Over the past few weeks, the Internet has been ablaze with reactions to a recent controversial Ralph Lauren advertisement. The ad depicts model Filippa Hamilton sporting some of the clothing brand’s latest fashions.
Over the past few weeks, the Internet has been ablaze with reactions to a recent controversial Ralph Lauren advertisement. The ad depicts model Filippa Hamilton sporting some of the clothing brand’s latest fashions. The disturbing aspect of the image lies in its improbable anatomical details. Hamilton’s head actually appears to be broader than her hips, which are grotesquely thin. As it turns out, the model’s already-narrow frame had been digitally reduced using Photoshop before the ad was set to print.
This distorted, Barbie-doll-like depiction of femininity is a problem endemic of the fashion industry, but its effects can be seen throughout American popular culture. Music, movies, television and Western medicine all tend to advance a dangerous and untenable ideal of beauty. This troubling trend is explored in Darryl Roberts’ documentary America the Beautiful, which will be showing Friday and Sunday at 5th Avenue Cinema. The screenings will be followed by a panel discussion with the directors of RainRock Treatment Center, an Oregon-based facility for women with eating disorders.
America the Beautiful investigates America’s obsession with physical perfection. In it, Roberts trains his camera on a cavalcade of media personalities—from actors and reality TV stars such as Paris Hilton—and asks them hard-hitting questions regarding the power of popular image. He also tells the story of a young, up-and-coming model’s roller coaster ride through the cutthroat fashion industry. Her narrative serves as a microcosm for society as a whole, revealing the dangers of a culture increasingly fixated with an unrealistic ideal of beauty.
Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, are among the most debilitating repercussions of this ideal. Roberts addresses this topic in the film, interviewing a number of professionals on the subject. Among them is Carolyn Costin, an expert on eating disorder treatment and founder of the RainRock Treatment Center in Eugene.
Costin originally opened a treatment center in Monte Nido, Calif., before expanding operations to include several affiliates on the West Coast. She will be participating in the panel discussions following both showings.
Kimberly Klose, who works for the RainRock Treatment Center, will also partake in Sunday’s discussion. She states that Roberts’ film is philosophically in line with the center’s goals, and that it raises a number of important issues.
“The media and the cosmetic industry place pressure on women to look a certain way, and encourage the idolization of the thin ideal,” Klose said. “Women are always needing to modify their appearances in some way that usually involves diet or buying beauty products.”
Ultimately, films like America the Beautiful offer hope that our culture will shift away from this self-destructive paradigm of false loveliness.