Monday, November 30, 2009

Build a Better Chick Flick: Good Heavens, Miss Sakamoto, You're Beautiful!

I admit it. I love the trope of ugly, dorky girl turning into a sexy head turner. It's the equivalent of the rags to riches story, or the underdog team winning their sports game. It's my Bad News Bears, Mighty Ducks, or The Secret of My Success. I'm aware that I'm smart enough to know better. But I can't help it. So, let's break it down.

Cool new haircut, and a side order of make up. My first mentor was Mary Anne Spier. When her father let wear her hair loose instead of in pigtails, it was a symbol of how he finally saw her as mature, instead of as a Laura Ingalls Wilder clone. And in my fave BSC book of all time, Mary Anne's Makeover, when she chopped off all her hair without a second glance and applied a little eyeliner, I knew the truth. A makeover really can change your life. As I've posted before, I blame Mary Anne (and Mia Farrow) for why I keep thinking I can pull off a pixie hairdo. But mostly Natalie Imbruglia--damned Torn video showcasing her spunky but vulnerable charm.

(Il)legally Blonde. There IS a corollary to this, however. If you decide to go blonde to revamp your personality, it almost never works. See Brenda Walsh of 90210, Margene Heffman of Big Love, Mallory Pike of the BSC, and every damned girl I see on the subway who neglects to dye her eyebrows along with her head hair. Why does it never work? Because blonde is just too gorgeous for words. (See Serena van der Woodsen, Kelly Taylor, and Stacey McGill.) Uppity non-blondes need to learn that acquiring golden tresses is the equivalent of new money trying to get itself invited to the country club cotillion.

Clothing makes the woman. The great equalizer. Andy taught us that access to Nuclear Wintour's fashion accoutrements can turn even a size 6 into hotness.

The thigh high chocolate brown leather boots are shorthand for she's a sexy working girl. The short skirt says, "I'm flirty and fun" but the blazer says, "I'm classy and I don't need to show cleavage to get a second glance." And the accessory says, "I ate a shitload of asparagus, crapped it out and put it on a stick for everyone to see." Who needs personality when you've got Chanel?

Weighty issues. See Monica Gellar, Marty Sherman in the fat camp episode, and those assholes in the "One Rule: Obey!" ads that are ruining everyone's Internet experience. Yeah, this one's not too helpful if you're already thin but not fashionable or hot.

I have confidence in me. You don't really change anything on the outside, but you're really confident on the inside and your inner light shines through. This one usually only works if you're already jaw droppingly gorgeous and the rest of the cast has been paid off to pretend they don't think you're attractive until, say, sweeps week. Like Joey Potter in the beauty contest who finally caught Dawson's eye with her caterwauling rendition of On My Own.

The best way of getting confidence, based on Bridget Jones's Diary and Georgy Girl (Bridget Jones before there was Bridget Jones) seems to be having at least two guys pursuing you at the same time. It more than makes up for a few love handles here and there. Even if one of those guys is James Mason.

And just look at the titular character in Stephen King's Carrie. Despite being the school punching bag, when she put on a ball gown and went to the prom on the arm of the high school answer to Robert Plant, she was seen as gorgeous. (And personally, I think the bloody revenge only enhanced her attributes but I'm a sucker for the Medea type.)

However, this was always my least favorite way of being seen as hot. No matter how much confidence can transform you from nottie to hottie in literature, it rarely works in a more visual medium. Jenny Humphreys in the book version of Gossip Girl was a short, curly tressed big breasted cutie pie who eventually became sexy due to her confidence and associations with other cool kids. In the TV show? She's already Serena van der Woodsen's understudy. And despite the opening lines of Gone With the Wind ("Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm"), it doesn't make much of a dent when you take a look at Vivien Leigh.

How lovely to be a woman. Sometimes, blossoming from awkward child into glorious womanhood is enough. The baby fat rolls off, the braces come off, and the boobs come on.

Sometimes, though, puberty isn't enough, and a sexual awakening is needed. Like Susan Sarandon's character in Witches of Eastwick. Sure, she did the hat trick of removing her glasses, and letting her hair down, but most importantly, she simmered with the kind of sex appeal and inner confidence you only get from red hot intercourse with the devil.

The feminist part of me that says that men shouldn't reawaken women, that we should discover all that for ourselves hates this meme. But the part of me that still loves Sleeping Beauty and lip gloss loves it.

Men never make passes at girls who wear glasses. Glasses are shorthand for smart and unappealing to men. I could regurgitate that Laura Mulvey essay on the male gaze I read when I saw Vertigo in film class, but I'll spare you. Rachel Leigh Cook, Meg Cabot, Meg Murray, Toula Portokalos, and even Daria taught me all that I needed to know (though in her defense, Daria went back to bifocals). And part of me remains convinced that this is why Mallory Pike never attained true gorgeousness (well, that and the fact that she was never permitted to reach an age where she's getting attention from more than just the Humbert Humbert type).

The eye of the beholder. So everyone thinks you're ugly. Just go someplace where you're the ideal. Hey, if the Twilight Zone taught me anything, it was cultural relativity (and I thought that's what college was for). Some cultures prefer voluptuous pale skinned gals, others prefer tanned slim hard bodies, and still others prefer jowly piggy faces. (But they all go nuts for Pamela Anderson.)

And where else but among unwashed hipper than thou artsy Boho types could Helena Bonham Carter be considered the crown princess of hottitude? My forays into the counter culture that is New York City (read: Williamsburg) have taught me for every girl who idolizes Beyonce or Kate Moss, there's an unwashed poseuse who spends about ten cans of Bedhead a week to look like this:

I think I'll put Leslie Hornby (aka, Twiggy) in here. Twiggy growing up was seen as skinny and odd looking but in the sixties became the face of fashion. If I wanted to be uncharitable, I'd point out that she surfed the growing waves of anorexia, but why inflict my cynicism on my hapless readers?

When all else fails, disrobe. Hey, it worked for Ms. Gypsy Rose Lee, Linda Lovelace, Dita Von Teese, and almost every greasy haired, pasty skinned, "voluptuous," hipster I encountered on the burlesque circuit. Sure, men seldom make passes at girls with big asses, but if said ass isn't ensconced by anything as prudish as a pair of Levi's, you're in.

Sometimes you don't have to take them all off--you just have to wear fewer garments and the ones you do wear just need to be tighter. (See Olivia Newton John's transformation in Grease.)

Gypsy is both an example of disrobing and of gaining confidence and learning to believe you really are pretty, in the Joey Potter tradition. I do have to say, if you can go through life not realizing you're beautiful when you look like Natalie Wood or Katie Holmes, you probably need to be in a self-esteem class with Michael, LaToya, and Sadako herself. As moderated by Mr. O'Neill, of course.

I want to say one word to you...Plastics. Sometimes getting a makeover from Molly Ringwald, Cher Horowitz, or Carmindy isn't enough. Sometimes you need to call in the big guns. And surgery's nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes something's just missing. Like an extra eye or an end stage nose.

I'm going to put Meg Cabot's Airhead in here. (Getting your brain transplanted into the body of a supermodel will one day be the ultimate surgery.) When you take this together with the Uglies series by Scott Westerfield, and Number 12 Looks Just Like You, it's hard to believe we won't all be supermodel clones in some far off year. Though personally, I found the "Different body" thing to be kind of a cheat. Like hiring about eight ringers as consultants so you can win your company's softball game.

Happy Thanksgiving, fellow bloggers and readers.