The ugly side of 'America the Beautiful'by Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
Film maker Darryl Roberts wanted to explore America's obsession with beauty. His documentary "American the Beautiful" became a scathing indictment.
St. Paul, Minn. — Like many things nowadays, "America the Beautiful" began with something someone read on the Internet.
The someone was Darryl Roberts. The something was a news story about a man who murdered a model.
"She was really attractive," Roberts said. "And he wanted to date her, but she wouldn't date him. So he said, if he couldn't have her, nobody could and so he killed her."
That set Roberts thinking and researching about the value people in the U.S. place on physical beauty.
"And the first thing I did was I interviewed 200 women," Roberts said. "I asked all of them a set of questions and one of the questions was,' Do you feel attractive? Do you feel beautiful?' And only two said yes."
That he says is a problem.
He traveled the country to find out why so many people feel bad about themselves. He talked to experts, ordinary people, fashion industry workers, magazine editors and style program producers. He also went to cosmetic surgeons. He came away with some startling voices, some honest, others confused.
"I look for a slender girl. Why? I couldn't even tell you why," says one young man in the film.
"We are not going to put someone ugly on our cover, it's not going to sell," says a magazine editor interviewed in the film.
"A lot of it's airbrushed so women are coming in and are asking for surgery that the actual models don't have," says a woman on staff at a cosmetic surgery clinic.
Roberts says he also found an epidemic of women and girls with eating disorders. He found models trying to make the grade.
"I am six feet tall," says a model in the film. "I weigh 130 pounds, but I have already been told I have to lose 15 pounds. Health doesn't become an option in this business. If you want to worry about your health, go to college." "You know how they have war crimes?" Roberts asked. "The beauty and fashion industry should have to go to a tribunal because of the assault that's going on on young girls. That's ridiculous."
And at the root of it all he says is money.
"You have all these multi-national corporations that are making billions and billions of dollars off of people feeling bad about themselves," he said. "We are just entering a further and further state of moral decay."
"America the Beautiful" is being screened in the Twin Cities by the Emily Program, a group which specializes in treating eating disorders. Emily Program Foundation President Jillian Croll says the first show has already sold out.
"We in the eating disorder community have seen this movie and just thought, this is the mouthpiece we have been waiting for," Croll said.
Croll says even while programs like hers have tried to raise awareness about the downsides of the beauty obsession, recently growing concerns about obesity in the U.S. have made things worse. She says as an eating disorders specialist she would love to work herself out of a job, although she doubts that will happen any time soon. She say she hopes "America the Beautiful will start a conversation.
"Living in a culture that's steeped in media like ours is, and steeped in these messages, people need to know what they are viewing, need to consume media responsibly and have a lens to look at it through and hear the things that Darryl's talking about," said Croll.
"America the Beautiful" will be released in theaters this fall.
- All Things Considered, 06/19/2008, 5:44 p.m.