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The Hollywood Female Form

Andrew Sullivan links to a piece in Salon by Camille Paglia about Elizabeth Taylor. Specifically, it's about the type of body that Ms. Taylor had. She opines:

To me, Elizabeth Taylor's importance as an actress was that she represented a kind of womanliness that is now completely impossible to find on the U.S. or U.K. screen. It was rooted in hormonal reality -- the vitality of nature. She was single-handedly a living rebuke to postmodernism and post-structuralism, which maintain that gender is merely a social construct. Let me give you an example. Lisa Cholodenko's "The Kids Are All Right" is a truly wonderful film, but Julianne Moore and Annette Bening -- who is fabulous in it and should have won the Oscar for her portrayal of a prototypical contemporary American career woman -- were painfully scrawny to look at on the screen. This is the standard starvation look that is now projected by Hollywood women stars -- a skeletal, Pilates-honed, anorexic silhouette, which has nothing to do with females as most of the world understands them. There's something almost android about the depictions of women currently being projected by Hollywood.

Not sure I quite agree with this. True, you've got your stars like Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman, who take "thin" to a whole new level. But were there no thin female stars from the golden age of Hollywood? What about Marlene Dietrich? Joan Crawford? Katherine Hepburn? Grace Kelly? These ladies (especially Hepburn), while not wisps, were certainly not buxom and plump. In fact, many of the actresses in Hollywood --- both old and new --- would seem to represent a more unattainable look for most women. And old Hollywood is perhaps more guilty of this than its current incarnation, what with the excessive make-up and soft-focus tactics deployed in many films of the '30s, '40s and '50s. How much "hormonal reality" has really been present in Hollywood females?

I can also think of current Hollywood actresses that aren't super-thin, yet still beautiful: Scarlett Johansson and Kate Winslet spring immediately to mind. And, yes, let's not pretend that there isn't a thinness epidemic in Hollywood. I'm not being naive. But let's be real here: there has always been such an epidemic in Hollywood. And, to use the beloved Ms. Taylor as an example, one simply has to look no further than A Place In the Sun, in which it's quite clear that Shelley Winters more ably fits the definition of "womanliness" that Camille Paglia is describing, than does her co-star Ms. Taylor. And what does the script hold for such a woman? Well, nothing as good as what it does for Ms. Taylor, who is a bombshell in comparison. And it wasn't the only time that women such as Ms. Winters were featured in roles that saw them ill-used. So, let's not kid ourselves about old Hollywood. It wasn't a bastion of 'real womanhood.'

To try and pretend otherwise is either a historical re-write or delusional. Or both.


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