Long before teen movies were only casting dead-eyed models and the Hollywood standard had become unquestionably rail thin, there was a time that screen media embraced the average looking girl. This positive reflection of modern youth was both realistic and socially sensitive as it gave depictions of regular looking people without framing them as majorly flawed. Over the last twenty years, these fuller faced features have become increasingly unacceptable by screen standards and as Shannen Doherty’s cheekbones sprouted from her childlike cherub face, so did a wild tangent of hypocrisy from around the world. Viewers were learning to become hypercritical as they would Mystery Science Theatre their way around a tabloid, and I Hate Brenda Walsh newsletters started being sent out when underground publication was still in print. The independent voice could be heard through letters to the editor that might get printed in the following Sunday’s local TV guide, and occasionally an advice columnist would pick your question. Letting the world know what you want to say, when you want to say it hadn’t been invented yet. The more the unsolicited opinion by the people was heard, the more we began seeing sickly looking people in high contrast, usually in their twenties or thirties portraying an average teen. This progressive outcome of unrealistic female ideals has become so normalized in screen media that our eyes have been trained to value and desire these same demeaning visuals.
Meet the girl whose head gets shoved into an explosive television by Freddy Kreugar from Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987). Pretty average looking girl, right? Her eyebrows aren’t plucked, her cheeks aren’t hollow, her hair isn’t a shampoo commercial – it’s hard to even believe now that she could get cast into such a huge box office success, not to mention as a character hoping to be an actress in Hollywood. Is this the reason her character was in a mental institution, because she is confident enough in herself to believe she actually could go out to LA and make it? When Freddy says, “welcome to Primetime, bitch!” and shoves her head into the very television she hopes to be on one day, was this Hollywood’s way of telling us we too will be shoved into a hellish experience before ultimately dying in its impending doom? If this movie were made today, the girl in the picture would be someone like Demi Lovato and everyone would talk about how crazy fat she is or how fugly her hair and eyebrows look. If we were to be in the presence of either of these girls, unless you are a complete asshole with very little soul to work with, we wouldn’t be so focused on their appearance. We would probably walk away saying she was really nice or rad or describe their sense of humor, because we would be experiencing a human interaction instead of a one-sided connection, and we don’t expect people to be models in real life.
Believe it or not, the average girl was not only once allowed on television, but she was admired by people around the world, despite her lack of cheek implants and excessive cleavage. Unfortunately, this window of average girlhood only exists for so long as womanhood is just right around the corner, and there is no room for baby fat or flaws of any kind on screen.
Shirley Temple is most notable for her early childhood work in 1930’s Hollywood. Throughout this decade she became a major box office success but as the dawning of the 1940’s grew on the horizon, her on-screen career was already finished. She was a majorly accomplished actress, having won the first ever Juvenile Oscar Award for her performance in Bright Eyes, and yet her transition into adolescence made her disposable. Fox studios even went so far as to change her birth certificate to prolong her childhood profitability, serving as evidence that our screen culture history provides two major female archetypes: the adorable little girl and the innocently sexy Marilyn.
Did you know Shirley Temple grew up to be U.S. ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia? Probably not, because smart and accomplished women are not as valued as the enticingly beautiful. Even though Shirley had beauty on her side, her glamorous childhood achievements remain her most memorable to date. If someone of above average intelligence and talent couldn’t survive Hollywood’s standards, how is an average girl supposed to navigate the same standards constantly reinforced through screen media?
Margaret Cho was deemed too fat for TV in her early 90’s sitcom where she played herself. The photos from this era are of an extremely starved Cho as she has recounted the horrible experiences in detail through her later work. If white girls can’t be average looking, ethnic girls definitely don’t get to catch a break.
Average girl Amber Tamblyn struggled to land roles after her childhood career with CBS’ Joan of Arcadia ended. She was slated to star in a film called Elvis and Annabelle with then average looking Shia LaBeouf and was asked to lose weight to play the part of a beauty queen. Schedule conflicts arose and ultimately the parts went to above average looking Blake Lively and Max Minghella. Lively and Tamblyn’s mutual Traveling Pants co-star of average weight America Ferrera was only allowed to be a television series main character for a show titled Ugly Betty.
The persecution of Amy Winehouse lasted until her untimely death. Transforming from her average self proved to be damaging to her health and livelihood. As her physical appearance deteriorated during her later years of heavy drug use, the excessive media images on screens around the world made it easier to dehumanize her.
Britney Spears wasn’t even released back onto our television sets until a vigorous weight loss program had been placed into her routine of eating cheese grits and caramel frappuccinos. Only when she dropped down to a reasonable size for screen standards were we once again accepting of her.
If you think Britney had it bad, try being a reality TV star. Shows like America’s Next Top Model and The Bachelor encourage women around the world to profit solely from their youth and beauty in fabricated setups designed to fail them. Jessica Simpson may have been a teen popstar, but she became an instant superstar from her hit reality TV series Newlyweds. It was this show that catapulted her into magazines, commercials, internet threads and conversations everywhere. She looked like a Barbie and acted like a dumb blonde prototype, and the entire world was talking about it. We won’t get into her ongoing public weight diary, but suffice to say she has undergone her own fatphobic traumas and it makes you wonder if Marilyn Monroe would have been equally shamed had she aged past her prime.
I don’t watch the Kardashians, but I do know that Khloe Kardashian’s weight has been a major issue throughout the entire series and she was never even fat. She looked like she was probably a normal size 8 and was being scorned into dropping down to a more Armenian Barbie size like her tiny (possibly half-)sisters. Her natural size was met with a treasure trove of hateful comments and it was becoming clear that the average woman has no chance in this brightly contrasted hell.
Think about all those real life experience shows where the re-enactment actors are exceptionally thinner and more attractive than the people being interviewed, as though we wouldn’t be able to stomach seeing a real average person endure the same experience, much less empathize with them. Consider the transformations over each season of those shows you or your family secretly watches, like Sammi and JWoww, or Gene Simmons’ daughter, or even that girl from the Long Island Medium show. All girls have become newer, more screen friendly versions of themselves, with well-received praise at that. Is this an inspiration to be healthier and happier or a warning sign? Is the disappearance of the average girl foreshadowing a bigger issue of survival? We already have a platform of public headshots for employers to browse and there’s no telling how further valued youthful beauty will truly become as our economic system declines.
The current state of audience contempt belongs to TLC’s Honey Boo Boo. This glimpse into the lives of one average family living in McIntyre, Georgia is bleeding into every conversation as it beat out the Republican National Convention in ratings. The reaction to this show is a mixture of parental concern, horrified pearl-clutching, and an undermining superiority. Never have we seen women of such poor aesthetic caliber to be allowed on the very screens in our family living rooms. Suddenly, endless comments on appearances or Rihanna teaching kids about S&M through excessive radio play isn’t as detrimental to our children’s fragile minds as seeing an overweight person of low income stocking her fridge with non-organic products. It is this same hypocrisy that further drives the success rates of sex kitten puppets to carry out an agenda of self-hatred and abuse forgiveness onto unsuspecting girls that are brought up to understand that fat is bad and being sexy is good.
The problem people have with Mama Boo Boo is not that she makes spaghetti with ketchup and Country Crock but that she does it so unapologetically and lacks any remorse for her crimes against the rules of civilized society. The gavels are pounding across the internet and around the workplace, and everyone seems to have a smug comment handy. Admit it, we love a good snarkfest. But is this particular woman and family really the target we should be swinging at? Shouldn’t this protestive energy be saved for people of higher power with much more influence over how people live and think, like I don’t know, the government or Jay-Z? If seeing someone dumpster dive, coupon clip, and attend auctions for slightly damaged non-perishable items is the most insane and omg gross thing you have ever seen, then that says way more about you than it ever will about the woman depicted on screen. It is due to this homogenized, status-obsessed culture that has only seen the most beautiful women on screens that the case against Honey Boo Boo exists so harshly.
The disappearance of the average girl means even less chance of survival for the below average girl. If we can’t handle seeing exceptionally beautiful women gain weight after giving birth, then how are we supposed to look at a normal American TV viewer? The threat felt by many HBB haters seems to be that there is a relatability and significant viewership. Standard American families and television consumers are enraged to see reflections of themselves in such terribly unflattering light. Honey Boo Boo represents the standard American family in the least forgiving way and people hate them for it.
When a woman’s significance is only as impactful as her physical appeal, it makes Shirley Temple only as important as a child wearing ribbons and dancing. The lack of the average girl on screens greatly contributes to the pressure for the rest of us who have no chance of looking as good as Hilary Duff or Britney Spears on their most bloated of days. It compromises our environmental and internal value right down to the anti-aging cosmetics aisle so that we can grow to be women forever remembering our youth in dismay, no matter how beautiful we average women truly are.
Being surrounded by beautiful people on glossy high definition screens allows us to only talk about all those people on screens. At the end of the day watching Honey Boo Boo is no trashier than watching the Kardashians, because the majority of television is garbage and we gobble it up anyway. If our personal culture and view of the world are coming from screens, and screens only present a concisely edited point of view, then we are in constant danger of basing our decisions, opinions, and lifestyles on those represented by a handful of television executives and their mega attractive, agenda pushing puppets. Deleting average people from the database doesn’t make average people go away, it just makes people believe they don’t matter. This popular belief leads to breeding newer generations of self-worth issues and more at-risk individuals trying to mold into the screen acceptable standard through fear and heightened value of blatant superficiality. There is nothing healthy about being surrounded by photoshopped images of women all the time, but it is the poison we are given to work with and when we strive to follow in their likeness, it is just as bad as blindly swallowing the same toxins that are trying to kill us. Embracing the average girl in you as well as in others may be the key to breaking the spell that has been binding us all these years, but only time will tell if we are strong enough to move past screen fed ideals and into a reality all our own.
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