Shaking up a nation of zombies

Last night, I went to the benefit screening of “America the Beautiful,” which originally came out in spring 2007. For someone who is very aware of media messages to women about beauty and sexuality and how we, as a culture respond, very little of the movie was surprising or new information. However, women (and men) receive hundreds and thousands of these negative messages every day, so I am always in favor of someone new trying to counter or break down these communications.

When it comes to this kind of feminist commentary, people always say, “Oh this has been said before!” Yes, but has it been said enough? How many headlines in a week screech, “Major Celebrity Gains 10 Pounds and Is Totally Fat Now.” Oh, that’s been said before. Does not stop them from saying it again.

Here is what made this film interesting to me:

* It comes from the point of view of a man, Chicago TV and radio personality Darryl Roberts, who himself had been obsessed with finding beauty and physical perfection in women. And for him, it starts when he wakes up, as though he just emerged from a deep hypnosis. He says it dawned on him he had a problem when the woman he ended a five-year relationship with married someone else. She was wonderful (and looking at the picture of her, lovely) — everything he could ask for in a companion. But he, being friends with Michael Jordan, felt like he could have all that wonderfulness, in a hotter, more perfect package. He says, “What good is this obsession with beauty doing us? It certainly didn’t make me happy.”

* Roberts interviews some dudes who are just cretins. Guys that you never ever want to see procreate. Guys who suggest that if Pamela Anderson and her ilk could be cloned, all other women could be disposed of. But interestingly, Roberts feels sympathy toward them — they, too, are “victims” of brain-washing.

* Roberts discovers a 12-year-old girl, called Gerren, who was becoming a sensation in the modeling world, and he follows her through three years of her life. Gerren, at first, seems to be playing in a world she doesn’t entirely understand, prancing around in skimpy clothes. By age 13, she’s a has-been. By age 15, her more womanly size 4 body is considered “obese” in France where she is trying to get a contract.

* He calls out “Dr. 90210’s” Dr. Rey (You remember my friend, Dr. Rey?) for not being a board-certified plastic surgeon. In fact, no one of that show is board-certified. Roberts gives a very gruesome picture of the ugly, life-threatening side of plastic surgery.

* Roberts has a very poignant segment about a girl who died of bulemia, in which he interviews her parents. And they sadly explain how they subtly played a part in her demise, with the mom admitting she was critical of her own body in front of her daughter. She says, “Children think Mom is perfect and beautiful. And if you tell them you’re not, they look at themselves and say, ‘I have her body.'”

* Roberts calls out American cosmetic companies, too, for loading up their products with carcinogens. He buys a bunch of random products at Target, and has a Chicago lab test for their toxicity. The results are frightening. After the screening, Roberts explained that a major cosmetics company offered to sponsor his film for $1 million, if he just took out that “one little segment.” After he said no, they secretly hired away his publicist, who called all 17 publications in New York City that had interviewed him about the opening and told them to pull their stories. Fortunately for him, one of the six people who saw his movie, happened to be the daughter of Meredith Vieira on “The Today Show.”

It was inspiring to see how many people came out to this movie in San Francisco to support About-Face and Beyond Hunger. I have been a huge fan of About-Face and its Gallery of Offenders since the mid-’90s. It’s endlessly inspiring see how many people are passionate about this problem.


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