When I meet someone new and tell them about this blog, the responses I get usually fall into two categories. Most often I hear, “Oh! Totally! I stopped reading those magazines years ago.” And sometimes I get, “Well...what kinds of things do you write about, exactly?”
From now on, when someone asks the latter, I’m just going to hand them “The Hollywood Hot Machine” from InStyle Makeover’s September issue. This single page manages to include pretty much everything that’s wrong with women’s magazines: obsession with the male gaze, extreme beauty regimens, impossibly strict diets, and a dash of shocking ignorance. Handy!
The article features six actresses who’ve made major adjustments to their appearances to launch their showbiz careers. We aren’t talking about going from a side part to a middle part here, you know? If the fact that these women had to dramatically change their hair, faces, bodies and even their names--or at least felt they had to--isn’t maddening enough for you, maybe you’ll hate the breezy tone InStyle uses to describe their transformations. I sure did!
For instance, the article says Joan Crawford (née Lucille LeSueur) used “rigorous diet and exercise” to become “sleek.”
Reportedly, she even chewed gum in an attempt to sharpen her jawline.
Apparently no celebrity plastic surgeons were available to comment on the merits of Orbit as a cosmetic technique. Try it at home, readers!
The article goes on to mention haircuts and wardrobe changes for Marilyn Monroe and Diana Ross, and says of Jane Fonda:
Fonda’s first husband, Roger Vadim, directed her schoolgirl-to-sex-kitten makeover. He’d done the same for previous wife Brigitte Bardot.
And a man habitually directing his wives into “sex kitten” makeovers isn’t creepy or predatory at all!
Oh, and what about Jennifer Aniston?
Yoga, hairstylist Chris McMillan, and a salad for lunch almost every day for 10 years helped Aniston morph into this honey-dipped goddess.
So we again have a man to thank. And of course there’s that salad-a-day for a decade thing. Is that a healthy diet, a reasonable approach to eating, or just something Aniston’s publicist made up? Who cares? The real message here is that she’s whippet-thin, as anyone who’s seen her wearing scanty underthings in Horrible Bosses can tell you.
But I’ve reserved the bulk of my outrage for the Rita Hayworth entry, which reads:
Painful but worth it: In two years, Margarita Cansino raised her hairline almost an inch with electrolysis. And when she went red, a star was born.
“Painful but worth it”? WHAT THE HELL. Do InStyle’s offices not have access to Wikipedia? I have to assume that’s the case, because obviously no one at the magazine knows why Hayworth had that electrolysis: at the behest of Columbia Pictures, to make her appearance less Hispanic and therefore more marketable. That’s also why she dyed her hair red and bleached her skin.
(Incidentally, that second link has a context-sensitive ad for a skin-lightening treatment that reads “InStyle Award Winner!” Wow.)
Celebrities change their appearances for all kinds of reasons, but praising a racially motivated, excrutiatingly painful cosmetic procedure as “worth it” is, at best, insensitive. (And at worst? I really don’t want to break out the “r” word.) Did Hayworth look better than Cansino did? That’s subjective. But there are some ugly, ugly implications attached to glorifying a makeover designed to hide Hayworth’s heritage. I mean, what’s the reader takeaway supposed to be here? That everyone looks better as a white person? That the agony Hayworth must have gone through was “worth it” to not look Hispanic?
This is tricky territory, and InStyle could have provided context or sidestepped those implications entirely. But they didn’t, and that’s the problem. Articles like this propagate the idea that beauty is pain--and that beauty is determined by men, and it requires expensive, painful treatments, and it demands extreme, restrictive diets, and that only certain kinds of women (namely thin white women) are beautiful. Perhaps expecting InStyle Makeover to acknowledge as much is ridiculous.
Still, it’s been more than 80 years since the picture of Lucille LeSueur on this page was taken. Eighty years after LeSueur tried to reshape her face by chewing gum, and Jennifer Aniston eats arugula every day. Eighty years. That’s a long time for so little to have changed.