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Jewish World Review May 3, 2001 / 9 Iyar, 5761

Julia Gorin

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Consumer Reports

There Is Nothing Like a Dame--Nothing on Screen, Anyway -- CALVIN Klein's once-controversial ads implying that there's nothing sexier than a 14-year-old girl has become Hollywood gospel. The problem is, it usually takes a 14-year-old girl to look good this way, not an actress in her 20s or 30s trying to conform to an impossible mold and consequently setting the standard of beauty somewhere between crack addict and pre-op transsexual. Upon seeing Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Helena Bonham Carter, Amanda Peet or Calista Flockhart, I catch myself checking for Adam's apples.

Yet, as the public shakes its head at Flockhart's body, it's fast becoming the Hollywood ideal. Apparently Hollywood thinks it's been under-serving the pedophile market. Prevailing taste used to be that women should have child-bearing bodies. Now it's for us to figure out whether a star adopts children because she wants to or because she's induced sterility.

When a woman still looks like a woman, Hollywood won't have her. Embarrassed by feminine curves, the industry avoids casting them or when it does, goes to great lengths to hide them.

These lengths reached parody proportions in the climactic scene of the recent "Charlie's Angels" movie, where the three leads emerge from the ocean and walk toward the shore: Diaz in all her skeletal glory, wearing a two-piece; then tiny, bow-legged Lucy Liu, also in a skimpy suit; finally, there's luscious Drew Barrymore--covered in a full body wrap.

At the same time, last week's People magazine celebrated the return of curves, quoting top actresses eschewing diets as a way of life and embracing softer versions of themselves. Charlize Theron, Jennifer Lopez, Sandra Bullock, Catherine Zeta-Jones and, ironically, Barrymore expressed confidence that they won't miss out on work for it, with Tea Leoni gleefully saying goodbye to Hollywood if she does.

Unfortunately, a star's reality doesn't reflect the reality of what goes on inside casting offices, where newer actresses are not afforded such luxuries. There, anything larger than a 2 is an assault on the senses. Two isn't petite; it's standard. Zero is preferable--the small side of zero. Fours are for "fat" calls.

The day is approaching when clothing retailers will don banners announcing "Now available: Minus Sizes!" Television commercials will advertise the arrival of the over-the-counter tapeworm. Beautiful women sizes 6 to 10 will appear exclusively in fetish magazines. They'll cart out the outgoing Miss America in a wheelchair (as was parodied in the aptly titled film "Drop Dead Gorgeous"). And instead of skimpy bikini contests, there will be skimpiest body-bag competitions.

So how is it that "Chocolat" got nominated for best picture? How did Juliette Binoche manage even to get the part? Didn't her breasts get in the way?

Speaking of breasts, I recently caught the 1992 movie "Honeymoon in Vegas," and almost didn't recognize Sarah Jessica Parker, who still had hers at the time. But it wasn't until she started looking haggard and 50 at 36 that she was elevated to the status of sex symbol.

If this had been Hollywood from the start of the motion picture business, there would never have been a Mae West. Today's Tinseltown would send Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren packing, too.

Even if one accounts for the shift among men in show business, gay and straight, as a change in attitude toward women from the worshipful to the misogynistic, it doesn't explain the complicity of industry women, who seem to be mute. If they can't even defend a woman's entitlement to what is hers by birth--that is, a feminine body--how much credibility does the rest of the feminist crusade have?

Then again, women have always been women's worst enemies, and the "fat" card is sometimes the only one that Plain Janes behind the scenes can play. How else but through a weight complex to make a million-dollar movie star feel inadequate? It was a female producer who told 106-pound "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" star Melissa Joan Hart to lose weight for her film-starring debut in "Drive Me Crazy." And although they're not exactly behind the scenes, Joan and Melissa Rivers, who can't help their looks but can control their weight expertly, indulge in this psychological game. The elder Rivers once said of Kate Winslet: "Kate's arm weighs as much as Helen Hunt."

Of course, Winslet--a rare dissenter amid the sea of body-snatched--is young and married, a mother and doesn't live in California. In other words, she looks normal--and she is. It would be hard to have her life and look like Flockhart, Lara Flynn Boyle--the anorexic 35-and-dating category.

Regular people are irritable when they're hungry, and these women are hungry all the time. Add the fanatical exercise, chemical stimulants and diuretics that many of them indulge in, and it's easy to understand how one unnamed Tinseltown woman reportedly could hit her pharmacist when he said he was out of her anti-cellulite drug.

When the body is deprived, the brain is deprived. For all the supposed strides that created the strong woman who has it all, the skinny culture has created fractured females who are exhausted, neurotic and stupid.

In an earlier era, women stood for "hearth, home and love," according to "Hollywood Vs. America" author Michael Medved. Far from the adulterers, victims, lesbians and psychotics that constitute juicy female roles today, the characters were dignified, intelligent and larger than life. Even the airheads always outsmarted.

But today they don't look like women--and they don't act like women. Taking on more than just physical male qualities, female characters have become the romance solicitors in practically every romantic comedy being released. The girl pursues the guy, often asking him outright for a date, sometimes proposing marriage, other times literally running after him.

While the viewing public may yearn for a return to the soft sultriness and feminine demureness of the first half of the filmmaking century, what we may be witnessing is a return to a much earlier time: that of Shakespeare, when male and female roles both were played by men.

At least then we'll be paying $10 for a more honest product.

JWR contributor Julia Gorin is a journalist and stand-up comic residing in Manhattan. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2001, Julia Gorin, This column first appeared in The LA Times