Once upon a time there was a very pretty girl and everybody loved her. All who knew Gia saw her as remarkably unique, yet no one saw sight of the future she’d have ahead. Beginning her tale as a young girl with an incredible opportunity, Gia became the star of her very own hallmark tragedy. As an up-and-coming model of the hottest industry in New York City, Gia made her career into something more than, well, a career. Somewhere along the way her career became her life and her life became a fairytale.
With the beauty of an angel and the poise of a rebel, Gia proved that even the world’s most successful supermodel can lose hold of a fairytale. At one point in the film the actress playing Wilhelmina Cooper said to Gia, “You have the whole world at your fingertips” and she was right. Gia certainly did have all the eyes in the world on her. Yet beauty and fame did not exactly secure for Gia a fairytale ending. The world’s first supermodel showed the history books that beauty is not directly correlated with happiness and that not even angels are made of gold.
Similar to the way the fashion industry manages to make models’ appearances seem natural, hegemony in the fashion industry manages to make the ideologies behind the models appear natural as well. In fact, “fashion has generally been conceived as a form of hegemonic oppression, exerting an obligation to conform” (Crane 314) on women in society today. And, it is at the very hands of hegemony that the media is able to distract its audiences from any oppression the models face behind the scenes. Now more than ever, the media harnesses spectacular ways of hiding the reality that actually exists in the lives of models, twisting it around and in turn, depicting the whole thing as a fairytale.
Girls in society today foster an un-self-conscious awareness of the world which renders them blind to the otherwise-overtly unrealistic perceptions of beauty that these fairytales portray. Hegemony in both magazines and fairytales manage to harness these ideals and moreover strengthen them. The actual conflict lies in the industry’s failure to convey to female audiences even tiny nuances that this ‘beauty’ is, in fact, far from beautiful.
Instead, workers in the fashion industry strive to exemplify models as ‘princess-like’ characters, embodying a complete set of all the components necessary for ‘perfection’. That is, a perfect body, adorned with stunning clothes accompanied by a flawless face. And in deceiving the consumer into thinking that these attributes are the sole elements of perfection, the media goes further in trying to instill a correlation between the models’ ‘perfection’ and happiness. Gia’s agents, like those for many other models’, aim to portray in magazine images of the model, a true success story - not only a beautiful model, but also an ideally happy woman - a princess who, in the end, will live happily-ever-after. Right?
Wrong. Try and recall Disney’s eight famous princesses, each one more beautiful than the next - faces flawless, clothes stunning, castles large. To little girls, these princesses’ lives might seem ‘perfect’, yet as their tales grow a bit deeper, each princess finds herself in a slew of unhappiness. Arielle would like nothing more than to experience life above the sea, Jasmin wants to escape from seclusion in her castle and Belle is on a never-ending quest for true love. Undoubtedly, beauty is something each of these princesses does have, yet happiness is certainly something they do not.
Gia, like any princess in the quintessential fairytale, may appear perfect as she is portrayed in images of the media. Yet in reality, she is far from happy. In fact, Gia’s story is a fairytale turned so grey, that what is being portrayed as ‘beautiful’ is in truth granting her far from happiness.
One quote in the film really jumped out at me. It read, “with a face like that, she doesn’t need a name” (Gia). Referring to Gia and probably thousands of other models in America, a quote like that is targeted towards the public with intent to convince women of all ages that perfect is nameless and nameless is perfect. Girls are left with a sort of ‘moral order’ fixated in their minds on how to look and how to act. In turn, it is the nature of girls to “make comparisons between themselves and the models in the photographs” (Crane 325). Models like Gia and magazines like Vogue neatly present this such ‘moral order’ on unattainable beauty. It is a twisted sense of reality that the media presses into the minds of women, leaving them “inclined to identify with the models and [become] disappointed if they are unable to do so” (Crane 325).
Young girls are “in the process of learning [personal] values and roles of developing self-concepts,” making them “such prime targets” (Kilbourne 258) for distorted perceptions of beauty. Yet it is safe to say that women of all ages are victims of conflicted hegemony embedded in the media. And although models’ identities are masked behind the pages of the magazine and the true nature of their realities are kept out of sight from the viewer, a more significant conflict lies in the fact that girls like me are left blind and believing it all.
A beautiful actress once said, “Life is like a book and a book is like a box. The box has six sides, an inside and an outside” (Gia). So how does one get to what’s on the inside? The search becomes difficult when the media bombards our already warped minds with explicit ideas regarding image and beauty. Gia’s tale presents an utterly messed up case that, through the mastery of the media, was portrayed to the world as the essence of beautiful.
Okay so Angelina Jolie is indeed the most beautiful woman in the world. Yet, unless the words ‘needle’ and ‘dope-sickness’ are written next to ‘happiness’ in the dictionary, I’d say that beauty is far from the true pretender.
Gia. Dir. Michael Cristofer. Perf. Angelina Jolie, Elizabeth Mitchell and Faye Dunaway. DVD. Citadel Entertainment, Kahn Power Pictures. 1991
Crane, Diane. Gender and Hegemony in Fashion Magazines: Women’s Interpretations of Fashion Photographs, 314-332.
Kilbourne, Jean. The More you Subtract, the More You Add: Cutting Girls Down to Size, 258-265.