My name is Emma. This is my feminism.

America The Beautiful – 2007

on October 12, 2012

America The Beautiful is another documentary that I really wish everyone would watch.  I’ve seen it twice, cried both times, and have dramatically changed my consumption of ‘beauty’ products since watching it (and going vegan… but I’ll save that for another post).  Like Miss Representation though, it was so good that I was too intimidated to post on it.  So if you’re interested in this type of thing, please watch the documentary, because this post will not do it justice.

The basic idea is that the filmmaker is just a regular guy who wanted to figure out why we have these unrealistic ideas of what women ‘should’ look like.  The film looks at modelling, makeup, fashion magazines, eating disorders and plastic surgery, and really should scare the shit out of any sane person who’s watching.  It kind of allows the viewers to distance themselves from what’s going on, making it easier to see our culture more objectively – almost as if it was someone else’s.

He starts out talking to magazine editors, and you realize that these are the people who have the power to change this system in a big way, and that they are not planning on changing any time soon.  Throughout the film, people in the industry continually defend themselves and the industry, blaming other sources for the problem, or saying that everyone else is doing it (Seriously?  Are you a child?  Do I really have to ask if you would follow all the other magazine editors off a cliff?).  One woman made the point that she’s not running a non-profit organization – she needs to be successful or she won’t have a job.  Cut to a classroom discussion about beauty magazines, and a girl sharing that her best friend died when she was 10 years old and 47 pounds.  She used to look at magazines and set goals for her weight… until it killed her.  But yes, you need to make sure you keep your fucking job.  That is definitely what’s important here.

Listening to all these ‘industry people’ also makes me realize how intentional the manipulation is.  They’re not just responding to your need for silky hair, they’re creating that ‘need’ in the first place.  They’re manipulating you into being interested in Paris Hilton so that they can make money.  They’re making sure that images are so perfect that you will buy anything to try to be that perfect.  Doesn’t that piss you off?  Because it really should.

And then, if you’re thinking that media doesn’t have that big of an effect on our perceptions of ‘beauty’ and of how we feel about ourselves, a study was done in Fiji in the mid 90’s that might change your mind.  When the study began, Fiji was not affected by Western media – they didn’t have TV.  At that point, Fijians tended to prefer bigger bodies, and vomiting to lose weight was completely unheard of.  Three years after TV was introduced, 11% of Fijian girls had vomited to lose weight – a similar percentage to the United States.  Three years!  But it’s always someone else’s fault, or someone else’s responsibility to worry about.

The other terrifying thing addressed in the film is plastic surgery.  According to this documentary, any medical doctor can call themselves a plastic surgeon.  For example, a woman in the film got plastic surgery (a face lift, I believe), only to find out later that her surgeon had done a one day seminar and practiced on a tomato.  When she woke up from surgery, she said she was in so much pain that she wanted to kill herself.  The surgery had caused a condition called RSD which causes pain so extreme that people usually have the affected limb amputated.  Alternatively, we are also shown video of doctors trying to wake up a woman after plastic surgery.

We Westerners like to act like we are so smart and rational, and are not affected by our culture.  I hear it all the time from classmates trying to be respectful, saying things like, “Well, it’s not really ethical, but unfortunately, in their culture, they don’t see women as equal, so, even though it’s hurting the woman, it’s their culture, so they don’t really care.  They’re affected by their culture, so they’re going to keep hurting women even though it’s obviously not okay.”  It makes my head want to explode a little.  I know it’s hard to see your own culture, but come on.  When we talk about plastic surgery, we forget that it’s a big fucking deal.  We talk about it like it’s nothing.  “Lol, those boobs are fake!”  Why is that a thing?  Does that sound okay to you?  Does it sound like our culture values women?  Because every pair of fake boobs that you have lol’d at could have potentially killed the woman attached to them.  Or caused serious damage.  Women are regularly risking their lives to try to live up to these ridiculous pressures that they cannot escape.

Seriously?  Is this the world we want?  We’re okay with having designed and implemented this system which makes a few people rich, and other people depressed, anxious, sick, or dead?  Because we all seem to have accepted it.  We all just watch commercials for skin cream or hair colour or makeup (specifically the CoverGirl commercial where Taylor Swift tells us to “lose the mask, see yourself, be yourself” by covering your face with their product.  What the fuck Taylor?) and don’t even react.

Since watching America the Beautiful I have stopped wearing makeup.  Every now and then I wonder if that was really necessary.  Maybe it would be okay to just put on some eyeliner, or just make my skin look a little more perfect.  But writing this post and thinking about all these issues again has reminded me that in a lot of ways, this is a life or death issue.  (And I didn’t even get in to the toxins that have been found in ‘beauty products.’)

There is so much more I could say about this documentary, but you really should just watch it yourself.  The last thing I will say though, is something that the filmmaker said to all his male friends while learning all these terrible things about ‘beauty.’  He said, “call every woman you know, and tell her that she is beautiful right now, exactly as she is.”  What could be more important than that?

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