Body Image / Films / Women and Gender

Quote of the Day: Actor/Director Sarah Polley on Women’s Bodies in Film

Originally published at Bitch Flicks.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered, director and actor Sarah Polley spoke about her new film Take This Waltz. She also discussed how we need more female directors and the unique perspective they can bestow on female characters. One of our awesome readers, Her Film’s Kyna Morgan, alerted us to the interview. What struck Kyna was Polley’s fantastic quote on the sexist portrayal of women’s bodies on-screen:

“I feel like with young women, their bodies are constantly objectified and used in a sexual context. With older women, [their bodies are] constantly the butt of a joke. For me, the seminal scene that illustrates that is, in About Schmidt, when Kathy Bates gets into the hot tub and Jack Nicholson is horrified and the audience is supposed to scream.

 “I remember being so deeply offended by that scene. One of the first times you’re dealing with an older woman being naked in a movie — it doesn’t happen very often — and it’s the butt of a joke, or it’s supposed to horrifying. [In a shower-room scene in Take This Waltz] I wanted to show women’s bodies of all ages, kind of without comment, and the only conversation around it is about time passing and what it means, and about sexuality and relationships. That it not be something contrived to produce an effect, necessarily.”

Yes, yes, YES!! I’m delighted to see an actor and director speak openly about ageism and the objectification of women’s bodies.

When it comes to sexuality, Hollywood often portrays only thin, young, white women’s bodies. Women of color, older women and large women — if portrayed at all — are often depicted as hypersexual or asexual, often for humor or derision.

Besides Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren and re-runs of The Golden Girls (which I cannot get enough of!), we rarely see female actors over the age of 50 portraying characters embracing their sexuality.

In film and TV, we often see schlubby, overweight, or older men with young, thin women. Couples Retreat, Hitch, King of Queens (pretty much anything with Kevin James), Still Standing, As Good as It Gets, Manhattan, The Wackness, The Honeymooners…I could go on and on. The message is that it doesn’t matter if men age. Ultimately, their looks don’t matter. But as beauty is deemed our only commodity, women must perpetually look young and sexy.

Reduced to our appearances, women are told time and again that beauty, youth and thinness determine our worth.

We’ve seen toxic bodysnarking recently with Ashley Judd speaking out against the media and the patriarchal policing of women’s bodies, Jennifer Lawrence’s body deemed too fat to play Hunger Games‘ Katniss Everdeen, Lena Dunham’s weight ridiculed and criticized (and lauded!), and Scarlett Johansson annoyed by sexist diet questions. The media polices women’s behavior and scrutinizes their appearance.

Photoshopped faces and bodies saturate the media, bombarding us with unattainable beauty standards. We rarely see imperfections on-screen. No wrinkles, spots, saggy breasts, plump bellies or cellulite in sight. Only perfection. It’s no wonder so many girls and women struggle with eating disorders and negative body image issues. The media constantly tells us we’re not good enough. We must be slimmer, curvier, younger — always different than what we are.

Bodies come in all shapes, colors, ages and sizes. And that’s okay. No, it’s better than okay. It’s great. It’s time Hollywood stopped purporting conformity and started embracing diversity.

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