How to be a good female celebrity in the first half of 2012

Ok, ok, I’m going to do it. I’m going to blog about Samantha Brick.

Well, sort of.

I don’t have a lot to say about Samantha Brick’s article, other than to say there will always be people who don’t like you. Sometimes it’s because they’re stupid jerks. Sometimes it’s because you’re a stupid jerk. But if you assume that it’s always because they’re jealous of your face, then you’re showing the lack of self-awareness that’s probably the reason they don’t like you in the first place. I reckon it was a calculated move to increase her pop culture status and get better print/tv gigs and I reckon it worked.

But this post isn’t really about Samantha Brick, in the same way that Natalie Reilly’s article – What Sofia Vergara can teach Samantha Brick – isn’t really about Samantha Brick. It’s about good celebrities and bad celebrities and being naive about how they play the media.

Reilly says some good stuff:

Society has a skewed, broken system too, according you with status if you are beautiful. But you must tread lightly around discussion of your own appearance or you will summon forth collective inadequacy. And that inadequacy is felt deeper by women, who are socialised to believe that their looks are one of the most valuable things – if not the most valuable thing – about them. So what do we do with that inadequacy? We plug it into righteous condemnation and contempt for the woman who dares to elevate herself, because beauty, being that it is subjective, will always allow us to say – uh, honey? You’re not all that.

But that’s as far as she goes into how Western society pressures women to constantly make sure they look pleasing to other people. She also appears to not see the link between this socialisation and how it creates the inadequacy, condemnation and contempt that she’s writing about (cough, patriarchy, cough).

Leaving aside the pointless mentions of the US Republican presidential candidate race – yeah, we get it, you read more than just celebrity news – the rest is an (unintentionally) funny look at the way people buy into celebrity culture. Celebrities are people whose jobs require them to pretend to be open with reporters, who in turn don’t seem to realise they’re being told the same story by everyone. Or perhaps they do, but their editors demand a story because they promised one to the celebrity’s publicist and so the journo has to cobble together something vaguely newish from what the celebrity said. And that’s not an easy thing to do.

Anyway, according to Reilly, the good celebrities – those who say the things we currently want them to say – are Sophie Vergara, Natalie Portman, Charlize Theron. We know they know they’re beautiful, and we know they know that opens doors for them because they’ve told us so. The bad celebrities – those who say they were ugly ducklings because until recently, that’s what we wanted them to say, and because they didn’t get that memo we’ll now roll our eyes when they say that – are Angelina Jolie, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Aniston, Cindy Crawford. Crawford gets dismissed for daring to mention her life outside of modelling:

She doesn’t try to prove she’s more than just “a pretty face” by humble bragging she studied chemical engineering like Cindy Crawford.

How DARE Crawford try to talk to a journalist about something other than her face. The nerve of some people.

But Vergara is unique in that she doesn’t take her appearance as seriously. At last year’s Emmy Awards, after noticing the way people were looking at her, volunteered “Do you want to talk about my figure? Because I love talking about my figure”. By talking about it openly –as if it were a dress – she effectively distanced herself from it. In doing so she created a new way to talk about beauty – because, judging by the current narrative, we need it.

Um, what? I don’t want to humbly brag by saying that I have a BSc, MA, and am doing a doctorate, but that just doesn’t make sense. How is talking about your conforms-to-current-mainstream-beauty-ideals body to celebrity reporters who only ever ask you about your body, creating a “new way to talk about beauty”?

Last November Angelina Jolie was interviewed on 60 Minutes and asked “When did you first realise you were beautiful?” It’s a leading but fair question for the person whose face is now the gold standard by which mainstream beauty is currently measured.

Gold standard, really? As Reilly herself says, beauty is subjective. Also, what makes Reilly so sure that people she thinks are beautiful don’t look in the mirror and see things they think are “flaws”, just like many of us do? They live in the same highly-airbrushed culture we do – a culture that airbrushes photos of them because they’re not beautiful enough.

Jolie’s reply? “I never really think of beauty that way … I always felt …not traditionally beautiful.”

For the first time during the interview, her head is down, her brow appears furrowed. How can this woman, whose potent sexuality is inextricably tied to her appearance, deny what is patently obvious?

May I submit she is lying? Because one only need look at her makeup, her line-free face, her dyed hair to see that looks matter to her. They matter very much. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

May I submit that it’s part of Jolie’s job to always look beautiful/hot/fuckable when she’s in public? May I submit that just because a woman wears makeup and dyes her hair, it doesn’t follow that she thinks she’s traditionally beautiful? May I also submit that Jolie is an actor and so the head down, furrowed brow bit could be acting because she knows that’s what the interviewer and the audience want from her? Jolie is playing the celebrity game and Reilly has fallen for it.

But if Jolie admits to her beauty she will alienate her audience. After all, the celebrity system will not allow a “pretty face” to make movies about Bosnia, any more than the US political system will allow a poor man to be president. But a responsible humanitarian who just happens to be beautiful without knowing it? Now, that’s a highly marketable brand.

What a load of rubbish. The celebrity system allows beautiful people to do whatever the fuck they want. Even if they’re not up to date about what we want them to say to us.

6 responses to “How to be a good female celebrity in the first half of 2012

  1. Interesting NWN, interesting. I’m wondering too, what you’d make of this argument you’re developing and the Ashley Judd piece? Having read the article and then seen comments circling that both celebrate and critique, I must admit I’m left feeling a bit bewildered… I can’t help feeling a little like damned if you do/don’t is going on… I mean, I think Judd tried to raise a cogent argument about why the whole thing was a farce, but literally because of the media/celebrity space, it is seen as a farce anyway.

    And so, I get a bit more riled when I think that in part, then, the answer to “How to be a good female celebrity in the first half of 2012” is just to avoid the whole fucking lot of it. Urgh.

  2. I agree with everything you said to the extent that I understand it. I don’t usually read articles about celebrities. There was parts of Ms Reilly’s article I had to re-read a few times to comprehend. I think trying to analyse the public face of celebrities in the way she does is like trying to analyse professional wrestling as if it were a real sport.

    “For Sofia Vergara, her awareness of her seductiveness is her brand – and it’s a luxury one at that. Did you see her on the cover of Esquire magazine? She doesn’t plant her hands like little dog paws over her assets as Jennifer Aniston did on the cover of GQ. Vergara is deliberately enjoying herself.”

    You don’t think that in both cases a photographer directed them through a series of poses and then the magazine picked the photos it liked best?

  3. Reilly has seriously misinterpreted Sofia Vergara’s Emmy Awards comment. She was taking the piss for crying out loud.

  4. Reilly isn’t falling for the celebrity game: she’s actively playing it. The article is another WIMMENZ U R DOING IT RONG. Jeez, it shits me.
    I blame you, NWN, for alerting me to the existence of the Daily Wife; and Clementine Ford for writing articles in it and thus luring me there to read articles that make me want to join the feminist SWAT team.
    I read about Samantha Brick in the Guardian a couple of days ago: the article author suggested the Mail set her up intentionally.

    • Wouldn’t be the first time the Mail has set someone up.

      Sorry about Daily Life. I have to admit, the homepage is better now than when they launched – obviously paid attention to the criticism – but if Clementine Ford didn’t write for it, I’d never visit.

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