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Old 13th June 2011   #1
HSG
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Join Date: July 2005
Posts: 1,784
Default From Victim to Vixen


If there is any organ of the media that is even more gallingly anti-plus than the fashion industry, it is, of course, Hollywood--by which we mean the film and television industries.

At least the fashion industry is graced by the presence of some plus-size models, suppressed thought they may be.

But Hollywood doesn't even have that. The only notable instances of characters on television who were as attractive as plus-size fashion models, and were written to acknowledge the fact that they were gorgeous, were Blair Warner on The Facts of Life and Suzanne Sugarbaker on Designing Women. And both of those exceptions only manifested themselves because the actresses in question began their careers by being underweight, then unexpectedly blossomed into curvaceous goddesses.

For that reason, we found the discovery of a casting notice for a forthcoming TV series titled Good Christian Bitches [sic] to be utterly thrilling. Prominently featured in a supporting role in this series is a character named Sharon Peavey, who is described as follows:

Quote:
[SHARON PEAVEY]

Late 30s. Beautiful but very full-figured, a compulsive eater, formerly a beauty queen in high school, who's married to former pro-ball player Zach (who's still in shape), super-sensitive about her weight . . .

One could hardly imagine a more exciting character sketch. To see the words "beautiful" and "full-figured" linked together in a Hollywood description is singular; indeed, almost unprecedented. And the specification that Sharon is "very full-figured" suggests that she will not merely be faux-plus but genuinely full-figured, in the manner of a Judgment of Paris favourite. The observation that she is a "compulsive eater" is extremely enticing, for it suggests that she will exhibit indulgent tendencies that neither Blair Warner nor Suzanne Sugarbaker were ever permitted to voice. That Sharon is "super-sensitive about her weight" is not necessarily a negative characteristic, because it suggests an attractive vulnerability on her part. And the fact that her athlete husband is "still in shape" indicates a Mars/Venus character to their relationship, with both the GQ spouse and his soft-figured wife embodying the respective Classical ideals of male and female appearance.

So far so good.

Unfortunately, however, it all quickly goes wrong, as the storyline descends into intolerable Hollywood cliché and stereotype:

Quote:
Sharon is the most insecure of the Good Christian Bitches, and the most concerned about her husband straying--particularly towards the gorgeous Amanda. . . . Sharon has no idea that her husband has planted a serious kiss on an uninterested Amanda--but Darlene knows.

The "Amanda" in question is, as you might have guessed, the ostensible star of the show and the protagonist. Even before you encounter her character description, you likely know what's coming:

Quote:
[AMANDA VAUGHN]

Late 30s, slim, beautiful, smart, grounded, strong, a talented decorator, Amanda is moving back to her hometown of Dallas from Santa Barbara . . . Amanda is an honest, upright person who's prepared to meet the challenges of those Good Christian Bitches with a righteous fight of her own.

Groan. Of course Hollywood would rig it this way. Of course the husband of the full-figured beauty queen will be presented as straying towards the "slim," "smart," "strong" careerist. This sounds like a script out of Feminism 101: the triumph of the puritanically self-denying woman over the self-indulgent woman, of the masculine "strong" woman over the feminine soft woman. Moreover, true to Hollywood cliché, Sharon will be played by a blonde actress and Amanda by a brunette.

Hollywood never tires of regurgitating this trope. As Melanie astutely observed in our thread about Shannon Marie's tear sheet in Seventeen magazine a few seasons ago:

Quote:
As for the archetypal blonde/brunette rivalry, you still see this in Hollywood all the time, with movies like Sydney White, Starter for 10, Mean Girls, etc., which pit vain, princess-like blondes against more tomboyish, "outsider" brunettes. The popular blondes are always depicted as the villains, and the "edgy" brunettes [are depicted] as the "better choice", but I never buy it. First of all, the blondes are always much more exciting characters, with more spark, more glamour. Second, you just know, instinctively, that in real life, people with the disposition of the brunettes in these films would also be resentful, bitterly jealous, and would be bullies - not physically, but intellectually.

In none of the films that Melanie lists is the blonde antagonist full-figured, but in every other way the blonde/brunette rivalry in these movies conforms to the Good Christina Bitches character contrast.

* * *

Mind you, Hollywood did not originate this cliché; it merely codified it. The trope has its roots in the Victorian Era. As we observed in our post titled "The Victorian Vixen Redeemed":

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Many female scholars and students favour the underweight, mousy, bookish Jane Eyre types because they see in them a reflection of themselves, while they see in the [blonde, glamorous, full-figured] Ginerva Fanshawes a reflection of the cheerleaders and prom queens whom they resented in high school for their superior beauty and popularity.

The same resentment-based psychology that underpins the world-view of female Victorian writers who depicted thin, androgynous, intellectual brunettes implausibly triumphing over voluptuous, feminine, coquettish blondes, lives on in Hollywood, with Good Christian Bitches as its latest manifestation. Its antecedents include Jane Eyre's Villette and Kate Chopin's The Awakening.

However, at least Good Christian Bitches represents an advance over other Hollywood incarnations of this rivalry, in that the blonde antagonist will be presented as being "beautiful but very full-figured." Thus, the show will acknowledge that it is possible for a woman to exhibit both attributes, to be both beautiful and plus-size, and that one quality is not exclusive of the other, but rather, that the two go hand in hand. Even the Victorians acknowledged this fact, but Hollywood has attempted to suppress it. Until now.

* * *

For those of you who may be wondering, the provocative title of this series comes from a book of the same name, Good Christian Bitches by Kim Gatlin. Although it is out of print and thus hard to obtain, we secured a copy and found it to be one of the most annoying, insufferable novels that we have ever read.

The book is infinitely more offensive than the TV series promises to be. In the novel, the Amanda character is the very worst kind of Mary Sue: an obvious author stand-in for whom everything always works out, who is always shown to be prettier and better than her antagonists. Her enemiess are given to making implausible utterances such as,

Quote:
She's so damn strong. She's confident, and she's just beautiful. She wasn't even wearing any makeup and she looked better than me.

Riiiiiight. It's just the sort of thing that a high-school outcast always fantasizes that her cheerleader enemies are secretly saying about her.

The Sharon Peavy character of the book is, like Amanda, single, and the plot has the two women competing for the same man (with Amanda, naturally, winning). Most disappointing of all, Gatlin's Sharon isn't even described as being particularly full-figured, simply buxom and with a disinclination towards exercise. Although those are both attractive qualities, the Hollywood character sketch is far more appealing.

But why does the book carry the title Good Christian Bitches? If you haven't guessed, Sharon and her friends are portrayed as hypocrites who espouse Christian beliefs but do not adhere to them in their behaviour, while Amanda is (of course!) presented as a true Christian, in that her behaviour is beyond reproach, and the cosmos simply undoes her enemies' schemes and rewards Amanda for her amazing goodness.

This Christian-hypocrite angle confirms why anti-Christian Hollywood was interested in the property in the first place, despite its literary shortcomings. As actor Robert Davi explained in an interview in the must-read book Primetime Propaganda, the mantra in Hollywood is that

Quote:
if you wanted to make a character a born-again Christian, make them a hypocrite, or a nymphomaniac . . . there's definitely a tendency towards ridicule. (72)

In the television industry, the clichés and stereotypes run deep.

* * *

Having the plus-size blonde beauty as the antagonist of a forthcoming television series is not at all unfortunate. If anything, the role of a somewhat villainous vixen is more exciting than that of a dull do-gooder. However, Hollywood still betrays its bias by rigging the conflict in such a way that the politically-correct, "slim, smart, strong" brunette implausibly triumphs over the full-figured former beauty queen.

From the perspective of size celebration, the ideal scenario--one that would acknowledge the irresistible power of the plus-size goddess--would be to have the husband of the underweight, androgynous brunette helplessly drawn to the well-fed, self-indulgent, ultra-feminine blonde seductress. In short, in the perfect storyline, the buxom blonde would win (as she would in real life). That would overturn the shopworn media cliché in which tomboy brunettes always triumph and spoiled, selfish blondes always get their comeuppance, wonderfully subverting this Hollywood trope.

Let us hope that someday, an aficionado of plus-size beauty will attain the media power to be able to enact such a vision.

Shannon Marie, the most gorgeous plus-size model of all time and the most beautiful woman ever photographed, in a rare, early modelling test. With her flowing blonde tresses, round facial features, and haunting expression, she remains the very embodiment of timeless beauty.

- Shannon Marie: Fairest of Them All

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