Prepare to be disturbed: “America the Beautiful”

Last night I watched a documentary that both fascinated and horrified me.  “America the Beautiful” was produced in 2007 by Darryl Roberts and looks at North American culture’s obsession with beauty and the so-called “perfect” body, and why so many women hate their looks.

The film follows the story of a twelve-year-old model who becomes hugely successful initially, but eventually falls from favour in the modelling world; she’s a size four, but the agency says she’s obese.  Fortunately she has the sense to pursue other goals, rather than starving herself to the desired perfect size – although that wouldn’t be unheard of.  As one anonymous model says, “Health isn’t an option in this industry.  If you’re worried about health, go to college.”

The film looks at the media and advertising, and the damaging messages being sent to women of all ages.  We are being programmed to desire things that don’t even exist!  The result is:

– a generation of children who think they’re ugly before they’ve even hit puberty, who grow up listening to their mothers complain about their own bodies;

– teenagers and women getting major plastic surgery done to try to attain that physical perfection, and many dying each year from the anesthetic, or having botched surgeries that end up mutilating their bodies;

– men who have distorted conceptions of beauty and unrealistic expectations of women; not to mention men who objectify women, as they are portrayed in ads;

– models who make tens of thousands of dollars per week on the runway because they look a certain way, yet who spend it all in treatment for eating disorders because they look that same way!  Does anyone else see the irony in that?!

– women slathering themselves with toxic chemicals in the form of cosmetics and body care products, because there is next to no regulation in North America about what the industry can use; hormone disruptors, carcinogens, neurotoxins, skin irritants, fetal developmental toxins, respiratory toxins, and neurological damaging chemicals – they’re all in the makeup and shampoo and nail polish that women buy every day;

– women being fired for not using that same makeup on the job – as if something like that can be enforced!  Yet it is in some places.

I sat riveted throughout the entire 1hr 45 min production and stumbled off to bed in a daze.  Everything Roberts looks at is shocking and deeply upsetting, yet there’s also nothing surprising about it.  I know exactly what he’s talking about, because I’m surrounded by it.  We’re all surrounded by it!  Beauty has become intertwined with self-esteem for women, and so many young girls believe that if they don’t take the necessary steps to become “beautiful” as North America sees it, they will have less successful, less happy lives.

I’ve been thinking about this all day.  If you’re a woman, you have to watch this documentary.  If you have a daughter, you must absolutely watch it with her.  If you have a sister, a girlfriend, a mother, a female friend – which pretty much covers every single one of you – please watch this film!  (And its newly released sequel, “America the Beautiful 2”, which I have yet to see, but looks equally powerful.)

What are your thoughts on the messages about beauty being preached to the women of today’s world?

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5 thoughts on “Prepare to be disturbed: “America the Beautiful”

  1. At Girl Guides this week in Port Elgin we are celebrating International Women’s Day (March 8th) and using this meeting as an opportunity to talk about issues like these. I’m really excited to have the chance to talk with the girls about it because I completely agree it is a huge problem in today’s world.

    1. Awesome! You should show them the two films! Another one I want to see is “Cover Girl Culture.” Let’s keep the conversations going 🙂

  2. I just finished watching it. Thanks for the recommendation, Kat. The guy named Steve who said that women know less than the average guy, and that he definitely objectifies women, makes me so MAD!!!!

  3. I think a lot of women “know” this, if you’d ask them. But human beings are herd creatures and who wants to be left out on the barrens alone when the rest of the lemmings are heading over the cliff?
    A big part of the problem is the trend setters that people follow nowadays, the stars, the divas. They do what they must to be popular and this in turn set the trends for everyone else. It’s heartbreaking.
    I read a book about anorexia and the writer talks of one model whose photographer kept saying, “Lose five more pounds.” She was 5’11”, weighed under 100 lbs., and he was saying “Lose five more pounds.” She was hospitalized in the psych ward–but HE should have been!

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