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‘Is America obsessed with beauty?’
t Director of film that poses tough question heads to Kitsap Sunday.
POULSBO — You might say America has taken it too far.
When Katharine Lee Bates returned from Pikes Peak in 1893 and penned the lyrics to America the Beautiful, including the line “God mend thine ev’ry flaw,” she most likely couldn’t foresee the kind of obsession the country would soon establish on the idea of perfection.
Little more than a century later, filmmaker Darryl Roberts has released his own production titled “America the Beautiful.” His is a celluloid version; a no-holds documentary on the world of New York fashion, advertising and cosmetics, where flawlessness is a must and the role of divinity is filled by wielders of the scalpel.
In following Gerren, a 12-year-old model on the rise, Roberts unveils the industry’s effects on the health of American society. He talks with celebrities, magazine editors, fashion industry workers, models and doctors — even a group of average Everymen give their definitions of beauty.
The film is as uncomfortable at times as it is fascinating, as vastly serious as it can be comedic: During surgical footage a plastic surgery patient named Susan takes frighteningly longer than expected to awaken from anesthesia, then in a lighter scene Roberts humorously searches out “guilty looking bottles” of chemical-containing cosmetics.
But the message of the film is one a local nonprofit is fully backing. Our Beauty Within (OBW), a Poulsbo-based upstart program for 8-12 year old girls, is bringing Roberts and his film to Bainbridge Island at 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 9 for a screening and Q&A session. Like Roberts, Our Beauty Within aims to rid girls of wrongly applied ideals and teach them the true meaning of beauty.
From a personal perspective
Roberts, a radio and television show host turned documentarian, began the five-year process of making “America the Beautiful” in January 2003. After a dinner with a friend brought up the topics of beauty and women, Roberts said he reflected on two five-year relationships in his own life, each with a woman he said was internally beautiful.
“I didn’t marry either one of them because I was under the misguided notion that I’d be able to find someone just like them but who looked like the women in the magazines,” Roberts said from Chicago during a phone interview.
Opening in Chicago in May, “America the Beautiful” has since seen screens in LA, New York and more than a dozen additional cities, with plans to show in 30 others. (The film is rated R; OBW organizers are urging parents to assess whether their children should attend the showing with them based on their individual maturity and relationship.)
It depicts footage in which suffragettes champion their right to vote: Amassed, they bear signs reading “Use your brains, not your bodies.” On Aug. 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, giving every citizen the right to vote no matter their sex. But, Roberts points out in the film, that same year the Businessmen’s League of Atlantic City came up with a plan for what would become the first beauty pageant. It eventually spawned the Miss America organization and arguably shifted focus from the fight against objectification.
Following the scene showing Susan, a near-victim of anesthetics during plastic surgery, Roberts narrates his reaction.
“When I left there I called every man that I knew and asked them to call every woman in their life and tell them that they’re beautiful exactly the way that they are,” he said.
Anesthesia-related deaths are only the start of beauty industry threats uncapped in “American the Beautiful.”
The film also reveals shocking but closeted cosmetic industry facts and figures. Try these on for size:
• There are 884 routinely found ingredients in cosmetics that are toxic;
• The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned just six chemical cosmetic ingredients in its 67 years, in Europe 450 have been banned; and
• Americans spend more than $45 billion on cosmetic and beauty products each year, and in 2004 they spend $12.4 billion on cosmetic surgery. The estimated cost for basic nutrition and health care in developing countries is $13 billion.
One study even reported young kids are more afraid of getting fat than getting cancer.
“If this is obese,” says the lengthy, lithe and confident Gerren on camera, referring to her own criticized body, “I hope I’m obese when I’m 40, 50, 60 (years old).”
Sadly, even she at the end of the film loses sureness in her appearance, transforming from a vibrant and lively kid to a self-frustrated teen.
Bringing the message to Kitsap
Roberts said one Hollywood director told him after seeing “America the Beautiful” he canceled his lipsuction appointment. Some women have stopped buying U.S. cosmetics.
But the effects of the film are something he hopes translate to the next generation of women as well.
“What hit me was, ‘Wow, this is 2008 and I feel like our society still doesn’t value women the way that they should,’ ” he said. “I feel like we owe it to young girls and teenage girls to protect them. … We have to really start stepping up for our teenagers.”
Our Beauty Within (OBW), he added, is the right place to begin.
“That’s the ages we have to start getting these kids, start teaching them these messages.”
Claudine McCormick, director of OBW, said tickets are still up for grabs for the showing. They’re $15 each, and can be purchased at locations throughout Bainbridge Island and Poulsbo or online. Tickets to a special dinner with Roberts and McCormick are also being sold, and two will be raffled at the event. All proceeds go to OBW. Visit www.ourbeautywithin.org for more information, including other ways to donate to the cause.