The strangest thing caught my eye during the pool party scene in American Hustle: ordinary bodies. After the movie, Mr. Campbell even brought it up before I could. It was the kind of party where adults did cannonballs and got their hair wet and didn’t let the way they looked in a swimsuit keep them from wearing one. The extras completely stole my attention away from the stars.
The male star,Â Christian Bale, fit right in with his awkward comb over and weight gain.
Amy Adams, on the other hand, took everything back to business as usual.
She was supposed to catch the male lead’s eye, so it makes sense that she wouldn’t blend in. Ironically, however, she was so typically Hollywood-perfect that she failed to catch my eye. I quickly processed her exotic swimsuit, duly noted that she looked amazing in it, and peered around in hopes of catching more of the ordinary extras. Sadly, the scene switched immediately to Bale and Adams alone in another room, talking about music.
Side note: This wouldn’t be a blog about boobs if I didn’t take this opportunity to highlight the impossible waist-length necklines that Amy Adams wore for the rest of the movie. Inspired by Jerry Hall, Bianca Jagger and Faye Dunaway, her necklines were meant to establish both the confidence and vulnerability of her character, Sidney Prosser. Curious how she avoided nip slips? Double-sided tape and careful carriage.
Fresh from American Hustle, Mr. Campbell and I began watching the Netflix series Lilyhammer. I had high hopes during the very first episode. Not only is the main character, Johnny, ordinary looking. So is his love interest, Sigrid, whom he meets on the train to his new hometown in Episode 1.
(Spoiler Alert: I don’t give away major plot points, but I do mention details from the second season below.)
I had high hopes that Lilyhammer would do with its lead actresses what American Hustle had only managed to do with its lead actor and extras–use “imperfect” women. In just the second episode, however, I suspected this wasn’t going to happen after Johnny fired a woman for complaining that the metallic shorts he wanted them to wear in his new bar were a violation of the Working Environment Act.
Johnny then asks his manager, “Those were the best looking waitresses you could find?”
“Yep,” he answers.
“Half of those broads were on the wrong side of menopause.”
As the show continues, women’s bodies become more and more idealized. By season 2, the waitresses could be Victoria’s Secret models.
The wise and loveable sheriff is replaced by a woman on the “right” side of menopause.
Finally, even Sigrid is replaced. The special education teacher at their children’s school catches Johnny’s eye when she’s no longer wearing her glasses* while drinking with a friend at his bar. (Granted, Sigrid broke up with Johnny at the end of season 1, but did the new love interest have to look like she could be his granddaughter?)
There’s a double standard that permits the male leads in American Hustle and Lilyhammer to look ordinary–even homely–but requires the female leads to look spectacular. The double standard isn’t going away any time soon. I know better than to look to the mainstream media for images that celebrate women’s bodies in all their diversity, but that is why that pool scene from American Hustle surprised and affected me. It made me realize how accustomed I am to standard images of beauty and how much I long to see more “ordinary” women’s bodies represented in movies and television.Â
*As Rachel Dratch explains in her book, nowadays “the best friend is someone slightly less beautiful than the leading lady, except with brown hair. Or glasses! ‘Hey! She’s wearing glasses! My brain now sees her as slightly less attractive than the lead! Everything makes sense in the world!'”