This past weekend we received a movie from Netflix that I was looking forward to watching. To find a film boring or slow is one thing, but watching this film actually made my blood boil. I’m speaking of “The Duchess,” an Academy Award nominated British film starring the talented Keira Knightley. Although well-acted, this film portrayed a female character whose main virtue and value in the eyes of not only society, but also of herself, was her intangible (unrealistic) beauty and obsession with fashion.
I’m so tired of female characters in film and television whose only value as leading ladies is to be beautiful, extremely thin (to the point where you can see their ribs sometimes!), and fashionable. We, as modern women, have to struggle to have a healthy body image because our role models and heroines are ridiculously skinny with picture perfect hair and porcelain skin.
But I’m not just disgusted by the extreme, socially-imposed perfection that so many actresses have to attain in order to get roles. I’m also tired of seeing female characters that neither look nor act like myself (nor any of my female friends for that matter). In much of the entertainment world, women are only seen as stereotypes, damsels in distress, or—more recently—completely obsessed with fashion and “finding a man.” In most films, women are only powerful and meaningful as seductresses or manipulators. And forget about being an actress if you don’t have the ideal look or if you are a normal, healthy weight. And curvy girls can only be comic relief.
I don’t want to simply whine. I want to note the female characters that are fantastic and beautiful and quirky and fun. In no specific order, I’d like to mention Margaret Cho (who had a short-lived sitcom called “American Girl” that everyone should watch) and Alyson Hannigan and Cobie Smulders as the intelligent, yet hilariously flawed women in “How I Met Your Mother.” I must mention the lovely ladies of “The New Adventures of Old Christine” (even though I think Julia needs to eat a bit more also, she looked healthier in “Seinfeld”): Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Emily Rutherfurd, and Wanda Sykes, whose relationships with each other and men are realistic and beautifully flawed. The best portrayals of women in television that I know of were in “Northern Exposure,” which aired for several seasons in the 90’s. They were realistic as individuals and beautiful people without being starved and air-brushed.
I was racking my brain to think of good female characters in film recently. Sadly, most of the movies I’ve enjoyed had complex and daring male characters but only fake or shallow female characters. A few movies did come to mind. “Stranger Than Fiction” with the striking and talented Queen Latifah, the elegant Emma Thompson, and the ever-amazing Maggie Gyllenhaal (with her tattoos and messy hair—she is so sexy!). It is uncommon for there to be so many relatable female characters in one movie and especially for it to not be a “chick flick.” “Notes on a Scandal” portrayed an eerie Judi Dench and a tragic Cate Blanchett. It was a disturbing and engaging film with unique, literary female characters. I also must mention “Ghost World,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” and “Juno,” because these films showed girls and young women as they really are: lovely, silly, and completely distinctive.