Becoming Beautiful and Finding Love — The Misleading Movie Myth

Everyone get your abstract thinking caps on! It’s time for a game of….COMPARISON! (So sue me, I was not inspired to think of a better name for this little exercise.)

The Question: What do the following movies have in common?

  • Grease.
  • Bridget Jones’ Diary.
  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
  • Miss Congeniality.
  • She’s All That.
  • My Fair Lady.
  • Cinderella.

No, they are not all musicals and books — at least I think they aren’t. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if these all ended up as musicals on or off Broadway in the future. If that happens, all of you non-believers should give me a medal.

There are a few  things that all of these movies have in common: A) there is a female protagonist; B) By and large, these movies would be described by the general public as “cute” or “funny”; but the big commonality that I want to focus on is

The Answer: Every single protagonist finds love….after they are transformed or made over to appear more beautiful.

My least favorite transformation: Sandy in Grease

My least favorite transformation: Sandy in Grease

This irks me a little more than I realized. Don’t get me wrong — there is a significant amount of social commentary surrounding the idea that you need to “dress to impress” in order to show your best when meeting anybody. And in many ways, first impressions are pretty important — you simply never know who you will meet on any given day.

The beef that I have with this movie format is that it is so very unrealistic and unreasonable. My head is spinning with the conflicting signals from society — isn’t Mr. Right supposed to accept you for who you are as a person? And yet, judging from our cinematic evidence, you need to be able to identify your lack of beauty and do something about it to capture Mr. Right once and for all. Also, these makeovers have perpetuated the unreasonable expectation that the guy will be completely stunned the moment they see the “new you” and will work even harder to win you over.

Stunned man looking at "new" woman in She's All That

Stunned man looking at “new” woman in She’s All That

Which one is it? I’m inclined to support the former, but it seems to me that the rest of the entertainment industry has yet to hop onto this band wagon with any gusto. Growing up,  I was convinced that I would have to have some monumental change in my appearance to find the right person for me. It simply wasn’t enough to be myself; there had to be some sudden transformation that changed me from less-than-desirable to happy-ever-after-able.

big fat greek wedding

Granted, the movie is hilarious, but the trend remains the same.

The intent may not be nearly as deep as it appears because these are happy endings! They fall in love! Romance fills the air so sweetly! However, the fact still remains that the women in these roles are deemed unfavorable for little more than their physical appearance. If women were changing their appearance for every potential love interest in the real world, life would be an absolute circus, and it would be nearly impossible to tell where their personal preferences began and their predatory man-prowling body ended.

Not my idea of a simple spa day...

Not my idea of a simple spa day…poor Miss Congeniality

No one person should dictate what a woman must do to be “beautiful” except herself. It is so easy to search for approval in the eyes of those one admires, but it should never require a team of makeup artists. Personally, if that is what it takes to make someone fall head-over-heels for me, I would keep on looking.

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4 thoughts on “Becoming Beautiful and Finding Love — The Misleading Movie Myth

  1. Anne Langdon says:

    I agree! But…Food for thought:
    Maybe the reason wasn’t just that they looked “beautiful” after the transformation. I would suggest that it is also the newly found confidence that these women gain from their transformation that makes them more attractive to the male interest. If this is the case, perhaps the problem does not lie in the physical “beautification” but the confidence that the female leads associate with societal “beauty” and the lack of self esteem associated with the more “awkward,” “frumpy,” or “innocent” appearance.

    • thauge2013 says:

      And even more disheartening is that, to some extent, these women were unable to embody any significant amounts of self-confidence until they change something about themselves on the outside. Rather than gathering their confidence from within, the movies have no choice but to show this change as a result of physical change. For all we know, the opposite may be true, but I’m not sure if the movie industry has explored that possibility to its fullest length.

  2. I think the examples you use are pretty telling on this sort of narrative perpetuated by media and popular culture. I think if you even go deeper, you’ll find that the sole reason for these personal beauty binges is to satisfy the demands of the men who end up with these women. Personally I find it crippling and awkward that these movies that involve women finding their inner confidence have such a heavy backdrop of male appeasement. Although I do think this is in many ways a common thread in romantic relationships, including men’s own appeasement to women, a lot of this narrative is overly emphasized and made to seem as a given. I think this is partly due to these stories’ construction of what a relationship should be like and to what standards of beauty their members have to conform.

    Your post makes me think about the effect of fiction, story and illusion in people’s body image, especially women’s — considering our society. I think there are a lot more stories out there that actually fight back against the narratives you presented, although these are kind of in the margins of popular consumption. For example, I think that a lot of LGBT films somewhat portray an opposite narrative to this, such as “The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love”, which is a film about two high school lesbians, one a loner and quite Butch and masculine, the other one a very “femie” popular girl. Basically, one of the issues of the movie is the popular girl’s friends and family reacting to the interpreted unattractiveness of the more “Butch” one’s persona and overall image. As you might guess, they accept each other despite their disparaged appearances and society’s expectations.

    • thauge2013 says:

      To declare that there are no movies that counter this cinematic tendency would be very ignorant of me. I have not explored the genre of LGBT films with any great depth, but if what you say is true, than one can only hope that this romantic dynamic between main characters will eventually impact other genres of film with more frequency.

      I had made a list of movies that actually did not fit the mold that I posited in the post — of course, when I couldn’t fit it into the post, I may have also deleted it! Among this list, I included the following movies:

      “Mulan” – aside from the whole dressing-as-a-man and questionable tension resulting from this, the main character actually manages to snag the guy by being skilled, smart, and ignoring the physical aspect.

      “Pride and Prejudice” – Mr. Darcy is head over heels for Elizabeth before she even had a clue! A very different dynamic in their relationship, but worth mentioning nonetheless.

      “The Last Holiday” – Yes, her character was shy and timid at the beginning of the movie, and yes she did gain more confidence by the conclusion. However, the changes that she makes to her life do not surround her attraction to the love interest. He had always felt something for her, and that was regardless of her appearance.

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