Assistant Spectrum Editor
Film director Darryl Roberts knows that chasing beauty ideals can be life changing and is all too aware of the negative messages received by the media.
Roberts opens his 2007 film “America the Beautiful” by telling a story of how instead of marrying the (almost) girl of his dreams, he stalled, believing he would find someone just a little more attractive.
Roberts and Miss America 2008 Kirsten Haglund presented the film Friday night at VCU, and were part of a panel discussion about themes in the film after the showing.
Haglund is the founder of the Kirsten Haglund Foundation, which works to raise money to help offset costs for those seeking treatment for eating disorders. The foundation reports that some treatment plans can cost up to $2,500 per day.
“America the Beautiful” examines the extreme and often scary lengths that Americans go to in order to fulfill an ideal created and upheld by the media, including eating disorders.
The film follows Gerren Taylor, a 12-year-old supermodel who begins her career booking shows for some of the biggest names in fashion, including Marc Jacobs and Tommy Hilfiger. As Roberts delves deeper into the world of beauty, viewers watch how short-lived Taylor’s early career ends up being.
Roberts uses the film to follow Taylor as she goes from being top-model status at 13, to rejection in Paris (where casting directors tell her that her 37-inch hip width is too big), to her at the age of 15, firmly believing she is ugly and needs to lose weight from her size-four frame.
Roberts spends a lot of time trying to understand why women don’t feel beautiful, and attempts to delve deeper into the societal constructions of beauty and how women’s beauty is defined by those rigid constructions.
He interviews the big shots in the fashion industry, the entertainment industry and editors of popular teen magazines, including the well-known ex-editor of Seventeen magazine, Atoosa Rubenstein.
All Roberts seems to find is that ultimately, beauty is a business, and the worse women feel, the better it is for business.
Roberts exposes the dangers of the beauty business that seem to be hidden, but the ease in which he attains most of his information in films is astonishing.
Roberts spends a portion of the film talking about plastic surgery, since at the time of release, the country was spending $12.4 billion dollars on plastic surgery. He talks to the doctors that were featured on E! Entertainment’s “Dr. 90210” and find out that none of the three doctors were (at the time of the film’s release) board-certified plastic surgeons.
In addition to the physical dangers of untrained surgeons and toxic ingredients in many beauty products, Roberts attempts to look at the mental health aspect of beauty by investigating eating disorders and what drives females to these extreme measures.
Nothing Roberts presents or finds is necessarily ground-breaking, but the personalities he finds in his so-called experts are scarily ignorant, and the honesty in the young people he interviews is just downright scary.
He meets a group of young men, including Chris Keefe, an average 20-something who explicitly says he has no interest in a woman’s mind and cannot wait for cloning to “get rid of the nasty chicks.”
Although the film itself doesn’t present anything that most viewers don’t already know, it does provide an easy way to discuss the topics he presents.
“I think the whole thing is kind of potent because it shows that the industry does need to change,” VCU sophomore Tara Horan said. “Telling someone that they’re a size four and still need to lose weight is ridiculous. As someone with self esteem issues, it’s hard to see (traditionally) beautiful complain that they’re not (beautiful) because so many times, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”