|22nd July 2005||#1|
Join Date: July 2005
Don't be afraid . . . of Beauty
The other day, while enduring an interminable series of "coming attractions" trailers in the cinema, one of the previews actually caught our notice.
In fact, this trailer raised some important questions about the troubled relationship between beauty and plus-size women.
The trailer previewed a upcoming movie that will hinge on the relationship between two sisters--one thin, and one not. And regrettably (but not unexpectedly) the film features a somewhat homely actress in the role of the full-figured sister, and a glammed-up Hollywood celebrity as the thin sister.
The movie being promoted, of course, was In Her Shoes. And even from the short preview, it was obvious that the film means to highlight the character flaws of the "attractive" waif, and to celebrate the upstanding virtues of the plain-Jane, full-figured sister.
This is hardly a novel premise--part Middlemarch, and part Jane Eyre (especially in the sister angle). Stories such as this--involving a clash between a marginal/unattractive character, and a popular/attractive nemesis--permeate popular culture. Just think of any typical high-school flick, in which the arrogant cheerleader always gets her comeuppance, while the unappreciated mousy girl always "get the guy."
However, what struck us as particularly regrettable about this specific film is that it slots the plus-size actress in the role of the unattractive character. This makes the film a reinforcement of that dreaded stereotype: "But she has a nice personality." (I.e., "She may not be pretty, but she 'makes up for it' by having a nice personality.")
Films such as this do nothing but confirm negative views of full-figured women, just as campaigns featuring non-photogenic "real" individuals do nothing but confirm people’s beliefs that thin models are attractive, while full-figured women are not.
(And as an aside, it is hardly surprising that so many magazines have welcomed those ubiquitous ads which show "real" women--i.e., non-models--in white undergarments. If the same campaign had featured gorgeous, professional plus-size models, you may be sure that the ads would have been suppressed, because the magazine editors would have recognized their subversive force, and feared it. The current ads, by contrast, do nothing to challenge the aesthetic supremacy of their underweight standard.)
But back to the film trailer. While we were watching this preview, it occurred to us to ask the question, "Why?" I.e., why is there so much anti-beauty resentment in "size"-related activism?
To a degree, this resentment may be understandable. The painful experiences of youth undoubtedly led many full-figured girls to grow up regarding beauty as something strange, almost alien. Beauty involved rites and rituals about cosmetics, and colours, and accessories, and trends, that seemed more incomprehensible than trigonometry. Beauty was a world from which these girls felt excluded, a world that belonged to their underweight rivals. Whatever beauty was, it was definitely "not for them."
And like the tone-deaf individual who dismisses opera because he hasn't learned its musical language, the strangeness of this world may have prompted some plus-size girls to reject it outright, and even to belittle it. It spurred in them the kind of dismissive reaction that belies an inner apprehension of the rejected object, a dread that ones does not--or can not--fully fathom the shunned item, and that this reveals something lacking in one’s own character.
But while the acquisition of beauty may have seemed a mystery, its effects were all to obvious.
Beauty bestowed friends and fame on other girls--but not on them. It was something that the thin girls could lord over them: "We have it, and you don't." And worst of all, it robbed curvaceous girls of the young men whom they desired, and left them alone on Friday nights, and dateless for the prom.
In the worst cases, some full-figured girls many even have grown up perceiving beauty as a hostile force. They may have regarded beauty as a kind of weapon, a means of inflicting punishment. Its very existence seemed to cause them nothing but pain.
And, like the impoverished individual who wishes for socialism to eliminate the privileges of wealth that he lacks (and covets), these individuals may have begun to wish for beauty’s utter abolishment. "Better than no one should have it, rather than others should have it, while I do not"--spoke the dark murmurings in their hearts.
For size celebration to flourish, this resentment of beauty, and this view of it as something alien, must end.
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