Body Images on Film on TCM Tuesdays in May
TCM's May Programming includes a special themed lineup with a focus on body images on film. The weekly programming probes into all aspects of what it is to be a beautiful women and how films perpetuate both the changing definition of what it means to be attractive, and the stigma associated with the inability to fulfill those definitions. This month, TCM takes a look at how movies have shaped our notions of beauty through several films in which the human body is on display.
Some say art is a reflection of society and others say that society is influenced by the media. TCM asserts that both perspectives are factual. Cinema is a reflection of our society and its perceptions. It reveals how we view and interact with one another as well as how we see ourselves. It also greatly impacts the shaping of those opinions. We are constantly shown what is attractive and what is not, almost to the point of brainwashing. The result is rather appealing to the an audience who generally affirms this concept, but it is also a reality that such depictions are damaging to those who do not fit the mold of such notions. The consequences lead to self doubt and persecution. However unintended, stereotypes persist due in large part to media influence and an audience's desire to accept those stereotypes as fact.
Hairspray (1988) Muriel's Wedding (1994) and Georgy Girl (1966) all present a plus size woman as the underdog reaching for her dreams despite her appearance which holds her back. They are woman who are not usually accepted as heroines because of the way they look. Their "type" is usually relegated to the "best friend" or "wacky" colleague roles. This is a reoccurring theme with overweight screen personas that remain today. The 2001 production of Fat Girl just out-and-out lets you know from the title what the story is all about, and Fatso (1980) goes so far as to make a joke at of Dom DeLuise's struggle with weight loss. It is easy to see that attractive people must have written these screenplays, and play off of the tropes they learned growing up.
Classic films such as the Joan Crawford vehicle, A Woman's Face (1941) and The Enchanted Cottage (1945) starring Robert Montgomery and Dorothy McGuire, rely upon the conceit that the main characters are ugly. Crawford and Montgomery for the scars they bare on their faces, and McGuire for her "plain Jane" facade. It's quite ridiculous that any of these actors could be deemed unattractive by their barely noticeable disfigurations, but Hollywood deemed these minor flaws to be unappealing to the point that we are to believe that none of them could possibly acquire a mate. The conditions in which they find love is due to the beauty they posses on the inside. It's a nice idea, but what a devastating message to send to those lacking "movie star" looks in the first place. What hope do they have?
The value placed upon good looks will always be a part of the world in which we live. There is no disputing that. The question that will be asked through the examination of these curated films will be why we have to pummel this platitude to death through visual media. Simply put, sex sells, and until we augment that perception, it will be impossible to make a difference in mass perception.