Why do we still have a hard time letting women look unsexy?

“Something as simple as a walk in Coles would have me bend over backwards trying to get the perfect look. Did I look good buying grapes?”

Over the past few years, I’ve been so excited about the caliber of women’s films like Library and Baby Shiva. Call me delusional but based on the portrayal of women in these movies, I thought we needed too much for women to constantly look sexy despite the story being told.

Maybe it was just a change in what I was consuming, but when I caught myself to see Where the Crawdads sing, I thought I was going to take the tough, tumbled swamp girl from the book. What I got was almost the exact opposite.


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If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, our heroine Kya is portrayed as an ostracized loner with just enough money to eat, rejected by the strict 1950s town she lives in and virtually abandoned by her family. .

Given that description, imagine my surprise when I saw curtain bangs that only a Dyson Airwrap could give (how did someone without social media Matilda Djerf’s hair?) and beautiful dresses that were more likely to be found in your local vintage store than in the wardrobe of a self-proclaimed swamp girl.

It might have been silly to fixate on it, but that was all I could think of – the ridiculousness of not allowing someone to look a little dirty as they trotted through the wetlands, simply because it was a woman.

Personally, the media has always influenced the way I see myself. I used to watch a movie or a series and then plan how to turn into the main character, by killing my hair with a straightener or having mom buy me the right school shoes (you know them) at the puberty blues.

While these were small things, they inevitably grew in size, and I can now see how damaging not being able to live on the same level as the women I saw on screen was.

Something as simple as a walk in Coles would have me bend over backwards trying to get the perfect look. Did I look good buying grapes? Will my hot local barista still be in love with me if I show up in sloppy sweatpants without a single dot of makeup? Or more seriously, what if I’m not the skinniest or prettiest version of myself?

I’ll admit I wasn’t in the room when the hair, makeup, and costume decisions were made for this film, but with no context given for those choices, it got me thinking about how my an internal battle over self-confidence and not allowing women to be “unsexy” go hand in hand.

To unpack this further, I reached out to Professor Lisa French, Dean of the School of Media and Communication at RMIT. Internationally recognized for her work on gender in film, Lisa tells me how lack of visibility affects not just that person, but society as a whole. “If you can’t see yourself, you can’t imagine yourself. If you never see each other, you feel like you don’t exist, you feel alone,” she says.

While it’s easy to label this a Hollywood-only problem, everyone suffers from stereotypical portrayal in the media. Men are forced into these boxes just as much as women, usually in the role of provider or macho hero in the same way that women are often the inexplicably sexy carers or femme fatales.

“It’s the same with race, if we don’t see gender identities and different racial and sexual identities or cultural identifications, we’re less socially cohesive. We don’t know anything about they and those people are then isolated,” Lisa continues.

Even with a (perhaps performative) push for diversity, in 2021 only 41 of the year’s top 100 films had a female role or co-lead, and of those, just under 60% of the speaking roles went to white actresses.

From the outside, it might look like we’re headed in the right direction, with Oscars for directors Jane Campion and Chloe Zhao in 2022 and 2021 respectively.

Despite the success of these films, Variety reported that only 17% of the 250 highest-grossing films of 2021 were directed by women, down from 18% the previous year.

“I think most movies are created by male goalies. Women are over 50% of the population, so we’re not using all of our creative talent or getting those perspectives, so of course our perspective is male. If we have enough women making films, then we will have female perspectives and films that feel real and authentic.

When it comes to bucking media, Lisa points to television. “It depends on what medium it is – feature films tend to be the ones they don’t fit in, but in other areas there’s more box office for it now. On TV, women are making bigger gains and there is a lot of appetite for women’s stories. she says.

The maid and The Easttown Mare are two shows Lisa recommends to anyone looking for something a little more authentic. Both series are able to tell the stories of their female protagonist without overly glamming them. It may be too late for 1950s swamp girls to get their representation, but for its contemporary counterpart, the problem is still one we’re still grappling with.

“It takes a long time to level the playing field. The implication of that is that there are a lot of really great stories that we will never see, the ones that as a woman I might relate to,” notes Lisa.

“I think women don’t objectify, sexualize, or degrade women on screen. [in the same way men do]. There are always exceptions, but if we have more female directors, we’ll have a bigger mix.

By integrating diverse voices into filmmaking, the hope is that we can see more of ourselves and others and let go of old, outdated rules about who we should be and what we should look like.

To get a little mushy, I just want to see women on screen who reflect the diversity that exists around us. Those who look like me, my friends and family, you and yours, or women you went to high school or college with.

And don’t get me wrong, some women look just as glamorous as movie stars in real life. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with looking high or low, but maybe it’s time for Hollywood to let swamp girls be swamp girls and show us more diversity in how women introduce themselves.

If you’re having body image issues, you can call the National Butterfly Helpline on 1800 33 4673 for free, confidential assistance, or email them or chat online. here.

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