Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Shifting Feminine Ideal

The image of a bronzed, bare-midriffed Megan Fox in "Tranformers 2" seems about as outmoded as the gargantuan American automobiles that she shares the screen with. In the last few years the popular image of It girls has shifted away from the raw, dangerous sense of sexuality that Fox exemplifies to a playful, even boyish, sex appeal.

The prevailing image of modern femininity has softened and is now characterized by sparkly eyes, schoolgirl bangs, and a buoyant wit. The woman de rigueur takes her cues from Edie Sedgwick and Holly Golightly and is popularly represented by Michelle Williams, Amy Adams, Jenny Lewis, Katie Holmes, Zooey Deschanel, Katy Perry, and Miley Cyrus. (It's worth noting that the indie princess Deschanel riffed on Audrey Hepburn's Golightly for a recent Oliver Peoples ad campaign).

Female superstars of a decade ago were pumped up and objectified to an almost laughable extent: Jennifer Lopez= ass; Angelina Jolie= lips; Pam Anderson= tits. In 2006, Shakira had the biggest hit of her career with a song dedicated simply to her hips--"Hips Don't Lie." Katy Perry, on the other hand, had her star turn recently with "I Kissed a Girl," a song dedicated not to her body but what she was inclined to do with it. (A pop song about kissing another girl is hardly empowerment but its playful, confessional tone is a notable shift).

Consider, for a moment, how the careful careerist Tom Cruise's love life has mirrored this trend: in the 90s, he was married to Nicole Kidman, the famously detached big-screen actress who, at the time, was known for vixen roles in "Dead Calm" and "To Die For"; now he is married to Katie Holmes, the actress from Toledo, Ohio who is admired more for her button nose and genuine smile than her sexuality. When the Holmes-Cruise union was announced, the public responded with a general sense of concern that the innocent-seeming Katie was the victim of brain-washing by the Church of Scientology. She was not the remote object of desire but rather the girl-next-door recipient of public empathy.

Our rapidly evolving, digital lifestyle has certainly furthered this trend. Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus, for instance, are major (personal) users of Twitter, the social communication platform that can provide an unprecedented view into the lives of celebrities. As well, the rise of 24/7 coverage of celebrities' lives has effectively transitioned stars from being distant idols that reside in multiplexes and photospreads to being heartbroken, waistline-battling conduits for our emotions.

And, as all things are these days, the current vision of sexiness is informed by our shifting economy. Angelina Jolie and Pamela Anderson represent an extreme era of Hummers, platinum chains, and platinum-selling records. The stars of today are more in line with current trends of transparency and sustainability. I, for one, am not looking back.

1 comment:

  1. This is beautiful, Andy!

    Gives a mousy girl from Minneapolis a little hope.

    I do wonder, however, if this is evidence that today's
    society has grown increasingly youth-obsessed, with
    the feminine "ideal" more akin to that of a pre-teen
    girl. Will our society still value Miss Zooey once she
    has grown more refined, with crow's feet, laugh lines, et al?