“America the Beautiful” is a 2007 documentary by director Darryl Roberts that sets outs to answer the question “Who benefits from women not feeling beautiful?”
He begins the documentary by introducing us to Gerren, “every man’s dream,” a model by profession, strutting her long, lean body in a bikini on a rooftop full of other models, naked in a swimming pool, and booze being poured all around her.
“Now, I don’t want you to think I’m prudish or anything,” Roberts says sarcastically, “But I guess I forgot to tell you, Gerren’s only 12 years old.”
He then talks to another 12-year-old, Ashley, an African-American girl with similar qualities to Gerren, and with an obvious freshness and youthful innocence, just like what Gerren exudes.
“I never thought I was pretty,” Ashley says. “I just think I’m ugly.”
But why? Roberts keeps asking.
“I don’t have a certain reason, I just think it,” Ashley continues, smiling nervously. “No one’s ever told me, but I’m sure people think I’m ugly.
“There are only two girls I think that aren’t prettier than me,” she says. Why aren’t they pretty than you? Roberts asks.
“‘Cause they’re really, really ugly,” says Ashley, and she names off four or five famous women she considers to be pretty.
So starts the documentary, a 70-minute film that centers around the life of Gerren, the 12-year-old model, and analyzes the forces surrounding her on a daily basis, the forces Roberts is convinced influences both Gerren and Ashley’s polar-opposite behavior: targeted advertising and editorial content in magazines, television and billboards that unrealistically portray a standard of beauty that doesn’t exist.
Here are some interesting quotes from industry folks who contributed to the film. As a marketing professional, you walk a fine line when you voice an opinion on a topic as sensitive as this. But then again, marketing professionals have choices in what they choose to promote.
Some food for thought (notice: these folks held these titles as of the making of this film.):
Denise Fedewa, marketing planner at Leo Burnett Advertising, comments on the beauty-product advertising industry: “I think that was true for a long time: establish a problem and position yourself as the solution.” Denise runs the beauty campaigns for L’oreal Paris and Proctor & Gamble.
She continues: “Women are at different places in terms of how beauty-involved they are. There are some women at the top end that are super beauty-involved. They just enjoy it. There’s another group of the same super beauty-involved women who I do feel a little sorry for. They’re almost kind of vic – they are kind of the victims. They always hate the way they look, and they always want to look better. They don’t have very much self-esteem. So they try to boost their self-esteem with trying to conform to the standards, and they’re never happy. And so they are often the target for a lot of these products.”
Roberts cuts to a high school class in Vancouver, Washington, where students are taught about deciphering advertisements. The class has created what the teacher calls their “Great Wall of Porn,” a large bulletin board where they’ve posted cutouts of sexual images from print advertisements. Images that, the teacher and students say, blatantly sell sex instead of a product, especially since, as the teacher points out, sometimes a product isn’t even present in its ad.
Editors-in-chief of Cosmo Girl, Seventeen and Elle magazines:
Cosmo girl: Susan Schulz, “I’m not going to say it’s not partly the media’s fault,” Schulz says, citing airbrushed photos where there are no zits and no hairs out of place. “We could change, but if we change then we won’t make as much money, and when it comes to the bottom line, if you’re not gonna make the money, people look at what’s the point?
Seventeen: Atoosa Rubenstein, “I don’t think that advertisers or marketers are these people who want to make anyone feel bad. They just want to make a buck. I’m somebody that a lot of very big advertisers bring in when they want to figure out how to get that teen audience.
Elle Girl: Brandon Holley, “We’re not the only ones promoting a body type that is –I mean, there’s a billboard of Jenna Jameson right there (she points out her window), the most famous porn star of all time, wearing almost nothing. And how many thousands of kids walk by that billboard?”