One problem though. That one movie formula we all know a little too well. You have your average, unpopular girl next door minding her own business. You have your popular guy, and he’s probably a jock. Or he’s just hot. The girl gets the guy of course. The catch? She had to change the way she looked and patterned herself after a certain ideal. It's always exciting to see a breathtaking transformation from ugly duckling into a beautiful swan in our favorite chick flicks. Take Mia Thermopolis from The Princess Diaries as an example. It's a popular staple in the film industry, but the fact that this plot trend is common in the pool of movies that attract mostly young girls and women can also be quite damaging. Here’s why.
Here, we have our typical movie set in a clique-divided high school. A more updated Mean Girls or The Breakfast Club if you really think about it. Its style of first-person narration and knack for showcasing typical high school cliques are very familiar to our generation. Bianca (Mae Whitman) is unfazed by this labelling of personalities until she finds out (from our expected attractive guy friend, Wesley) that the school considers her as the DUFF in her circle of friends. The Designated Ugly Fat Friend. The protagonist goes from her old style to a new, more “idealistic” look to get a chance to go out with her crush. This novel-turned-film holds a very interesting concept, introducing a new (unnecessary) label to the list, but it could be taken the wrong way. This will have girls wondering who their DUFF is, or if they’re the less “attractive” one. The conclusion that everyone is a DUFF to someone else, doesn’t ensure that this will not spring insecurities and false ideas within female viewers. There is still the notion that a girl changed something about her that society deemed unfit just so she could go beyond her current, undesired social status - to no avail, because "everyone is a DUFF."
Cady (Lindsay Lohan) went through a couple of makeovers in her quest through the jungle that is high school. Not just in appearance, but also in her attitude. What started out as a prank to sabotage Regina George and The Plastics turned Cady into what she had feared the most - cold, shiny, hard plastic. Okay, maybe Aaron was interested in Cady in the first place, but she still did some things that many girls in our society can misread. Along with her wardrobe change, she dumbed herself down to get closer to him. This promoted that sometimes girls opt to become shallow-minded beings in order to get the attention of a boy. Although, what's good about this movie is the way it concluded with a resolution to all the superficialities of what made a person "cool" among his/her peers in high school. Cady went back to her old self and still got the guy. Regina was redeemed as the once antagonist who channeled her anger through a healthier way. This shows that Girl World can maintain peace without anyone succumbing to anyone else's opinion of them.
Popular jock, Zack Siler takes on the challenge to transform the most unattractive girl in school, Laney Boggs, into the prom queen. It's typical that he fell for her in the process even though her feelings were hurt when she found out that she was just part of a bet. First mistake, they took a witty female protagonist who was into the arts, wore a ponytail, and glasses and called her "unattractive" - the perfect specimen fit for a makeover. Yet again, we are establishing a certain look to fall under a certain category, therefore stereotyping the "unpopular geek" archetype. As she undergoes her transformation, Zack, as well as Dean (who started the bet in the first place) start to have eyes for her. I mean, do glasses and a ponytail really hide a girl from any guy's attention? Does she have to get rid of them, put on some makeup, wear a revealing dress and show up for everyone to see that she was beautiful all along?
In this classic makeover movie, Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) is the most unlikely to go undercover as a beauty pageant contestant. Her one-of-the-boys facade is just too thick to get through. Of course, being the only woman in her field, she is forced to do so. She undergoes an extensive makeover complete with body hair removal, makeup, the works. This movie makeover was as entertaining as any makeover goes, but we smell something fishy. Everyone knows Gracie and her colleague, Eric, have some confused feelings for each other - proven by their brother-sister bickering. Funny, this romantic tension was easily broken when Gracie went through her makeover. Is makeup and a short dress really the sole identifier of an available, beautiful woman? Sure, she might have been unkempt in the first place, needed a bit of proper etiquette here and there, but was the drastic transformation necessary for her to stand out and finally be seen and appreciated as a woman?
Sam's (Hilary Duff) series of unfortunate events unravel when her father dies and is stuck with her evil stepmom and sisters. Her unpopularity and moniker, Diner Girl, hold her back from revealing herself to Austin, a popular guy who is clearly very interested in her. The two become very drawn to each other through conversation via email, and finally make arrangements to meet at the school dance. Despite her diner duties, Sam arrives in a stunning white dress and mask and the two enjoy the night together - at least until Sam had to leave. On a quest to find out who this mystery girl is, Sam shies away from the limelight because she is afraid of showing her true, average "Diner Girl" self. Through twists and turns and bumps on the road, the two reconcile and get together. It was happily ever after of course, but this shows that once the beautiful dress came off, so did her confidence and perceived worth as a girl deserving to be with such a high status guy.
These chick flicks and high school films were made to be relatable and inspiring, and that's why they're such a hit. Although, we have to be more careful with some archetypes that media continues to portray. Change can be good. Change can mean self-improvement. But can we really afford the risk to give girls the false idea of such a superficial way to get the attention of a boy that they fancy? Must their insecurities and individualities be pushed to the edge? I guess we'll have to be more careful of what we pick up from our favorite films.
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