Actresses, Aspiration, and Attack

I'm ok you're okI was thinking today about how our culture’s single, rigid, photo shop standard of beauty hurts everyone when I ran across an article talking about how actresses are to blame for all of this.  I think that in many ways actresses are really hurt by the beauty ideal, and by the society that creates it.

First of all, actresses are under tremendous pressure to meet the stereotypical ideal of beauty.  I imagine that many would rather be able to spend their time improving their acting and being professional actors, than professional very thin women who appear to never age.

Society insists that they look like their photoshopped images to avoid public shame, vitriol, and humiliation, and then shames them for the things that they do to accomplish that.

In order to be an actress in this day and age, these women know that at any moment they could be photographed for some spread about the worst celebrity bodies, who wore it better, celebrities without makeup, celebrities in bikinis, I even saw one the other day about celebrities with the worst feet complete with glamorous photoshopped headshots next to close-ups of unphotoshopped feet.

We can’t have an award ceremony without spending the next two weeks absolutely trashing those who attended  for their dress, hair, shoes, makeup purse whatever.  Can you imagine if you won the highest award possible for your job and you knew that going to get it meant putting yourself up for massive public ridicule.

Magazines don’t publish these types of articles for fun.  They publish them because we click on them – in droves. We put actresses up on a pedestal, we insist that they meet an impossible standard of beauty, then we tear them down for not meeting it to make ourselves feel better because we can’t meet it either.

Meanwhile the beauty industry laughs itself all the way to the bank as, at our insistence, the actresses perpetuate a standard of beauty that is unattainable for almost everyone, which doesn’t stop millions of people from spending a lot of  their lives and their money trying to attain it anyway.

Maybe the money and the fame make it worth it for the actresses, maybe they are willing to put up with it to do something that they truly love. For me, it doesn’t really matter because I think that this hurts us all and I think it’s time to try something else.

There is lots of activism that we can do around this.  Simple things like refusing to click on all of those worst body, worst dressed, who looks better in this dress, actresses with the ugliest pinky finger blah blah blah articles.  Cancelling beauty magazine subscriptions and letting them know that you won’t be resubscribing until they stop contributing to body hatred, low self-esteem, and fat phobia.  We can support actresses who are being criticized for not meeting the beauty ideal for whatever reason – we can support them in comments, social media etc.  Ban the phrase “can you believe she’s wearing that!” because even if we don’t like someone’s outfit, surely we have something more interesting to talk about that doesn’t involve talking badly about someone else.

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36 thoughts on “Actresses, Aspiration, and Attack

  1. I don’t know about you all, but when I was a little girl, all my friends wanted to be models. I think a lot of girls do because to our child eyes, models seem to be having the most fun in life, they get to wear beautiful clothes, have fantastic hair, and everyone loves them. When I was a kid, however, they just didn’t do those Ugliest Feet or What Models REALLY Look Like compilations.

    When I got older, probably around 13 or so, I realised that famous people often have the worst time–they can’t even leave the house and go for a pizza or something without crowds of people flashing a camera in their faces. They had no freedom, no ability to be spontaneous. I decided that wasn’t the life for me, that if I wanted to be famous, it would be for my writing or my singing, NOT for my looks. I wasn’t blessed with particularly good looks anyway, so it was rather liberating…!

    In short, I realised I didn’t want to be a prisoner of my own vocation. It’s something I’ve managed to avoid.

    1. Lana Wachowaki, one of the creators and directors of The Matrix, said in an acceptance speech when she received the HRC Visibility award, that to participate in public life (voting, shopping, getting out to do things with your kids, etc), one must have some anonymity. She said that when she and her brother first became famous, they were expected to jump on the celebrity train and become well known/well recognized directors. They refused because they were not willing to give up their access to a public life for their careers, even careers they loved. They threatened to not make any more movies in fact! When she said that, I thought, how liberating. She has decided to give up some of that anonymity now, but it is to help support the transgender community, something she cares about deeply. I highly recommend looking up her acceptance speech on YouTube.

  2. The fact that women are always under a microscope for their looks no matter what they do annoys the hell out of me. A woman can’t be too low maintenance or else she’s called frumpy, but she can’t be too high maintenance or else she’s called fake. Sometimes I wonder if it’s really more than just about looks too. Like, why are WOMEN always THE topic of discussion and scrutiny? We are all put on a pedestal, just not to the same level as famous actresses. How many people freak out if Tom Cruise has a gray hair vs how many people freak out if a female actress has a few new wrinkles? Every day women are criticized on the street for the way they look or are dressed, but no one gives a rats ass if a man looks stupid in public. Effed up.

  3. Well said, Ragen! I’ve been trying to let go of my magazines that have fat shaming and abusive articles.. it is really tough! So much of that stuff is woven into other good articles and information….sigh. I let all my subscriptions run out. At least this way I am not providing money to those groups. I have not yet, though it is on my to do list, contacted the magazines I like to tell them why.

    1. I have let all my magazine subscriptions expire, too. I just get so tired of not seeing women who like me. And, instead I have been paying for the bombardment of pages telling me that who I am is wrong. I jut know there are other fit fat middle-aged women out there. Just wish we were represented in the mags.

      1. The only magazine I still have a subscription to is some cooking magazine, I can’t even think of the name of it at the moment. Most of the pictures are of food, and only very occasionally does it mention making a recipe “lighter.” So I keep that one!

  4. Potential trigger warning, here.

    The other evening Mr. Twistie and I went to the grocery store to pick up some stuff we needed. There was a bit of a holdup in the checkout line, so out of random boredom I decided to glance at the headlines on the gossip rags. Lo and behold, one had a huge, blaring headline about celebrities (all women) who ‘clearly’ had eating disorders because they were so thin. The one right next to it claimed that Kim Kardashian is faking pregnancy because she’s ‘ballooned to over 200 pounds!’ and is trying to hide that she’s fat.

    The ‘respectable’ magazine sitting next to these two featured a cover story about a woman who had lost some huge amount of weight in a short time, beaming proudly at us all because finally she doesn’t need to be ashamed.

    Seeing that particular lineup reminded me of why I haven’t bought magazines except for some cooking ones and the very occasional Mother Jones for decades.

    I never click on those ‘who wore it better’ ‘beautiful woman wears ugly dress’ or ‘my god! I thought she was beautiful until I saw her cankles!’ articles online.

    I loved acting when I was doing it. It was fun to explore what sort of characters I could create. It was a blast getting applause. I adored it the couple of times someone who knew me well came to watch me act and literally didn’t recognize which one was me. There was a special thrill I’ve never managed to replicate anywhere else. For quite a while, I thought I would go pro. But I never did.

    Once the makeup comes off and the script goes back on the shelf, there’s the lack of control, the overwhelming likelihood of unemployment for years, and, of course, the public shaming of the lucky few who hit it big. It’s not a life for someone who wants any kind of normal combined with any sort of longterm financial stability. Frankly, I love being able to not worry whether my teeth are white enough, my hips both curvy and thin enough, my eyes bright enough – but not too bright! The work delighted me, but the life terrified me.

    There’s no way in hell I’m going to add to the pressures of those who were brave enough to reach for the dream anyway. I’ll stick to discussing whether or not I think someone did a good job with the role and leave the body shaming alone. After all, they’re paid to act. That’s their job. If someone is paid to fix my plumbing, that’s what I judge them on. I’m not worried whether my plumber is wearing last year’s lipstick shade or displaying the eponymous crack to best advantage. I’m only concerned with whether my leaks are fixed properly. I care whether an actress makes me believe in the world she’s creating on stage or screen… not whether she should get a nose job or wear that particular shade of green to look her best.

    I don’t care whether she’s the most beautiful woman in the world or the ugliest: if an actress can act, I’ll want to see her again. If she can’t… then I can’t be bothered with her. I don’t have the time to try to bring her down through body shame. I’m too busy watching the actors and actresses whose work I admire, regardless of their looks.

    1. “Once the makeup comes off and the script goes back on the shelf, there’s the lack of control, the overwhelming likelihood of unemployment for years, and, of course, the public shaming of the lucky few who hit it big. It’s not a life for someone who wants any kind of normal combined with any sort of longterm financial stability. Frankly, I love being able to not worry whether my teeth are white enough, my hips both curvy and thin enough, my eyes bright enough – but not too bright! The work delighted me, but the life terrified me.”

      That is it. EXACTLY. It. I gave up pursuing an opera career in large part for all of those things. I’m selfishly glad to hear I’m not alone in that. *hugs*

      1. It surprises me to learn that even the OPERA community has taken up torches in the fat-hate! How will anyone know when the show is over if they don’t let the fat lady sing?

  5. I’m in New York – and I have been a costumer. I’ve costumed Equity Showcases with aspiring actors and dancers.

    Those young women are in a vicious bind.

    They need to dance – modern, ballet, *and* tap (and I’m sure you know those are physically contradictory styles) – on a top professional level. They also need to be able to sing. (While dancing… Breath control, anyone?)

    They run themselves ragged, between auditions, rehearsals (for unpaid or poorly paid work, for experience and to be seen,) classes, and that annoying need to work a “day job” to pay the rent.

    And the hard truth is – if they’re not size 6-10, some casting agents barely look at them… (Yeah – too small can be a problem, too, for chorus… 4s have a chance. Most people don’t get to start their career as a principal – though they can be 2 or 4.)

    In most shows, the choreographer wants the chorus dancers to have the same “Look.” This can vary a bit by the show or the choreographer – but it’s pretty much always a small size. They really *are* looking for a cookie cutter feel… the chorus is one mass of people, not a group of individuals. At auditions, they usually *start* by weeding out anyone who doesn’t have the Look, before they start looking at the dance abilities. (And that is partly because they simply have too many hopefuls to really look carefully at all of them…)

    The hardest I ever did was a musical set in the ’20s – those straight dresses emphasize hips. Dancers *have* hips – and butts and legs – it’s called muscle. But they were – validly – terrified of a casting agent coming and writing them off because they were “too hippy” – at a size 8!

    Singers and straight actors can go all the way up to a 12, as long as they are visibly thin for their build… 14 is pushing, 16 is Right Out. You pick up again at 20, for character work – you’ll never dance, might sing, will always play the Fat Best Friend or Villain or Mother.

    And I hear it is worse in LA…

    I can’t blame the dancers/actresses. There is a whole lot of hardship and humiliation for everyone in the business – no one is doing it unless it is a passion. But *we* don’t have to buy into it.

  6. Some of the commenters on celebrity blogs are nasty, viciously criticizing female celebrities while mentioning that their looks/diet/lifestyle is so much better. It’s beyond cruel, but the beauty industry, the government, and pretty much everyone act as if living up to these increasingly harsh standards makes one as moral as Mother Teresa. This whole tangled up concept of beauty and health (two separate things) is a cult. People need to step back and realize that no one was ever canonized a saint for looking like Barbie.

  7. I was just wondering what would happen if women just stopped trying to fit in with the societal ideal of beauty, all at once. In addition, we also proceeded to stand up for each and every other women who might get ridiculed or shamed for how they look (like the woman who stops wearing make up that covers up bad acne and gets laughed at). How empowering would that be? I wish we could do it all together at once.

  8. Agreed, reposted.
    I am yet to see women who are beautiful, just not traditionally so, in leading roles in mainstream cinema. Melissa McCarthy, for instance (who to me is aglow with life and beauty) is forced to capitalize on size jokes on SNL and in movies. On the other hand, men who are not traditionally handsome – Paul Giamatti comes to mind (I genuinely think he’s charming, a fantastic actor and such a fun interviewee).
    I don’t find it funny at all when people like Joan Rivers is caustic about Adele or runs her piss-poor pathetic show on some channel criticizing women’s clothing, calling them out on everything from expression to size. Is that funny? Did she break some barriers to get there? Maybe, but that isn’t funny.
    Why can’t they just allow women to be beautiful in their own individual ways? Beauty is – IS universal. And if you don’t find beauty, turn your gaze – and shut up.

    1. No one finds Joan Rivers funny. Lately, it seems like she’s just trolling to get attention. That, or she’s losing her mind.

  9. I agree it’s not the celebrities fault, it’s the industry they are a part of that is at fault for continuing to hold them to ridiculous standards.

  10. What idiot think actresses are at fault?I see good actors in bit parts all the time, but they never get more because they don’t fit the current stereotype. Drives me nuts. Actors don’t hire themselves unless they are also the producers/directors/

    I hate the stuff that focuses on clothes too. Most of the time the reasons why an outfit is criticized don’t even make sense. One time when I was idling around a used book store, I came across something that was about the best and worst dresses from the Oscars over some number of years. One year, this elegant white dress was completely trashed, and few years later an almost identical white dress was held up as one of the best. Makes no sense.

    I can see why the men will never stop wearing the classic tux. I wish women could have a similar ‘uniform’ and I don’t mean the little black dress which has too many variations.

    Recently I was doing some online window shopping, and on one site I noticed how weirdly thin all the models looked. Not to knock their body types, but none of the women reflected even an average size and shape. Most of the other sites were not that bad. I couldn’t figure out how anybody would know if the clothes would look any good on them, unless they are also very thin.

    I really wish we could get past such super-thinness.

  11. Ugliest pinky! Lol. I am surprised they haven’t done that one yet.

    I think the ultimate message that the media/hollywood is trying to send women is that: You will never be good enough. No matter what you do, or say, or look like, or think, you are wrong. And if you decide to give up on the Hollywood standards, you’re even worse. So you should keep buying stuff to make you look right. You should keep reading articles (interspersed with ads about stuff you need) that tell you what you should be thinking. Only then will you be on the right road, even though you will never ‘arrive.’

    The Dali Lama was shocked and saddened to hear about the Western problem of self-hatred. I have been trying to not buy into the lies about who I am and what I am worth.

    1. I don’t recall, but awhile back people were getting all up in arms cause Megan Fox had a weird thumb. Seriously! I don’t even!

  12. There are a few women I admire and respect a lot that will occasionally recommend women to read a fashion or women’s magazine for “Ideas” and it always makes me wince. I wish there was a better way. Even though I don’t like wearing girly clothing most of the time, I love looking at it.

    Body positive fashion bloggers and youtubers to the rescue!

  13. I used to look at the best and worst dressed stuff because I love fashion, after a while I started getting fed up with the comment from the authors of the articles and from the people reading them. I had to stop reading them for my own sanity. I would never want to be in the shoes of those women, It angers me that a woman can be talented, kind, funny, and intelligent but none of it matters if she isn’t “pretty.” I stopped letting myself buy into that crap. I wear what I want to wear and look how I want to look. If I feel like dressing up it’s because I want to, not because society says I have to. The biggest thing for me was leaning to stop wearing make up. It had been so ingrained in my head that I HAD to wear it, if I didn’t wear it I was automatically and “ugly” girl, and I didn’t want to be “ugly.” Cutting the make up was one of the most freeing things I have ever done, it allowed me to appreciate my own beauty, to see myself as I am and to love what I see.

  14. One of my saddest issues is when I see a good actress (who happens to be fat) and then her increasing fame leads to weight loss and the obligitory media coverage of her fight against the bulge…

  15. I agree. I’m not angry at the actresses who starve themselves (and do other things to their bodies) in order to live up to the unrealistic images that are expected of them. I am angry at the fact that they feel they NEED to in order to stay relevant in their profession. They are victims too.

  16. Totally agree, Ragen. I used to look at skinny vs curvy website without really getting the underlying issues. I just looked at the outfits. I went on a few days ago and I was horrified at both the commentary which was never positive regardless of a woman’s shape and the horrid, bitchy comments from other women. There was no ‘entertainment’ value. It was just online bullying. I will never go that site again. It made me sad. I also support all the other comments above. What happened to feminism?

  17. Hypocrisy alert – when I was in Barnes and Noble yesterday, I saw one of the gossip rags had a cover story about being “Bullied For Their Weight”, and something about how this or that celebrity was always too fat or too thin, can’t win, blah blah. I didn’t bother reading it to find out if the magazine called itself out for being one of the bullies. I’m betting they didn’t.

  18. I like this perspective. While I have abhorred the paparazzi for a long time, I still felt little to no sympathy for these people who purposely put themselves out there in the spotlight. I always figured that if you choose to be an actress (especially the Hollywood type), then whatever criticism you get should be expected. However, you’re right- they are held up to almost impossible standards and then ridiculed when they don’t meet them. I suppose we like to think that the “beautiful people” are in some way just like us – subject to imperfections and self-doubt.

  19. When I was in grad school, studying costume design, the chair of the theater department was a former director, and still very involved with the actors in the program. He was awful to them, especially the women. He would flat out say “you’re a good actress, but another actress who is just as good and thinner will get the role.”

    I designed a show at school with an actress in the lead role who had the worst body image I’ve ever encountered, put there by the department chair. This actress was stunning. She looked like a china doll, with perfect features and a cloud of black hair, and the kind of curves most men I know find incredibly sexy. Personally, I find people of all sizes can be sexy but anyone, no matter how bigoted, would have found this girl attractive. But because she’d gone from a size four to a size eight while in grad school, she couldn’t see herself as beautiful any more.

    It breaks my heart to see actors (not just the famous ones!) obsess over their weight and looks. Even in opera, size and appearance are becoming more important than voice. I always feel I’d rather use my suspension of disbelief to think a three hundred pound forty year old woman is a teenager with consumption when her voice is perfect for the role, than assume a skinny twenty year old has the perfect voice since her body suits.

    I seriously considered pursuing a career as an operatic mezzo soprano, but that world is too brutal. As a costumer I make people look and feel beautiful, no matter their size or perceived flaws. I take great care to ensure clothing fits perfectly, especially on bodies which fall outside the “average.”

    1. Lily, you aren’t the only opera singer in this group – there are several of us and we have all had the same kinds of experiences. I’m so sick of seeing them cast with their eyes. It’s really sad and I’m afraid it’s the death of the art form as we know it.

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