“If I had to choose between becoming a doctor or a model, I’d definitely choose to be a model.”
-A pretty, but not pretty enough, reject from America’s Next Top Model
In the world of post-feminist rhetoric, that quote speaks volumes to the constructed social ideals of the “modern” woman. Beautiful and intelligent? Asking too much. I’m sure if f I had to choose between being super-pretty and tall or wearing an icky lab coat and smelling like sick all day, I would, for sure, choose the former. And it’s those kinds of remarkable quotes that accounted for the initial moral dilemma I faced upon viewing the first season of America’s Next Top Model. But as soon as those twelve androgynites started peacocking around and mewing over their eating disorders, all morality went out the window.
Standard feminist sentiments be damned, the shallow struggles of twenty-something aspiring mannequins make for engaging physical comedy. A show where young women reveal themselves to be multi-faceted human creatures and yet blank canvasses eager for a coat of fresh personality truly exhibits the foils of Middle America.
Where else would you encounter packs of women going through spiritual journeys on their way to careers devoid of soul? Or listen to the intimate words of single mothers trying desperately to make something of themselves for their kid, wherever he or she is?
As grows the hair of Tyra Banks, so go the days of our lives. In the face of far more demeaning fare, played regularly on network television and paraded down Robson Street, one could do worse. With dating shows like Elimidate pitting women against each other in direct competition, seemingly killing themselves to win the attention of drooling moron X, ANTM feels like female empowerment. At first glance the idea of young women setting aside reality to compete for a position as Mary Kay’s new spokesperson seems ridiculous. How much further could they perpetuate the antiquated stereotype that women should, for all intents and purposes, be seen and not heard? Look! Those girls are anorexic, self-absorbed, and flaky and they hate each other.
Just another example of gender oppression and cultural submission to a patriarchal society bent on maintaining glass ceilings. But they want to be there, under the astute tutelage of Tyra Banks and her ultra-gay banshees, and we want to watch. Knee-jerk reactionaries often point fingers at the exploitation of the female figure and form by advertisers and network executives. Reiterating time and again that men create amongst themselves, perverse beauty myths to keep women down.
Unfortunately for that argument, women are the main consumers of those products and these television shows. It’s not a subversive counter-attack, we just like watching other humans act, react and in doing so, make fools of themselves. Throw in a pre-fab Cinderella story and you have both great programming and the quintessential American Dream. A recent story in the Globe and Mail featured a Canadian fashion editor claiming that it was post-feminist to change your last name again. Her idea of staunch gender politics taking away a woman’s right to be delicate and submissive seems laughable. But the concept and actualization of choice was for many the focal point of the feminist struggle. I don’t quantify my beliefs in terms of how much I hate men or how far up the “ladder” I can climb on my own. I don’t feel the need to choose career over family because I’m busy deciding if I’ll be eating Kimchi or Kraft dinner. I was lucky enough to be born under the assumption that I’ll have the liberty to make the choice, a choice or no choice, as I see fit. If I want to be a liberated swinger, I will. If I choose to remain hopelessly old-fashioned and naive, I do. And with America’s Next Top Model playing in the background, I welcome a post-post-feminist future, lacking reckless labels, ideals and biases. Where Tyra, her cronies and I could burn our push-up bras together.