The International Writers Magazine

The Beauty Police:
How Hollywood sets the agenda for attractiveness
Christophe Phillips

As a fan of cinema, be it the knowingly easy comfort of Hollywood product, or the more individualist styles of other countries, one thing in particular has struck me. And it’s all about the look of Hollywood. A bold subject, I think you’ll agree.
I’m not concerned with the actual ‘look’ of Hollywood – the architecture, the ambience, etc (not to disrespect that in their own right!) – but the general ‘look’ of its cinematic product. In short, I mean the way Hollywood (assuming it to be a tangible, confluent whole) is presenting itself, how it has created an image that is particular to its product – to its films. Still not getting it?


We all know this, but look at the evidence. Charlize Theron won the Best Actress Oscar for Monster (2003, Dir. Patty Jenkins), presenting herself as serial killer Aileen Wournos and wearing god only knows how much latex and makeup to make herself appear uglier in the film than she normally is. What does this show us? That the beautiful people are all that’s needed for any role, that’s what. And, more terrifyingly I think, this means that there simply is no room for ugly – hell, even less than gorgeous – actresses in Hollywood.

Look further and it starts to form a recurring trend in Hollywood’s output in (particularly) the last decade. Thirteen, featuring Holly Hunter (in an Oscar-nominated role) also revelled in the obvious talents of its young star Evan Rachel Wood. Yet was this, for all its supposed grittiness, a true representation of ‘going off the tracks’? Of course not, but why too did they have to cast a girl who, despite giving a credible performance, looked so out of place among the images of drug abuse I’m familiar with (be it personally of through the ‘reported’ media) purely and simply because of being so pretty.

And yet, who can blame them? With both cases the Producers must have been faced with a difficult decision: trust in the credibility of the scripts and respect the cogency of the subject matter (each respectfully), or bite the bullet and allude to all that uncomfortable grittiness, and cast a stunner to make the advertising that much easier. And that’s not to say that they weren’t accomplished performances – they were, which is worrying still. Where does that leave a ‘normal’ actress? A sobering and compelling thought, I feel.

That’s not to say that bad things never happen to beautiful people, but it does illustrate the way things are in Hollywood. The power of beauty in Hollywood product sells.
I’m at fault here too. Hollywood provides a product. I consume this product. I add to the capital and ability of the Hollywood ‘machine’. I, as with so many others, like the ‘look’ of Hollywood. Beautiful people are easy to look at, easy to follow in the gossip-column kind of way – easy to elevate to stardom. Easy to market.

So where does the fault lie? With Hollywood for simply playing their end of the game well and giving us what, despite all our procrastinating at the all-encompassing, consuming nature of the beast, delivers what it promises? Surely not. Well, not really at least.

I think it lies with us, the consumer, (if it is even a matter of fault) because nine times out of ten we prefer the ‘look’ of Hollywood precisely because they are the beautiful people (and isn’t that half the fun of it all?) just as much as them. And yet this presents the uncomfortable realisation that in such an environment there is simply no room for anyone who doesn’t meet the impossibly high standard of the stars of today. But is this a modern phenomenon? Hardly.

There have always been beautiful stars, more often than not simply because they have everything I mentioned above and talent, yet I think the division is sharper now than ever before. So much recent Hollywood output has cast a reasonably attractive woman in a role that demands, in all honesty, someone less pretty. And where would be the harm in simply doing that?

Rachel L Cook
She’s All That (1999, Dir. Robert Iscove) sold itself short by casting Rachel Leigh Cook, someone who by no stretch of the imagination could be described as ugly – not even plain! She’s gorgeous, and undermined the credibility of the entire narrative by being gorgeous. Ok, it was always intended as popcorn fodder, but should that really matter? And is it alone in selling out in this way?

Moving on, are we really expected to associate Jeanine Gurrufalo with the plain, down trodden every-girl she is nearly always cast as? Again, she’s not shy of looks herself and, although she may not be up there with the Charizes, Jennifers and Angelinas of the world, she’s simply not unattractive.

So then, the watermark has shifted and we demote perfectly attractive people precisely because their co-stars are so impossibly beautiful. And it’s not just actresses – actors are finding themselves caught in this same struggle between talent and the attractiveness (and dollar value) of beauty. And yet, you only have to look at modern leading men to see their predicament isn’t nearly as bad as that of their female counterparts. Or, rather, look at how leading men are still succeeding with the focus perhaps balanced between their looks and talent, to see just how unbalanced it has become for actresses.
And, returning to the title of this article, is this the state of only Hollywood, or is the entire media industry towing the line to this impossible standard of beauty that Hollywood has shamelessly peddled, often to the detriment of the product itself, to us all? Is the music industry founded on the value of talent alone? Does the media, even in its more ‘serious’ incarnations (the news, for example) not play this game of pairing off talent with beauty? I’ll let you decided that one.

Nothing new here, I know, but I thought it high time the matter be addressed again before we all succumb to the fixed smile, perfect posture, body pumping image Hollywood suggests (and we seem to agree with) is ‘normal’, but for the most part is simply unattainable. And who wants that? I rest my case.
© Christophe Philipps, 16th September 2005.
(And who cast the plain Keira Knightley as Lizzie Bennet you might ask. We should be so lucky to meet someone so plain – Ed)
More Comment here


© Hackwriters 1999-2005 all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy - no liability accepted by or affiliates.