America The Beautiful (2007) – Documentary Review

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America Is Obsessed With An Unattainable Standard of Beauty

America’s obsession with beauty is the subject of filmmaker Darryl Roberts wide-ranging investigative documentary. Using archival footage and interviews with image-makers and beauty battle victims, Roberts reveals how how media, marketers and retailers manipulate women into thinking they must be avid beauty product and service consumers in order to measure up to unattainable standards set by magazine editorials and advertising. The film strongly advocates for women–and the men in their lives–to accept and love themselves as they are.

The Filmmaker’s Personal Quest For Answers

Early in his narration of America The Beautiful, the film’s director Darryl Roberts confesses that several years ago he broke up with this gorgeous, brilliant and altogether engaging girlfriend so he could find someone even more beautiful, and still wondered what prompted him to do such a stupid and shallow thing.

In an attempt to find answers, the Chicago-based first-time filmmaker got out his camera and embarked upon a nationwide investigation of America’s obsession with an unattainable standard of beauty that’s propagated by media and retailers who profit from selling products to people–well, mostly to women–who constantly struggle to improve their appearance and self esteem, and the impact the beauty trap has on our lives.

We are, concludes Roberts, victims of mind set manipulations that would have us be rail thin, light-skinned, eternally young and always meticulously groomed to replicate the airbrushed images we see on billboards and magazine covers. Hunt lets us see just how impossible it is to become the billboard by showing us step by step what photo editors do to digitally makeover the face of a beautiful makeup-free model into the image we see in the ad. The point is that nobody naturally looks that perfect.

Evidence From Everywhere

America The Beautiful’s scope is enormous. Beginning with a history lesson, Roberts shows us an archival newsreel clip of famed beauty icon Elizabeth Arden announcing that the day’s big story is the return of women’s natural waistlines and more footage of early beauty contests. He segues into far-ranging interviews with editors of Elle and several women’s beauty/lifestyle books, execs at Leo Burnett and other advertising shops and modeling mavens such as Ted Casablancas, as well as pretty teenage girls who’re already hooked into thinking they’re ugly and a selection of parents–most notably the couple who lost their daughter to anorexia and a mom who sees it as her responsibility to provide her daughter with everything she want–lessons and plastic surgery, if need be–to become a model..

Roberts shines a light on the cosmetic surgery industry, revealing that many doctors claiming to be plastic surgeons–including some famous practitioners–aren’t board certified. We learn the dangers of nip and tuck and anesthetia from surgical victims, including a famous former news anchor.

Jessica Simpson, Paris Hilton and other celebs pop up to comment on the role of beauty in their lives. Playwright Eve Ensler mimicks an African woman who helped her see how absurd it is to not love your body as it is.

Moments after Oprah intones concerns that five year old girls diet compulsively, we meet a teacher who’s created an instructive wall mural of magazine ad and editorial pages–including one from Oprah–depicting women in clothes and poses that she understandably classifies as ’ad porn.’

Geffen: A ‘Taylor’-Made Example

And, Roberts introduces us to Geffen Taylor, a beautiful, spirited and coltish twelve-year-old six-foot-tall size zero African-American girl who, corralled into the modeling arena by her ambitious mother, bolts straight into the superstar’s spotlight at New York’s fashion week. With Roberts, we follow Geffen’s career for three years, measuring the impact that the pressures of maintaining her modeling profile have on the teenager’s development and outlook. No spoilers, but it’s a hellova still unfolding story that would make a great stand-alone feature.

Roberts, who comes to documentary making from directing music videos, commercials and two narrative features, is a good researcher and an excellent storyteller. All of the elements he’s compiled in America The Beautiful add up to a powerful statement about issues that plague American women, causing them to endanger their health, go into debt and neglect the talents that make them unique and whole people.

There’s no doubt Robert’s cares deeply and genuinely about this subject. At one point, after one plastic surgery sequence, he says, “I called every man 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.” Overall, that’s the powerful message of this well-made and important documentary film.

Film Details

Theatrical Release Dates:
Friday August 1, 2008 in New York
Friday August 22, 2008 in Los Angeles
Friday August 29, 2009 in Portland, OR Dallas

Rated: R for some language, including sexual references.

Parents Guide: Add content advisory for parents.

Runtime: 105 mins.

Country: USA.

Language: English.

Filming Locations: USA.

Awards: Chicago International Film Festival 2007 – Gold Plaque – Best Direction – Documentary – Darryl Roberts

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