I’ve been obsessed with my body image since I was 5 years old and heard my mom talk about how she needed to go on a diet. Now, 20 years later, I’m still dieting -- so's Mom -- and to say that my daily caloric intake controls my life would be an understatement. Darryl Roberts' new documentary, America the Beautiful, which discusses our obsession with baby-doll faces and straw-thin waists and the media’s complicity in all this, opens at the Angelika Film Center in Mockingbird Station today, and you can bet your 100-calorie snack pack it’s worth a looksie. (Dallas is but one of nine cities in which the film has screened.)
In an interview with Unfair Park, Roberts said he created the film for women partly because the country needs to “start realizing that women are the cradle of our civilization, and we should not have this disregard for them.” My hero.
Can I say with complete certainty that the media created my obsession with my weight? No. Does the number of magazines sitting on my dresser force me to step on the scale every single day? No. But do they help? Absolutely not.
About a year ago, I lived in a house with two other girls, and, as motivation, we would tape pictures of Victoria’s Secret models on the pantry and on the fridge. And, men, why should you care? Because, oh, maybe you love someone who struggles with this issue. Or maybe your daughter wants to be Barbie, your wife wants to have Ali Larter’s gams, your niece idolizes Hilary Duff, your girlfriend thinks you’re checking out the fake-boobed chick on your right or your friend thinks you’re judging her when you go out for burgers.
Put simply, Roberts says that out of the 200 women he surveyed in the course of making the film, only two were happy with their body image.
In grade school, I drank gallons of milk because, we were told, milk makes you have bigger boobs; now, I want a breast reduction. In junior high, I only ate once a day; now, my metabolism's shot. I have been on the cabbage soup diet, the low-cal diet, the vegetarian diet, the exercise-your-brains-out diet and the starvation diet.
As Roberts depicts in his film, the fashion and media industry are about the bottom line, which generally means size-zero models without any bottoms at all -- because they require less fabric, duh. Roberts also says, “Just stop reading if they make you feel bad.” But then he gets it: Women like fashion. We like the pretty clothes and the fancy shoes, and if we don’t have the bodies that go with it, well, we suck.
There have been strides made that attempt to improve the way fuller-figured women are perceived, and I stand and clap in their general direction. But is this really the best we can do? Or how about you have to be 5-foot-7 tall to even be considered for America’s Next Top Model, where Tyra herself hopes to break some of the molds of the modeling industry. And just last year, the first “plus-sized” model was crowned -- at size 10.
But then there this icky Web site Roberts details in his film. Alas, the director was deemed "not beautiful," which, he says, "had a little sting to it." Worse, he adds, the Web site's creators "actually told me that they thought that beautiful people were morally superior. The world would be a better place if beautiful people ran it, because, you know they have the moral fortitude to really make the right decisions. There’d be less crime, less this, less that, they had a whole string of things -- like, you don’t see beautiful people in jail.”
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Roberts doesn't necessarily expect America the Beautiful to change the way we look at ourselves. After all, Morgan Spurlock didn't shut down McDonald's. But the maker of Super Size Me did get some folks off the fast food, and it did, perhaps, prompt the chain to offer slightly healthier menu items. Which was a start, all a director of a documentary can ask for.
“I don’t really expect the industry to do anything, because capitalism is so rampant in this country that I don’t think the industry is going to stop doing what it’s doing," Roberts says. "They’re making billions of dollars, and you know it’s not profitable to change. So I think what has to happen is that we have to change ourselves, meaning we have to take our self-esteem back from the advertising industry, and I think we do that by going on a media diet.”
After screening the film, though, I felt somewhat hopeless. Partly because I still went to bed without eating dinner and partly because there doesn’t seem to be a solution. Sure, they can can put “average-sized” women in ads, but then the skinny girls will suffer from low self-esteem (seriously -- it's discussed in the film). Besides, how can I convince myself that I’m perfect when I know I could stand to lose about 10 lbs? Well, 12.8, if you must know. --Courtney Clenney