Revision as of 01:36, 23 January 2014 by Andrew (Talk | contribs)

(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)

Chapter V: Conclusions part a


Fashion Shows, Strip Shows and BeautyPageants:

The Theatre of The Feminine Ideal



Chapter V: Conclusion

As discussed in the preceding chapters, fashion shows, strip shows, andbeauty pageants are linked by several common elements: runway staging, emphasis on femaleperformers, non-spoken performances, costume serving as the definition of the ideal, andevidence that the audience uses these shows as vehicles for fantasies. This suggests thatthese three forms of performance are in fact one form with three variations, a form whichmight be described as the "theatre of the feminine ideal." This form uses theabove mentioned linking elements to create and "ennoble" an ideal of aparticular aspect of femininity. The ideal chosen in each case is the one preferred by theaudience belonging to that form: all women in the case of fashion shows, all men in thecase of strip shows, and a combination of men and women for beauty pageants. The audiencepreferences in female ideals characterized and changed the role of the performers in eachgenre, and continues to characterize and change these roles now.

The all-female audience of fashion shows has led to thinner and thinnermodels who more and more closely resemble a masculine body type, seen by women (strugglingto succeed in a male-dominated culture) as superior and "successful." Theall-male audience of burlesque strip shows influenced the increasing nakedness of thestrip, and the image of strippers as physically mature , sexually secure, aggressivelyseductive figures. An originally middle-class, mixed sex audience of vacationing familieshelped to define the image of the beauty queen as the ideal daughter figure.

The performers' attempts to represent the ideals on stage as envisionedby the audience, (often in spite of their own real life identity's being in apparentcontradiction with their stage image,) demonstrate the theatrical artifice of the roles ofstrippers, models and beauty queens. Fashion models go to extraordinary lengths in orderto supply a slender body, and upper class body language. As many as half of all strippershave plastic surgery in order to reform their bodies into the ideal image, and all wearcostumes that depict a stereotyped icon of female sexuality. While beauty pageantcontestants often attempt to live up to the "ideal" they enact in their personalas well as professional lives, they too use artificial techniques like surgery andrehearsals to enhance their on stage personas, and so better portray the ideal intheatrical terms. Each type of performer is required to use artificial, theatrical meansin order to portray the ideal on stage.

The shape of the runway stage used for these performances emulates thehanimichi bridge in it's glorifying aspect of raising the performer above the audience,and also allowing the performer the position of direct "address" towards theaudience. An enormous variety of effects is available in runway staging--from the varietyof runway shapes utilized in fashion shows to the horizontal and vertical blocking instrip shows-- allowing performers to pass from formal distance, through the levels ofsocial distance, down to the level of intimate distance, simply by advancing down therunway in stages to eye level.

This evidence not only indicates that strip, beauty and fashion showsare variants on a single format--the theatre of the feminine ideal--but also, byinference, suggests that the main format is capable of including a wide variety ofsub-genres including, but not limited to, the three already in existence. The adaptationswithin each genre that arose out of the interests and desires of the particular audiencegroup demonstrate the adaptability of the theatre of the feminine ideal to the individualcircumstances of the audience supporting it.

The often elaborate artifices performers use to enact the ideals of thestripper, model, and beauty queen, from costumes and make up to dieting and surgery,demonstrate that these women are performers, not "natural" ideal figures and, byimplication, could use different preparations and alterations to enact different types ofideals than the ones they do show. The variety of effects fashion shows have created withaltering runway shapes, and the levels of movement through public, social and intimatedistance that strippers have discovered while working on runways, indicate that the stagespace commonly used for the theatre of the feminine ideal is capable of a greater varietyof effects than any one genre has utilized in the past. The variety of forms already to befound within the theatre of the feminine ideal, the evidence that these forms can respondto the changing needs of their audiences, the recognition that the women enacting theideals are performers who merely enact the chosen ideal, and the versatility to be foundin the staging format, all lead to the conclusion that the present ideals promoted by thiskind of theatre are not the only kind of image which it is possible for the theatre of thefeminine ideal to promote.

The Utility of the Theatre of the Feminine Ideal in a"Liberated" Society

Where are fashion shows, strip shows and beauty pageants going now, andwhat are their possible roles for the future? According to their critics they are allhopelessly anti-feminist and going nowhere fast. Yet these forms of theatre show no signsof disappearing: strip shows and fashion shows are even spreading into the video market;live strip shows have replaced porno movie houses as the erotic theater of choice in manytowns; and beauty pageants still pull high TV ratings in America, even as they arespreading their popularity into Eastern Europe. If these forms are so archaic anddecaying, why are they showing continued signs of life? I believe that part of the answerlies in the data here assembled.

The one fact that seems most evident from the material discussed in thisstudy is that these three forms of performance found under the umbrella "the theatreof the feminine ideal" are extremely elastic, and capable of mutating whenever achange seems to be desirable or necessary to hold the audience. As their audience's tastechanged, all three forms of performance have radically changed the "ideal woman"each one glorified, and each will probably continue to change that image to fit the natureof their audience in the future. This seems to be the main strength of this form ofidealizing theatre: it's mutability. If, for instance, Middle America should ever decidethat truly liberated women, regardless of beauty, should be the ideal of AmericanWomanhood, the Miss America contest could easily follow the lead of the Ms. Santa MonicaPageant which in 1987, in response to the liberal views of the people of Santa Monica,eliminated physical beauty as a judging category and did not include a swimsuitcompetition. Contestants ranged in age from 18 to 50 and were of varying marital status,including a single mother. The winner, an advertising copywriter who does communityservice work in a battered women's shelter, entered "after seeing feminist attorneyGloria Allred on television cutting a red bathing suit into shreds at a beachside pressconference." Her first runner-up was a 39 year old owner of a custom car detailingbusiness and the former vice president of the Organization of Women For Legal Awareness inNew Jersey. This kind of genuinely liberated contestant came to the fore once the publicaccepted Ms. Santa Monica's ideal as being a liberated woman defined by standards otherthan physical beauty. If the will of Middle America ever travels as far as this ideal ofwomanhood, chances are Miss America, Miss USA, and the other big national contestsdependent on the American majority for their existence, will follow in Ms. Santa Monica'sfootsteps, simply in order to keep up with their audience. Until then, as usual, Nationalcontests will only go as far as the majority of their public will permit, and theirjudging criteria will continue to reflect the less than liberated standards of society atlarge.

While many (if not most) performances of fashion shows, strip shows, andbeauty pageants, have been reductionist and/or demeaning to women, this does not alter thefact that there also have been performances in these genres which have been positiveidealizations of some aspect of womanhood. The "breast-giving-fantasy" stripperformance done with foam eggs and breasts taken from a shopping bag described in ChapterIII is a case in point. Connecting breasts with their actual food-function by associationwith groceries and food reaffirmed their primary role in the mothering and nurturing partof sex, and caused the audience to behave "like good little mother's boys"politely enjoying a normal Oedipal fantasy. This kind of healthy fantasy is a positiveexperience both for the audience and performer.

The fault to be found in a demeaning performance is not with the formatof the genre, which has proven to be elastic enough to be used both positively andnegatively, but with the use to which the individual performance is put. To criticize theformat of these genres because they are predominantly used for sub-standard performances,and occasionally are used for offensive ones, is much like declaring Kodak film is badbecause most photos taken with it are ill-focused vacation snaps, and some is used forchild pornography. The medium is not necessarily the message, and bad theatre is notconfined to strip, fashion, and beauty shows.

Ultimately, the hyperbolic frenzy that surrounds the theatre of thefeminine ideal is about sex, and the almost hysterical fear--shared by fashion showaudiences, conservative pageant promoters, radical anti-pageant feminists and selfappointed guardians of public morals-- that the women in these forms of entertainment maybe voluntarily ascending this pedestal and asking to be worshiped as sex objects. Theviolent moral attacks on strip shows and beauty pageants by the moral guardians andfeminists, the sexless body image demanded of the fashion model, and the conservative,chaperoned rituals of the beauty pageant, all stem at least in part from this intense fearof female sexuality. The actual problem is that we do not live in a "liberated"society at all, and the theatre of the feminine ideal usually reflects our society the wayit is--not as we wish it would be.

Fashion show models, in particular, reflect women's fear of their ownbody (and by implication their sexuality) and their desire to replace it with an"improved," sexless, female-as-male body image. As described in Chapter II, thistrend in fashion-model bodies began to be evident in the early years of this century and,as described in Chapter III, its effect on the model's body has escalated to the pointwhere it is actually dangerous, fueling an increase in eating disorders, fad diets, andcosmetic surgery. This undernourished ideal for models, and those who emulate them, willcontinue to be featured in performances largely patronized by women, until femaleaudiences demand another ideal of themselves, either due to a return to Victorian sexualroles, or to women finally truly being seen as equal or superior to men, and theirsexuality not automatically regarded as threatening or demeaning. Only then will women'snatural mature bodies be put forward as acceptable role models.

Theoretically, in a genuinely free and open sexual atmosphere, womenexhibitionisticly seeking approval would not seem so threatening, but while we live in asociety that strongly represses female sexuality, conservative people naturally see anyglorification of female sexuality as an attack on the values of that society. Radicals areequally right to question whether performances which are tolerated by a repressed societyat large are not in fact expressions of that repressed society's negative view of womenand sex. However it is the radicals, particularly radical feminists, who are on shakiestground when they criticize these forms of performance. For no other types of performancehave as much female input and participation, few offer as many possibilities for creatingand showcasing positive propaganda images of women, and few offer better opportunities forwomen to express their own abstracted images of themselves, both sexually and socially.

People who wish to improve the status of women should be attempting to takeover these forms of theatre and use them as showcases for new ideals of womanhood.Obviously, this is difficult to envision, much less attempt, since the concept of female"beauty" in 20th Century society has primarily been used as a method ofcontrolling and penalizing women for being female, but it is precisely because of thissocial evil that it is important that feminists use these media to eradicate the view that"defines 90% of women as rejects." By scorning "beauty" pageants oneabdicates the responsibility of forcing pageants to alter their "standards" toinclude women of all ages, races, body types and marital status, and leaves the judgingcriteria to be determined by conservatives who will naturally continue to enforce outdatedimages of female beauty. For example, only recently a deaf contestant in the MissCalifornia pageant was refused permission to have a person translate the on-stagequestions she was asked into sign language, a clear piece of discrimination against a"flawed" handicapped person. This kind of blatant intolerance is only possiblewhere a pageant is solely run by like minded people with extremely narrow views of idealwomanhood.

Positively, pageants traditionally have been used by racial and ethnicgroups (often excluded by conservative pageants in the past) to affirm their groupidentity, and demonstrate that their own young women are as attractive and talented as therest. Even after pageants like Miss America have chosen minority contestants, thesepageants often survive as showcases of ethnic pride. For example, contestants in thenational Miss Chinatown USA competition held each year in San Francisco are expected to beable to answer interview questions in Chinese, and the talent competition is largelyfilled with martial arts demonstrations and traditional Chinese instrumental music anddances. Another set of contests promoting an ethnic group are the Miss Russian AmericaPageants, held in both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. They select two representatives to tour eachother's respective countries. Candidates "must exhibit a good knowledge of andinterest in Russian and American history" and help to promote the Russian AmericaFestival, a festival highlighting the history of Russian colonization in North America andpromoting U.S./U.S.S.R. relations.

The ability of pageants to demonstrate that the "daughters" ofa particular race or country are beautiful and talented is one of the reasons pageants arespreading into Eastern Europe. Sick of seeing Western portrayals of their women asbackward, "butch" and ugly, Eastern Europeans have embraced pageants as a forumfor demonstrating to the West that women in the Eastern Bloc are also beautiful. Acontestant in the first Miss U.S.S.R. competition stated it this way:

A beauty contest in the Soviet Union plays an entirely different role than a beauty competition in any other country. People are so used to seeing Soviet women as tractor drivers or milkmaids, and the competition helps to show women in a different light completely. It helps to see Soviet women in their grace and their beauty and their tenderness.

Unfortunately, in the East as well as the West, pageants are often runfor a profit, not for higher motives, and the first Miss USSR pageant was no exception.The same contestant was horrified to find that she (a Moslem) was expected to representher predominantly Moslem republic in a scanty swimsuit while onstage commentariesemphasized pulchritude over talent to an embarrassing degree. Despite the awkwardness ofthe pageant, however, it did "prove" to the organizers of the Miss World andMiss Universe competitions, at least, that Soviet women were worthy of inclusion ininternational beauty competition. Now Soviet contestants take part in these globallytelevised pageants, demonstrating for a world audience that Soviet women are neitherbackward nor "factory-built." In 1991, Miss USSR placed as first runner up inthe Miss Universe competition, a significant step in destroying the negative stereotype ofSoviet women, (albeit while promoting a new stereotype).

Attacking strip shows and other forms of erotic theatre across theboards as automatically sexist, is to ignore the positive image that many of the bettererotic performers try to create. Even an average stripper usually embodies both an imageof individuality and an image of sexual enjoyment: both of which are (or should be) partof any self-respecting feminist credo. Some strippers, like "Danyel" in ChapterIII, use stripping as a way of expressing their "deviant" sexual orientation.For others, like Nina Hartley of the Mitchell Brothers Theatre, the chance to exhibitthemselves publicly is in itself a form of sexual self expression:

I discovered early on that I had exhibitionistic tendencies. But not wanting to physically endanger myself by doing something stupid on the street or in a bar, I found out about the [strip theatre] amateur night, and realized here is a safe, physically safe place for me to live out my fantasies, and see if the reality is anything like I think it might be. And it turned out that I enjoyed it even more.

Hartley, by stripping, is doing what sensible women's rights advocateshave been hoping women would feel free enough to do for years: expressing her sexuality asshe feels it and not the way society says she should. People who object to any stripperformance, regardless of its positive personal or political content, have beensubconsciously brainwashed by moralists into automatically equating sex with sexism. Thisis just a new variation on the old sexual double standard.

Any doubts that this is what is at work here are crushed when oneconsiders the case of the famous touring all-male strip show, Chippendale's. No onedecries the sexual exploitation of young men who take off their clothes for money; no oneintimates that they are symbols of the sexual enslavement of men by women, and yet they doexactly the same thing as female strippers--they are silent, they wear a stereotyped male"character" costume, they dance, writhe, remove their clothing, and do bumps andgrinds in a simulated reenactment of sexual excitement. Chippendale's male performers showwomen that one doesn't have to be a sexist pig to enjoy watching good looking people ofthe opposite sex take their clothes off, and that people who take their clothes off for anaudience don't necessarily have to be the object of pity. A female caller to a SanFrancisco talk-show, People are Talking, doing a segment on "The Women of MitchellBrothers," brought up this point: "why are we so condemning of women?" (whostrip,) she asked, while the Chippendale's men "are going all over the country whilewomen stick twenty dollar bills in their shorts?!" Annette Haven a former MitchellBrothers stripper and erotic film star (Autobiography of a Flea) gave this answer:

It's because men in this society are allowed to have sex and women aren't. Therefore if women are participating in a sexual industry they get a lot of criticism. Men in my business get asked by people: "Gee, what's it like to have sex with such a beautiful woman?" whereas the women get asked "How can you do such a thing?" and that's the societal attitude.

This "societal attitude" has a negative effect on strip-showsin general and on the women who perform in them in particular. Negatively portrayingstrippers as either immoral tramps or victims of sexual exploitation totally denies themtheir individuality, and denies the possibility that they work in stripping as a matter ofconscious choice between several possible alternatives. This is counter to the evidencefound in every empirical study of stripping as a profession, from Skipper and McCaghy toCarey, Peterson and Sharpe.

The worst effect of the prejudice against stripping is found in the areaof club management. Stigmatizing strip clubs as the preserve of sexist sleaziness, onlybarely on the right side of the law, seems to have driven out old-time semi-respectablemanagers like the Minsky's, and left largely thick-skinned, aggressive, manipulative menin their wake. In the documentary, Stripper, not one manager seen on film seemed totreat his employees with anything approaching respect, despite the obvious talent andintelligence many of them possessed. To draw a Marxist parallel, the means of (theatrical)production would obviously benefit from being put in the hands of the workers.

In one case this happened, although only for (touring)"headliners": the O'Farrell St. Theatre in San Francisco (formerly run by thewacky Mitchell brothers, who proudly claimed to have produced the first all-safe- sexporno movie) "rented" stage space to headliners for a flat fee, and thestrippers keep all their own box office receipts. While this was doubtless done to limitthe Mitchell brothers' financial risk, it also insures the artistic independence of theperformers, who are only dependant on the audience for approval, not the managers. Notsurprisingly, the Mitchell Brothers' O'Farrell St. Theatre became one of the top stripvenues in the country, attracting stars like Hypatia Lee, Tempest Storm and MarylynChambers to name a few.

The next obvious step would be for strippers, male and female, toconsciously self-produce works designed to enlighten as well as entertain their audiences,in the way that certain porno film stars have created "feminist porn" productioncompanies like Femme Productions and Fatale Films that promote egalitarian sex and lesbiansex respectively.

Fashion shows, because of their all- female audience, have undergone theleast criticism as a "sexist" form of theatre, and have been co-opted by moreliberal elements more often than strip or beauty shows have. As a result, they form thebest model of how a genre can be used to promote useful causes: from anti- racism topro-environment. As early as 1915, message- ridden fashion shows were in vogue. The firstin New York was the "Fete de Vanite", an anti-fashion satire of wealthy New Yorksociety with deliberately "ridiculous styles" of clothing, performed as acharity benefit for "individual cases among the poor." Lucille wrote a Belgianwar relief benefit show shortly thereafter that dramatized the shelling of a Belgian townby the Germans as part of the prologue.

The comparative ease of staging fashion shows has often been anencouragement to charitable groups in need of a benefit performance of some kind, and"educational" groups in search of agreeable methods of disseminatinginformation. For example, during the fabric shortages of World War II, the TraphagenSchool of Design sponsored a fashion show of student designs using made-over garments,scrap materials like shower curtains and table cloths, and non-traditional materials likestraw caning and auto upholstery fabric.

The most successful long term educational/benefit fashion show series isthe Ebony Fashion Fair. Started in 1958 by Eunice Johnson it "revolutionized thefashion industry by showcasing beautiful black models in the latest styles." Prior tothis time black models were simply not seen on runways anywhere. In 1963, Pucci hired twomodels recommended by the Ebony staff for his Paris show, and thereafter black models havebeen a permanent fixture in runway modeling and, to a lesser extent, in print work. Inaddition to promoting the concept of black women as beautiful and fashionable, the Ebonyshow also showcases the work of black American clothing designers alongside the best workof European designers, in a successful attempt to demonstrate that Afro-American designersare in no way inferior to their European counterparts. Throughout, the show is anexcellent vehicle for raising black pride and white consciousness, as well as raisingmoney for black schools and charities.

Most revolutionary, starting in 1982, the Ebony show began to include afull-figured model, in recognition that "more than 50 percent of the women [in theaudience] are sizes 12 to 14" and needed positive role models. The program for the1989 show described the policy as "making a statement--'being amply endowed with morecan be just as lovely as the leaner counterpart.'" The magazine Big Beautiful Womanalso sponsors full-figure fashion shows for similar reasons. These shows help to assertthe social acceptability of adult women's natural bodies unaltered by excessive dieting orsurgery.

The Harlem Institute of Fashion also sponsored historical fashion showsbetween 1972-1982 which showcased historical and recent clothing designed by blackdesigners and dressmakers, in order to showcase blacks' place in fashion history. Theseshows aided the H.I.F. in getting a grant from the N.E.A. to establish a museum of fashionat the Institute. This is an excellent example of fashion shows devised to educate thepublic and so move it to action. More recently, as reported in Vogue, regular fashiondesigners have included political messages in their shows, although often these"themes" are little more than cosmetic. Norma Kamali expressed concern forecology in her spring fashion collection, which was shown amidst the greenery of Centralpark last Fall. The models carried signs--ACID RAIN SQUAD, EARTH CHILDREN, ENVIRONMENTALPROTECTION AGENTS--while a song written especially for the show...bemoans the ozoneproblem and the destruction of trees. Kamali, who uses fake fur and is a vegetarian, says,"If we don't take care of our world, fashion will have to incorporate ways to protectourselves from the environment." To a greater or lesser extent fashion shows likethese are useful for enlarging the public's attitude to include positive images of blackwomen, and large-size women, as well as for promoting a number of causes fromenvironmental consciousness to war relief. The possibilities fashion shows have offered inthe past for promotion of a cause or image has only been limited by the imaginations ofthe organizers. The enormous variety of images and causes that have been promoted givehints of how the other two genres (strip shows and beauty pageants) could be shaped toadvocate different images of women and women's sexuality.

Areas for Further Study

This study has focused only on the interrelationship of fashion shows,strip shows and beauty pageants, and has not exhausted the possibilities for study withineach of these areas. All of these forms of performance have been under-researched, mostprobably because they are of a "popular" rather than an "artistic"nature and consequently are deemed trivial in value. Added to this is the fact that theseforms are considered sexually suspect by both conservatives and liberals, which makes anyattempt at evenhanded dealing with the material much like balancing on a seesaw. Anattempt to fairly represent viewpoints from both sides puts one in the attitude of amugwump--an awkward seating arrangement from which to attempt a scholarly study.

Despite these discouragements, the theatre of the feminine ideal is anextremely open one for study. Virtually no one has done anything with the history offashion shows; studies of burlesque tend to focus on the comics not the strippers; and theonly really valuable studies of beauty pageants are American BeautyMissAmerica 1945: Bess Myerson's Own Story and There She Is. Fashion shows, inparticular, are largely unrecognized as a part of social or theatrical history--anabsolutely amazing occurrence when one considers the huge amount of writing, filming, andphotography that has recorded individual fashion shows in the last eighty years. Animportant study could be made of the role fashion shows and window-displays made in theearly years of the great American "invention" of advertising campaigns. It couldalso be useful for people in fashion merchandising if someone were to record the historyof the "innovations" and gimmicks used in fashion shows and some history of themethods of the trade from which to draw techniques. It was immediately apparent fromreading accounts of old fashion shows that every few years show organizers would"invent" a "new" method for lending variety and interest to the formwithout being aware that the "new" method was, in fact, something done beforebut forgotten. The lack of a properly recorded history of the staging and advertisingtechniques used in the past means that organizers are constantly asked to re-invent thewheel instead of being able to build upon past experience.

Strip shows need to be examined along with pornographic film, art andwriting, and studied in context with the numerous surveys now available on male and femalefantasies, fears and expectations about sex. Erotic entertainment needs to be discussedrationally along with evidence about audience needs and expectations, if anyone is ever toraise the debate on the issue of pornography above the level of hysterical name calling.The history and development of strip staging, would be difficult to glean from writtenrecords, but a large number of retired strippers who could be interviewed for this kind ofinformation are alive and well and can be contacted through The Burlesque HistoricalSociety of America/Exotic Dancers League in Helendale, California.

Beauty pageants have been studied in context with the surroundingculture at large but, except for Deford's work, pageantry has not been studied as aculture of it's own. Since There She Is was published in 1971, huge changes havetaken place in the values and aspirations of pageants and their groupies, and it isclearly time to give them a second look, particularly in view of the large body ofpublications they have produced in the intervening twenty years.

The whole history of pageant protests in California sponsored by MediaWatch could also document the under- recorded form of political protest called streettheatre. Media Watch has made interesting use of visual symbols in their protests(chaining bathroom scales to their ankles as they jump through hula-hoops in "weightobedience school;" wearing "pageant gowns" made of stitched together meatto name just two) that play with literal enactments of commonly used metaphoric phrases.The Media Watch group also is much more cooperative and generous with their informationthan the Miss America and Miss Universe organizations are, and so offers a lessfrustrating struggle for source material. Strangely, a bizarre topic for study could alsobe made out of the improvements that have been forced on beauty pageants over the years asa result of their detractor's protests. Ironically, the greatest innovations in pageantshave occurred because of hostile criticism. A very good case could be made for consideringgroups like Media Watch an asset to pageants as a whole, if the direct link could bedocumented between public protests of a given issue in pageants, and the subsequentadoption of different pageant rules in that area.

These are only a few of the topics for further study in this area,naturally there are others possible among strip, fashion, and beauty shows, however, theseare the ones that are most obviously suggested by the research materials available.

A Personal Comment

When beginning work on this study I idly supposed that the images of thefashion model, the stripper and the beauty queen were trivial, amusing and harmless, andthat strip shows, fashion shows and beauty pageants were very limited forms of theatre,capable of only minor variations. As a result of performing this research, it has beennecessary to completely change this view on both points: the images of women that thetheatre of the feminine ideal most often promotes are not harmless either to performers oraudience; however, the forms of the fashion show, strip show and beauty pageant arecapable of idealizing an astonishing variety of images, including truly positive ones.

Through studying this topic it became apparent that it is desperatelyimportant now that we begin to positively advocate alternative ideals of female beauty.Presently, in America 150,000 women die each year of Anorexia Nervosa, more than the totalnumber of deaths from AIDS reported in the world from the beginning of the epidemic to1988. Each year a physically healthy "city of women the size of San Francisco getscut open each year in the United States" with unnecessary cosmetic surgery, a 90%unregulated industry, that uses techniques never approved by the FDA, known to causenumerous adverse permanent physical side effects--including the most permanent--death.Women in America are not only dying because of what Naomi Wolf calls "The BeautyMyth," but are being faced with job discrimination that requires women (and not men)wear makeup. Women spend 20 billion dollars a year on cosmetics in order to"improve" their appearance up to an acceptable level, a level that men areassumed to reach unassisted by paint. Worst of all women feel internal self hatred: a 1984survey found that 75% of female respondents aged 18-35 believed that they were fat,including 45% of underweight women. Wolf comments:

More heartbreaking in terms of the way in which the myth is running to ground hopes for women's advancement and gratification, the Glamour respondents chose losing ten to fifteen pounds above success in work or love as their most desired goal.

The present ideals of the anoretic model, the surgically alteredstripper, and cosmetically perfected beauty queen are in actuality doing damage to womenand their sense of self, as well as damage to the performers enacting the ideals. This isnot what one would expect to find, but it is what seems to be there. It is imperative thatthe men and women in the audience, and the performers and producers on stage, each asindividuals, examine the ideals they are supporting and make a conscious effort to changethem now, as they have in the past, to reflect the needs of our changing culture.


This Page is part of The Costumer's Manifesto, originally founded by Tara Maginnis, Ph.D. from 1996-2014, now flying free as a wiki for all to edit and contribute. Site maintained, hosted, and wikified by Andrew Kahn. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License; additional terms may apply. See Terms of Use for details. You may print out any of these pages for non-profit educational use such as school papers, teacher handouts, or wall displays. You may link to any page in this site.