dress, but I also know plenty of other women who would hate to wear that kind of outfit and feel more at home in Levi’s and cowboy boots.

And even though I think my husband would look amazing in a Justin Bateman v-neck sweater . . .

or a black vest a la Dan Humphrey . . .

he won’t wear either one.

From my point of view, that’s what makes us interesting—we’re all different, and we’re all beautiful in incredibly individual ways. And it’s good that we don’t want to look exactly alike.

So what it is that you like about you? What is one of the things about you that makes you feel good?

I’d really love to hear it.

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