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Jan 27, 2012

The Ugly Truth

 

Readers, think about it: when's the last time somebody really unattractive became famous?  Newt Gingrich?  He's been around awhile.  John Belushi?  He's been dead for decades.

It may be hard to believe, but in the early Nineteen-Thirties, comic actress Marie Dressler, already over sixty and with the face of an English Bulldog, was THE number one Hollywood box office attraction, which she remained until her death at sixty-five.  Watch an old movie of hers like Min and Bill or Dinner at Eight and you'll immediately understand why.  She was a powerhouse.



Do you remember Margaret Hamilton?  No beauty, she.  But Hamilton was one of the most beloved character actresses in Hollywood history, due primarily to her role as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.   (Parenthetically, isn't it spooky that she looks like the fraternal twin of co-star, scarecrow Ray Bolger, who was equally lacking in the looks department and even more popular than she, despite it?)

 

 

Both movies and television used to be teeming with, frankly, funny-looking women: Martha Raye (pictured up top), Ann B. Davis, Alice Pearce, Thelma Ritter, Kay Ballard, Imogene Coca, Alice Ghostley -- the list goes on and on.  Even some huge stars like Carol Burnett started out playing ugly ducklings and goofballs.

Kay Ballard

Alice Pearce as Gladys Kravitz on "Bewitched"
Alice Ghostley (Another "Betwitched" alum)

The young Carol Burnett

These actresses made a name for themselves based on their looks as surely as Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly did.  But these were women (primarily though not exclusively) who were not afraid to take their middle-of-the-road (or worse) looks to exaggerated extremes for comic effect.  They looked like people we really knew and we loved them for it.  Perhaps we didn't project our romantic fantasies on them, but they made us laugh and they made us cry.

Marjorie Main
Thelma Ritter

To some extent, this has been true for men as well.  So many beloved stars like Jimmy Durante, William Demarest, Jackie Gleason, and W.C. Fields were either fat, old, bald, or some combination thereof, and it made no difference.  Like a beloved uncle or grandfather, we took these funny-looking men to heart.  And they weren't all comics: think Edward G. Robinson or Charles Laughton.



William Demarest, Uncle Charlie on "My Three Sons"

It seems like today, we're surrounded by pretty faces.  Our media-saturated environment rarely makes room for the unattractive.  Even when an actor or actress becomes famous as a fat person -- think Jennifer Hudson, Ricky Lake, Star Jones -- they quickly drop weight faster than a high school wrestler.  Even Oprah has exploited her own weight problems to become the living embodiment of the Cinderella fantasy, albeit with quite a few bumps along the road (and she's exploited those too).

Television shows like Extreme Makeover and The Swan have been fixated on turning people with so-called physical flaws into pageant contestants.  As a culture, we seem to have few problems with extremes of economic inequality, but if a poor girl has a weak chin, by God, she deserves a chance in life!  (At least to look gorgeous at her high school reunion)

Of course, many funny-looking female comics have played right into this make-over obsession, becoming poster-children for radical plastic surgery: Phyllis Diller, Roseanne Barr, Kathy Griffin, Totie Fields (and the winner is...Joan Rivers!).   It's remarkable when you think about it.  Women comics may make a career out of knocking their looks, but given half a chance, off to the cosmetic surgeon they go.  Thoughts?



Remember when Roseanne Barr looked like this?

It's different for men, of course, though, obviously looks matter.  Still, there's plenty of room for a jowly Donald Trump or an octogenarian Regis Philbin on prime time.  

Its easier for men for one reason, I believe.  Heterosexual men are biologically hard-wired to seek out women who display the (youthful) traits associated with beauty, among them soft skin, thick hair, perky breasts, and shapely butts.  (This is all about sex and propagation, folks.)  While some historical eras have embraced heavier female bodies, the fixation on youthful women transcends culture, geography, and historic time.  Old women may be venerated, but they aren't desired like young women are.

Why else could Andy Rooney age naturally on 60 Minutes when Barbara Walters is expected to look eternally fifty-something-ish on every news show she appears on?  (She's eighty-two.)



 

Even female politicians like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann are made over and expected to be knockouts.  Where's the female equivalent of the Basset Hound-faced Ron Paul, I ask? 

I don't read a lot of blogs, but Sally McGraw's Already Pretty is one of my favorites.  Sometimes reading it, however, I'm struck by how hard it seems to be for so many women to feel good about their bodies and the way they look in general.  Young men may be obsessed with building muscles or comparing their sexual endowments, but men have nothing like Already Pretty (can you imagine a blog called Already Handsome?), or the scores of womens beauty and fitness magazines, diet books, and the like.

Perhaps it's time we restored our appreciation for the homely among us.  Maybe they have something to teach to us about self-acceptance, putting our looks in perspective, and having the last laugh.

In closing, do you agree that we seem to have less tolerance for unattractive people these days?  Is it harder today for someone who's not pretty or handsome than it was, say, a few generations ago?   Are we the same, but the media environment has changed?

If you're from a country other than the United States, are things different where you live, or would you say that beauty, and trying to look beautiful, is as much a cultural obsession there as it is here?

Does the same double standard between men and women exist?

Jump in!

82 comments:

  1. Which I'm guessing is Susan Boyle. Yes, I think some (all?) of her popularity is based on her ordinary looks. Excellent example!

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    1. Except that her publicists etc. have done everything in their power to make her over! She no longer looks like the Susan Boyle that came on x-factor.

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  2. Sorry, that was in reply to your very first question "When was the last time an ugly person became famous?". There absolutely is a double standard on television. Just look at TV reality shows like The X-Factor (and probably American Idol. I haven't seen it, so I can't be sure, but I would bet my hat it did the same thing). The contestants turn up to the auditions looking like people we know, but a female winner in her first music video will look nothing like her original audition tape. She'll be preened, waxed and blow-dried to death. I remember this very clearly when Girls Aloud won- the ginger one (sorry, don't remember their names) was completely average looking, but in the videos she's been preened into this porcelain doll. She's actually come out and spoken against the record company who wanted her to dye her hair and get a fake tan so she'd look more like the expected model of a female pop singer.

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  3. There is definitely still a double standard when it comes to men and women in the public eye. Just look at TV chefs here in the UK. The women - all gorgeous ex-models (Sophie Dahl, Lorraine Pascal) or saucy Nigella types. The men - Gordon Ramsay (urg) Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (posh, hairy), and the bald guy off Masterchef. Even women who are on TV to demonstrate a skill have to be good-looking.

    I love the photos of all the character actors making faces!

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    1. I live in the UK, too — moved here from Canada. As a gay man, I can say I really enjoyed suddenly falling into the "fit" category just because I wasn't carrying extra weight. Back in Toronto, you felt like you had to work out before daring to be seen in public.

      Here, we have this weird obsession — or at least advertisers seem to do — with showing un-handsome, overweight men undressed. I guess it's supposed to pass for funny.

      We seem to see "fat" as meaning "enjoying himself in life" instead of "unhealthy", and treat eating well like a form of self-denial, as if everyone really wants to be eating chips and steak pies and such. Cross the line, though, especially if you're one of those round children that looks like they stepped off the pages of "Willy Wonka", and we turn on you like a cobra.

      I think women here are constantly spanked with the same beauty myth paddle as in North America. Didn't a reporter taking a network to court for firing her because she was starting to look "too old"?

      And there was also a dance judge on one of those talent shows who was sacked in favour of a younger model who'd been a contestant just the year before, rather than a professional, experienced choreographer like the "old woman".

      The male ideal in the media seems to be shifting to a rail-thin teenager frame with trousers drooping off his absent hipster bum.

      He and the virgin-whore bubble-brain female teen template are the opposite of a memento mori: "Keep looking back! If you can look like this, there's nothing bad coming!"

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  4. As a woman approaching her {ahem} middle ages I LOVE this post and you are spot on, there is a HUGE double standard and it is hard to be a woman in this environment. Look like you have been photoshopped or you are a hag! I do think men are starting to be a bit bitten by this perfection bug but it has been instilled into our society for centuries for women so it will be awhile for the boys to catch up. For the record, I hope they do not. I like real people!

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  5. As a girl of the fifties we were raised that if you weren't going to be pretty then you better have a 'personality' (whatever that meant). But that's what I think when I see the character actors and actresses you show. They weren't going to be beauties so they had to work twice as hard to be good at their craft.
    I don't think we are immune to that now, deep down plain gals feel they must make up for some shortfall, so they work harder or fight harder or try harder. The catch 22 is that inside we all feel 'plain' or at least never pretty enough.

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  6. I'm not pretty. I've never been pretty. And I'm okay with that.... mostly. I do, however, avoid pictures and dislike cameras!

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  7. I was one of three female VPs let go from my company. The other two were blonde (bottle)and attractive and ten years younger. I was well groomed but older and genetically challenged in the good looks department. Since being a comedian wasn't appreciated and plastic surgery was out of the question, I got the ax.

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    1. When, or where, will humor "get ya somewhere"?

      It does fuel one through life, but has yet to be a career enhancing attribute these days.

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  8. I've noticed that in a lot of the beauty/fashion magazines from the 50's, there seems to be more of an attitude of 'here's how to play up your good features' or 'here's how to draw less attention to your less desirable features'. Now the prevailing attitude seems to be 'OMG woman! You are not perfect. Fix it! Fix it NOW!!!'. Or they just refuse to discuss the possiblity that a woman may want to just accentuate the positive without completely redoing themselves.
    I don't think I've seen a modern magazine that talks about 'a weak chin' or protruding ears' -but I've seen pieces from the 50's that certainly do! And they don't seem to be furtive or ashamed when they mention it either.

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  9. The reason for the double standard is that in men, age is revered. A woman's commondity is her looks, and thus, her youth. A man's commodity is his wealth, his ability to support his wife and family...an ability that typically increases with age.

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  10. I also love Sally's blog and the attitude that goes with it. More people need to believe what she's writing.
    Kathy Bates is someone I'd put on the not typically beautiful list. However, dressed up for a red carpet rather than onscreen, I think she is absolutely beautiful.

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  11. This is such an interesting discussion, Peter. If we could send a modern plastic surgeon back in time, you can bet that all those women from the past would be doing the same thing as the actresses and celebrities of today. Although the standard for "beautiful" changes over time, women have been doing all kinds of goofy things to try to attain the ideal. Think of the lead-based white face makeup that women AND men were wearing in the 18th century to get that aristocratic pallor that everyone wanted. When being skinny was synonymous with being poor and malnourished (instead of RICH and malnourished, like today), there were padded bras and even underpants with padding in the derriere to get those "womanly curves." Today, the extreme makeovers made possible by modern plastic surgery, cosmetic dentistry, and the like really have set a standard for beauty that is not naturally attainable. There's no way that the classic Cinderella story would have been written today -- Cinderella's step sisters would have to be gorgeous now because the evil step mom would have sprung for nose jobs, teeth whitening, boob jobs, highlights,etc. Beauty is now something that can be purchased, that goes hand-in-hand with wealth and celebrity.

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  12. A subject close to my heart ... as a definite ugly woman.

    Where I live, I often joke that humans have 3 biological genders : men, women, and ugly women.

    When people say "women", they imply "beautiful women". We ? We never appear anywhere : not on TV, not on movies, not even in novels (I mean, it's not like a litterary ugly heroin is going to hurt the reader's sight. Sometimes, the heroine looks don't even play any role. So why all the female main characters and side-kicks always have to be beautiful ? What is the point ? Is it somehow a prerequisite to live any random novel-worthy experiences ? ).
    If some ugly woman appears somewhere, it's as a laughing stock, or stupid, or just background stuff. And most of the time, "ugly" is a pretty girl with glasses and false teeth.

    This week, I was watching an "intellectual" debate on TV, and bam ! Pretty much all the male contributors were, to be polite, not handsome. All the female contributors were good-looking. Each of them had something interesting to say and I enjoyed the debate, but I kept thinking that maybe some high-profile female expert has been sidelined because of her look. Why ? I don't believe in coincidence.

    Even on sewing blogs, there is prettiness everywhere. I don't know any sewing blog with an ugly author. I laugh when I read tutorials about "how to take awesome pictures". They all forget the Number One Rule : be photogenic ! No matter where you're going to put your tripod, when you look the way I look, the picture is not going to be good !

    Well, you can see have I things to say :) I'd just like for ugly women to have an equal place in the media around here. I'd love to have role models. It's not like we can do anything about our looks (despite what makeovers shows say, an ugly woman won't fool anybody with make up and pretty dresses. Been there ... ). We're people, and we may even be fun and smart and just like anyone else !

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    1. Mjm, thank you for sharing this! I wonder if you might be speaking for many more people than one might think.

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    2. Yes indeed she is.

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    3. Nicely said Mjm. Thank you.

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    4. Interesting! I can't argue with the first half :D As for ugly sewing bloggers, there are many middle-aged moms who share their sewing adventures, and they're certainly not Angelina Jolie! I still enjoy seeing their work, reading about their struggles, and sometimes even being inspired to try something! You will see many glowing personalities with less than perfect appearances on We Sew Retro, for example.

      As for me, I'm 27 with acne and have a giant Ukrainian nose. My tummy is round, my butt is flabby, and my boobs are starting to sag. And yet, because my personality shines like a military beacon, and I put effort into looking stylish and individualist, I get noticed. I've even been accused of being beautiful on occasion!

      I think, in the big picture, it's all about projecting a strong self-image, whatever that image may be!

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  13. "When being skinny was synonymous with being poor and malnourished (instead of RICH and malnourished, like today), there were padded bras and even underpants with padding in the derriere to get those "womanly curves.""

    True...but even today, there is certainly no lack of padded bras and underpants.

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    1. I think this is because for most women to attain the kind of skinny that's desirable today, you -- pardon my french -- lose your butt and boobs.

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    2. Also (speaking as someone whose body decided puberty wasn't really for it) having small breasts is a huge no-no today. It's a disability that needs to be 'fixed'.
      I wear a 30AA bra and here in Australia there is not a single underwear/lingerie store that stocks that size. I can buy 'training bras' at places like Target (and that's so confidence building, to be 28 and buying training bras), or I order online from the UK and USA and pay through the nose.

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    3. With small breasts, one doesn't need a bra. For most of my life now, I've been very pleased to have small breasts. As a girl and young woman I fretted about it, but I soon stopped. I was a young woman in the '60's, and my first experiences of wearing t-shirts with no bra were liberating! Wearing a bra made me feel restricted in the chest and even caused pain.

      Now I'm in my 60's and over the years my breasts have developed larger but have never sagged, as so many women complain of. They are more beautiful than ever, and I still own not one bra. Yay for small-breastedness!

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  14. That's what I've always loved about a lot of British shows (aside from the incredible wit which just doesn't exist in North America) - they aren't afraid to have the non-beautiful people in prominent roles - including those with bad teeth.

    Krista

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    1. Yes! I totally agree! I visited England once and thoroughly enjoyed people watching! Women who were not hot, by American standards, strutted around like peacocks! It was obvious that the women there had more confidence and higher self-esteem than American women.

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  15. I totally agree with you on this. I have done some extra work in the past and its funny to see who they cast as extras. Mostly normal, average people since that is what the world is made up of. then you have the stars of the films and they are "perfect". I personally would love it if there was more real people on television/movies. It makes a standard that is impossible to obtain. then we have young girls saying they want to diet and be skinny like the celebs, however then you see that the celebs are all airbrished and photoshoped to look that way. its not real and we need to start looking at whats important. Not to rant but when people care more about people like Kim Kardashian than the president or social issues there is a problem.

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  16. Weird-- it seems to be a trend with the lowering of social values. People don't learn to value what actually has value-- like honor, kindness...

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  17. Great comments. Reminds me of the commercials where the man is average, sometimes overweight,thinning hair and older with the young attractive wife. Why can't his wife be average?

    I had a friend that was beautiful. She never had problems finding employment. She was offered jobs even when she did not have the skills or qualifications that they were asking for.

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  18. Well there IS the show "Ugly Betty" although I don't know what it is about. And Whoppi Goldberg has never been one to glamorize herself. She remains a plain jane...which is far better than how horrid Susanne Somers and Dyan Cannon look with all of their plastic surgery.

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    1. And yet, you can't deny that Whoopi is very stylish! Even some of those "sacs" she wears have gorgeously patterned fabric, or embroidery, or something to make it special. She's regularly on the worst-dressed lists, but I seriously admire her chutzpah to say eff-it to the fashion establishment.

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  19. One of the things I like about the British shows I see is that they cast ordinary or quirky looking actors. I feel that US media seems to feel that I "need" the fantasy of seeing super-good-looking characters, I guess so I can "identify" with them. That seems to be the message summed up that I get from marketing gurus when they talk about selling. But I think they are missing out on other kinds of sympathies, like how much I identify with a look of chagrin from Ian McNiece or an icy stare from Helen Mirren. I know folks who look like them, and their character acting reminds me of real-life people whom I have shared similar experiences. I am putting myself badly, but when I watch American TV I miss the everyday looking folks.

    There has been a double standard but now I see it closing and men are coming under much harsher scrutiny as well. Enslaving men to body image issues in the name of fairness is not freedom for anyone. I would like to see more genuine acceptance and appreciation for the incredible variety of human attributes. Because if I am always judging everyone's looks based on if they come up to a certain set of features, I am negatively judging those who don't and therefore not fully enjoying what is special about their appearance. I can recognize that Jimmy Durante is not Brad Pitt in the handsome department, but should handsome be the only criteria for me to enjoy someone's appearance or expression? Again I am putting myself badly, but instead of enforcing an even harsher standard on both sexes, why not loosen up a bit and enjoy people as they are? If the media would do this imagine how much more fun TV, magazines, etc. would be.

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  20. Famous people not only seem to have a fear of looking ugly. They also seem to have a fear of looking like themselves. There's so much plastic surgery going around that celebrities pretty much all look exactly alike. The few that have the confidence to look different (Sophia Coppola and Stella McCartney leap to mind) are those who have been famous since birth so they have developed a confidence in their looks that none of the others have.

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  21. I completely agree with you. Have you noticed that that you would rarely if ever see a guy with women that is least attractive than he is. However, you will see a women with a guy that not particularly attractive. Interesting right?

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  22. I had a giant crush on Andy Rooney when I was seven. All the other kids in my second grade class were oohing and ahing over Chachi and Luke Duke and I was excited over 60 minutes.

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  23. Oops, sorry for the typos.
    I completely agree with you. Have you noticed that you would rarely if ever, see a guy with a women that is less attractive than he is. However, you will see a women with a guy that not particularly attractive at all. Interesting right?

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  24. I have known a few beautiful women who know they are beautiful. What really pisses me off and reveals a double standard is that these women easily get away with saying things that no one else could. Example: Many years ago, I got on an elevator in my old apartment building at the same time as my very beautiful neighbour. Two, big, burly men were smoking in the elevator. We got on and pressed our buttons, then she stopped the elevator and told these men to get out and not to smoke in the elevator. They got out. I don't know if they continued smoking in elevators. But they would have laughed out loud at me if I had said that to them.

    You ask about how it is in other countries. I live in Canada. And, yes, celebrities are all beautiful, as they are in the states. But I notice that when I visit my family in the states every woman I encounter is wearing make-up. Mind you, it's down south. I don't know how it is in other regions. It's noticeable, though, because where I live many women only wear make up for special occasions, some never at all, and others might just wear lipstick but no other product.

    Fascinating discussion.

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  25. I thought Ugly Betty did a great job of sending up this dynamic. The desperation of the beautiful skinny people to maintain their looks and therefore their power, the down-to-earth nature of Betty who built a career in the fashion industry without selling herself. It was The Devil Wears Prada without transforming our protagonist into one of them. Betty rocks her bangs and braces.

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  26. Writing from the Netherlands, yes, I definately think there's a double standard. However, over here, plastic surgery is only slowly gaining acceptance. We do have some celebrities who 'still look great' because of it, but it's still sort of frowned upon. This puts a limit to the images women are held to.
    Which I think is right. The myth of makeble beauty really has to stop somewhere...

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  27. Do you know what rubbed wrong about Ugly Betty, though? The casting. There are any number of "ugly," talented actresses. But did they cast any one of those women? No. Instead they cast an attactive woman and made her ugly.

    Similarly, I was beyond annoyed by the casting in the movie, "In Her Shoes." The whole point of the book was that one sister was skinny, while the other was fat. Once again, rather cast an actual, overweight actress, they cast Toni Collette and made her gain weight...all the way up to a monstrous size 10 *eyeroll*. Even in our size- and beauty-obsessed culture, I'm not sure there are many people who would consider a size 10 to be fat.

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    1. I remember all the hullabaloo surrounding the show when they were making it. I also remember thinking out loud "You people do realize that America Ferrera is really a beautiful person only made ugly?" I guess their claim was she didn't have "typical Hollywood curves." Whatever!

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    2. . . . and to be honest, they never really did make her "ugly." At the very worst she looked like someone who got dressed/ready in the dark.

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  28. This has got to be my all time favorite post written by you. It is very insightful and well written. One thing I realized was that there is something surgery can't fix and that's self acceptance.

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    1. WOW! You said it.

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    2. I second that!!!

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    3. I accept myself fine. Now if I could only get an employer to accept me... Age and looks are the only explanation I can come up with.

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  29. One of the things I love about living in France is that there is less of a youth-and-beauty-are-everything culture. Sure, women here like to look their best, but there is a broader range of what is considered beautiful, and some of that would seem ugly by American standards. It's considered possible to be sexy/beautiful/whatever at any age here, but people don't seem obsessed by this. Aging gracefully is more the goal than eternal youth.

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    1. Mmmh ... I live in France and, well, let's say that my experience is not that pink. Not only there are high standards, but it's also way behind as far as acceptance and politeness goes.

      People, even strangers, will bluntly tell you that you're ugly or fat, and feel very proud of it (probably because it makes them feel empowered, free and rebelious ?). Again, been there ...

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  30. Another great post, Peter. I agree with you. I am reminded, too, of the danger of homogenization that comes with 'fixing' our 'flaws.' I observed this with a friend of my brothers. This was a women who was a classic pear shape, had lovely skin and hair, a slightly crooked nose and front teeth that inclined slightly backward. I thought her face had a great deal of character. She had a boob job, a nose job and braces. To my eyes, her appearance lost it's character. Now she's just another pretty face like any other run of the mill standardly pretty female. Is that what we really want as a society?

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  31. I adore Midsommer Murders, a British show, precisely because I can tell the female actors apart from each other. On a lot of US shows, I have trouble even telling one show from another because the actresses all look the same. One show that deviates very slightly from the usual is Criminal Minds, where my very favorite character is Penelope Garcia who is quite definitely fat and rocks it all the way home. She's not homely though. The closest actress on a major show that I have watched that I can think of as approaching homely was the black female lieutenant, she had a non-standard nose and was allowed to age.

    I was feeling very ruffled the other day when they kicked Willows off of CSI, true or not I kept thinking that she got to be too old and that's why she was kicked off. I really wish I could see more older women respected for their age and experience on TV. Nope, on crime shows (mostly what I watch as you can probably tell) all the women seem to be young geniuses (that's why they can be young and on the show) or just average thirtyish characters and as soon as they get visible wrinkles they're promoted off the show or die or something. Bah.

    Not only do actresses have to be pretty, they all have to be pretty the same way. One actress that is an exception is the one who plays the lead character's ex-wife on leverage. She was also on the short lived, but excellent Miami Medical and I've seen her a few other places. I actually get excited when I see her because she doesn't look like everyone else, I can tell her apart from the herd, it makes it so much easier to follow the plots! And it's got to be hard on the actresses who do look like each other, perfectly beautiful too; because you are then very interchangable with other actresses. How do you stand out, so that people remember you?

    And I don't think people have changed so much. There are two factors, our population is larger, so you have more people to draw the most beautiful from; and if they aren't completely perfect, you can have cosmetic surgery that didn't exist fifty or more years ago.

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  32. Funny, I had a crush on Carol Burnett as a kid, and I always though Alice Ghostley was pretty. Also, thinking of Danny Devito, Benicio Del Toro, and Rhea Perlman. For that matter Lilly Tomilin and even the fabulous Bette Midler don't fit today's criteria for beauty. And I love me some GaGa, but in all reality Lady Gaga does not fit current beauty standards either.

    However, I won't argue about discrimination of average men vs average women. And certainly the "Non Beautiful" seem to have fewer and fewer opportunities in television and movies.

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  33. This discussion lacks alternative adjectives! There are lots of other words to describe these peoples looks: interesting, sympathetic, gentle, original and the list goes on and on. What this discussion really reflects is our brainwashed culture and what is considered beauty and "being pretty".

    Let's conduct an experiment.

    -Think of the most beautiful person you know.

    -Now, think of the most interesting person you know.

    Where they the one and same person?

    If the answer is yes, was it someone you know and love?

    If the answer was no, which person would you rather hang out with?

    I know this is probably silly, but I hope there are a few more people out there who will join me in just stop thinking that we cannot change the world. Media and commercial is not ever going to change. They are a reflection on us all. Therefore we are the ones who must change. Start with your "man in the mirror".

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  34. Sure there's a double standard, there always has been! But there's TV pretty (which includes tv, movies, ads, etc) and Real Life pretty. Someone who's second-stringer attractive on TV is gorgeous in the Real World.

    And yes, it's almost impossible to like your body as a women today. Being skinny isn't even enough, you have to be toned and only have fat in the right places, no cellulite or stretch marks, perfect skin, on and on. I jumped off the merry-go-round 15 years ago.

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  35. I think the double standard has become worse in the last 20 years. I can recall many average-looking people on TV in the Eighties and early Nineties....Roseanne, for sure, and remember Brett Butler? She was very "ordinary pretty." What about the Golden Girls? They were old, yet were shown having active love lives and learning new things.

    My biggest pet peeve is when there are ensemble casts on TV and all the men are diverse, while all the women either look the same or are the same level of pretty. Let's face it, any random group of people is going to have fewer pretty faces than a random pool of actresses. Although, there is research that shows that women are getting prettier while men are staying the same (genetics, not surgery being the culprit here) so it's possible that there's simply more beautiful women to choose from than there used to be.

    I'm also annoyed (sometimes enraged) by the lack of ethnic casting. It's bad enough when there are no black people on prime time TV (or one token black person on each show, and they're almost always male). Don't get me started on the "all Asian people look alike" thing, and I'm sick to death of Hollywood casting ordinary white people as Italian-Americans or Jewish folks or what have you. I won't run screaming from TV and movies where people, particularly women, have ethnic characteristics different from my own. I actually find differences to be attractive!

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  36. Thanks for this, Peter. I have two sisters who were beauty queens, and both had a much easier time socially and in employment than I, who have always had a weight problem. I think it is human nature, proven by several studies, to give more social credit to very attractive people. In Hollywood and the modern celebrity culture, however, it's not attractiveness as much as a type of uniform mask that makes it seem as if the external appearance, the mask, is all that's important. Several commenters have mentioned other qualities that I cherish, personally--honesty, love, generosity, loyalty, humor, intelligence, wit--and we find these behind the mask. So I hope I have grown out of jealousy of my sisters, and into a new appreciation for the real people I know who may not wear polished masks, but who show, day in and day out, what it means to be a fine human being. It seems pitiful that the professional beauties can mainly say if they get old, that they maintained their masks. I want my life to count for something more than a mask. It says uncomplimentary things about society to admire these masks to the exclusion of the real achievers.

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  37. I don't look like I'm 20 anymore, and I'm fine with this, truly, because I'm 30. This seems like an obvious statement to make, but when I shared this view with friends, and my spouse, they all talked to me about it like they'd assumed I'd given up on trying to take care of myself. I'm not sure where the disconnect is. I have a problem with the lack of aging as a goal. Everyone wants to look like they're younger than they are. I just want to look like I am.

    P.S. A friend of mine volunteered to be a Big Brother the other day, and told me about the paperwork he had to fill out. They ask you about the sort of things you like, and the sort of children you appreciate. This seems especially odd, as he swore that one of the options to check for kids under "Don't like" was "Homely children." Homely children. Homely. Children. I really hope this is a way they weed out weird potential Big Brothers and Sisters, because otherwise it means (assuming that my third-hand information is in fact valid) that someone is also evaluating the kids on their attractiveness. This isn't exactly the forum for it (sorry, Peter :), but if anyone can debunk this for me, it'd be appreciated.

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  38. There are so many excellent points, it is hard to know where to start. But start I will. I live in Canada, in the interior of BC. The city I lived in is reported to have the highest rates of plastic surgery in Canada (I got this info from a medical professional) and it shows. There is a very large group of women and girls that all look the same. Fake boobs, bleached blonde long hair, fake teeth, spray on or electric beach tan, fake nails. I am sure that many of these women have had other surgeries as well. I know one woman who has a job just to finance her upgrades. Several liposuction sessions, Restylane and breast implants so far. I know of another woman whose boyfriend bought her new breasts for Christmas. Nice, huh? So yes, the obsession with beauty exists where I live.

    The one thing I want point out is that I have known people who I thought were very attractive when I first met them and their attractiveness decreased the longer I knew them, and also people who were less attractive and got more so as I got to know them. I am sure I'm not the only one who has experienced this. Personality does count for something.

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  39. It's the same here in Australia. Especially among newsreaders and weather girls. All the weather girls here are young and pretty (my late father would call them 'titters' LOL) but any weather guys are just normal. It really irks me. I know someone who was married to a female TV reporter and she left before, as she said, they got rid of her cos she was too old. She was in her late 40s.

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    1. Also they way PM Julia Gillard's clothes and hair are obsessed about is ridiculous. If she wears your run of the mill corporate woman stuff she's boring. If she wears a jacket or skirt that's not run of the mill corporate woman stuff she's dressing inappropriately for a leader on the world stage. And any change to her hair is dissected. It's ridiculous.

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    2. Not in Adelaide Alison, here there are more mature news & weather presenters than younger ones.

      http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/ipad/who-in-tv-has-the-its-factor/story-fn6br9e4-1226167214594

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  40. Interesting post - I would say that even though you've provided a lot of great examples of less attractive stars of the past, beauty standards, and the pressure to be beautiful in movies/TV were always there. The women you used for your example were rarely, if ever, romantic leads and usually supporting actresses or using their looks, as you said, for comic value. (I remember watching an episode of I Love Lucy that featured two women, twins, who were overweight and the sole reason for their inclusion in the episode was for more comic relief and to essentially ridicule the idea that someone would want to be romantically involved with them. It didn't come across as mean-spirited but the idea of using someone whose body doesn't fit into the beauty ideal for only comical purposes is definitely problematic.)
    Body-shaming ads were still prolific in old magazines (to mask and alter female bodies and anything unsightly about them from bad breath to bumps and lumps - what else was all that heavy duty underwear for?) but the saturation levels of these types of ads, the pressure to be what society deems beautiful, etc., are probably higher now (speaking as a 25 year old I can only comment on what I've seen of the past through ephemera, old movies, documentaries, etc.)
    So I suppose I do agree that the obsession with 'beautiful' and 'young' has increased.
    I do agree that there is a lot of pressure on women to be beautiful (and we're ridiculed, often, when we strive to be so) and nowhere near as much pressure on men. But I don't think this is just a symptom of contemporary society and has been deeply ingrained for decades and even centuries. I'm uncomfortable with the notion of romanticising the past in any way - whilst it's true there are a lot less female actors who have less than conventional looks in Hollywood and mainstream media today, I think it's always better to provide a balance when looking back to when there were more. As I said, thinking about who was getting romantic leads, the women who were extolled as standards of beauty, the amount of transformation actresses like Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth went through before they were Hollywood ready, etc.
    Another comment mentioned the Golden Girls and I was actually talking about this with my mother the other day - she so often complains that there just aren't many shows she can relate to because everyone is so young! And the obsession with youth has surely increased if there aren't shows like that on anymore (I think there are possibly more British shows that still have a focus on older people, though.)
    I'm not really sure if my comment has made much sense but this is a topic that I think about a lot and something I constantly make myself aware of when I'm watching movies and TV shows or even just commercials. I can't say how many people were working against this kind of thing in the past but I know a lot of people who are engaging with these ideas and discussing what we have been taught is beautiful, how these things are taught to us and how we can be aware of it and break these ideas down.

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  41. Hmmm... I don't consider myself a stunner by any definition but I take care of myself by eating well, exercising, using sunscreen and by being an interesting person. In this way other peoples beauty has not affected me. That said I watch very little tv and eschew magazines in favour of style.com as I find advertising and the emphasis on consumption boring. In Australia the ideal beauty is tan, tall, blonde and athletic. So much so that entire suburbs look generic. But then we aren't exactly a country known for our culture or intellect.

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    1. Here the wealthy suburbs are full of fierce tiny blond women driving SUV's. Their daughters are so small in middle school that I was appalled when I took a client to a school dance to monitor. I thought she was pretty and petite, so would have no trouble... well the girls all looked like third graders. They wore size medium little girls clothes. My client was huge by comparasion. She was a size xs... and the mean girls were talented in their mean. Whoo boy. This whole topic is beyond thought. It is primal and competitive women know where the fight is. Stylish looks reign.

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  42. I found it interesting that Ugly Betty,The Devil Wears Prada and others also send the message that only the "ugly" people could be counted on to do the right thing or be the go-to person for a last minute solution. Another thing-remember how Jennifer Grey got loads of grief and then kind of disappeared when she had her nose "fixed"? As I grow older I appreciate our little "bobbles" from the perfect mark.Maybe that's why I watch Criminal Minds-so I can cheer on Garcia! Another great subject Peter.

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  43. I grew up in Hollywood were the pressure was very intense to be beautiful. As a young 20 something I had a nose job and had a few other minor things done over the years . Everyone I knew on the westside seemed to have something done and it was considered almost de riguer that you would get a boob job after your second baby which I did too.I think my biggest fear in my 20's was looking ugly but when now at 42, I look at photos of myself before I had the surgeries I think I was beautiful as I was and wonder why I ever did it. When I moved out of LA I realized what a strange reality I lived in!

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  44. hey Peter, you want to look at George Formby!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfmAeijj5cM Not an oil painting, couldn't really sing, but I suppose humorous!

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  45. This is a wonderful post and all the comments are thought-provoking.

    I think there's also a homogenizing factor for men in the entertainment business (and in other areas). It certainly helps to have a washboard stomach, be in your 20s, be a certain height, and let's face it, be white. I think that last factor has loosened up in the last 50 years, but, not enough.

    And speaking of "beautiful people" looking the same: I literally thought that Ryan Gosling and Ryan Reynolds were the same person. I couldn't figure out why he was using two different screen names. IMDB was enlightening. And also, I don't think either of them is particularly attractive, but that's probably just me. ;)

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  46. Great post Peter. I agree. I think female actresses (and male stars too) are all starting to meld into one look. Everyone is not only pretty, they also all look the same.

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    1. Tina Fey makes this point in her book. Saying that the nice thing about 30 Rock is that there are different types of faces, not everyone looks alike.

      I agree. That's partly why I like Downtown Abbey so much, they're not all supermodels (i love you BATES!)

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  47. I've seen no mention of Barbara Streisand, Angelica Huston, or even Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as examples of non conventional beauty. Yet I am at a loss to name any actresses of today who have a distinctive look. I have a hard time telling Reese Witherspoon and Julia Stiles apart. And I agree wholeheartedly with the posters who bemoan the dearth of people of color on TV, the CSI fashionistas, and the invisibility of vital female characters over thirty. Good post, Peter!

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  48. Yep, obsession with purty faces is the same here in OZ. The mainstream women's mag, the Australian Women's Weekly ,recently ran a cover of local over-50 beauty Deborah Hutton nude. Photoshopped to the nth degree mind you. The story was that at 50, this always gorgeous woman finally accepts the way she looks. Huh. What message are they trying to send? Then, inside, features on, of course, plastic surgery. No longer the preserve of actresses, no now available to everyone! Is this female empowerment in action? Think I'll pass on that one.
    I've sworn off AWW forever as a result.

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    1. Hi Paola,
      I saw that cover and thought AWW were stooping to new lows to gain readership! Deborah's face did not match her body at all!!!!
      Mel

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  49. What an interesting discussion.

    Afghans have stricter standards of beauty. If you aren't beautiful, you can be 'put together' but not beautiful. My mother always says she likes the U.S. because if you have make-up on and are neatly dressed, people think you're beautiful. Local Afghans (I'm a hyphenated Afghan) have no problem with telling you that you look bad, are too fat/skinny or aren't pretty. But since they say it about themselves too, it's not as insulting, somehow.

    My mother was very upset with my cousin for being a messy dresser, "Just because she's fat doesn't mean she can't be put together! I am fat and I have some very nice clothes from Lane Bryant." Hilarious.

    While I was growing up, there didn't seem to be an obsession with being beautiful. You either were or you weren't, but that didn't stop you from living your life. That could've been my family culture though.

    I know my mother and aunts wish I was more put together but I think they would want the same for my brother too. He's already a good dresser so he doesn't have this same pressure.

    That said, my mother would have no problem if I had nose surgery or a tummy tuck (not that I would). She has issues with her own nose and I take after her, so I think that's part of it. She would be upset if I had anything more than that though. Now I have much more to ponder.

    The surgery question doesn't really apply to local Afghans though, due to the economy. They have similar 'put together' standards for both men and women. I'm attempting to measure up!

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  50. I have just been having a similar discussion this morning. We've noticed that a confident 'unnatractive' person is far more fun and genuine and attractive than a 'beauty queen' who has more interest in her own appearance. Its a simple case of selfless against selfish. Im from London and there is a big problem over here with school children being bullied by fellow pupils for their appearance. Sometimes its the pretty ones who lack confidence that suffer the most. I guess confidence is key.... but in the right doses! Great post and fab pics :-)

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  51. On the screen everyone has to be young, photogenic and well put together but in real life beauty is still in the eye of the beholder.

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  52. Has anyone noticed that so many of the show-biz women who are held up as "unconventional" in looks are also unconventional in other ways?

    Joan Crawford, Carol Burnett, Lily Tomlin, Rosie O'Donnell, Lady Gaga, Ellen DeGeneres, Anjelica Huston...Anybody see a theme? Just a leetle edge of gender nonconformity? Maybe a little of The Gay?

    How about Rosanne Barr, Kathy Griffin, Rhea Perlman, Bette Davis, Queen Latifah? Outspoken, opinionated? *women*, rather than girls? A little (or a lot) tough?

    They've all got something that makes them less likely to be cast as a female, hetero romantic lead....Maybe that also makes it OK to look different.

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  53. "Heterosexual men are biologically hard-wired to seek out women who display the (youthful) traits associated with beauty, among them soft skin, thick hair, perky breasts, and shapely butts."

    Yeah, right, and young women are magically attracted to old men with big guts and saggy butts -- IF they're rich.

    I don't deny that the ability to "start over" with a new woman who can produce children makes women of child-bearing age more attractive to a man, but the idea that women think old men are attractive is nonsense.

    It's about money and power. When you see an older man with a much younger woman, almost invariably the man is wealthy and the woman is financially dependent or has Daddy issues.

    Please be careful about the pseudo science.

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  54. One reason for the large group of female character actors in the classic Hollywood era is probably because women made up a large of the audience.

    Today, many filmmakers are only interested in reaching teenaged boys, because they go to movies and box office is everything. Teenaged boys aren't known for their catholic tastes and their ideas of women's beauty are pretty limited and conformist.

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  55. I just discovered this great blog... After reading this article, two films came to my mind: "African Queen" and "Little Miss Sunshine". "African Queen" is a classic, but you have to admit that neither of the main actors can be called handsome. And "Little Miss Sunshine" shows a plain little girl in a beauty pageant. True, the film wasn't produced in Hollywood, but I think there is a tendency towards getting more "normal" people into the film industry. However, the same tendency hasn't yet reached other parts of the public entertainment, as in all the other shows on TV. It also varies gretly depending on the country, even in neighbouring ones: In Germany, you can see many more female TV presentators of a certain age than in France.

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