Alexandra Duncan

Science Fiction. Fantasy. Feminism.


This week, Jeremy and I went to the Thursday Horror Picture Show to catch a double feature of Roger Corman's Not of This Earth and Attack of the Crab Monsters. They were both suitably terrible. Not of This Earth involves an intergalactic vampire intent on subjugating the world and using its citizens as a food supply for his people, while Attack of the Crab Monsters features giant telepathic land crabs who also want to dominate our planet, but for less specific reasons. Don't overthink it. They just do.

Whenever we watch old movies, I'm always interested to see how they portray women and what cultural attitudes those portrayals reflect. Will the heroine be a one-dimensional femme fatale? An innocent damsel in distress? The spunky career girl who still faints when the monster comes shambling out of the darkness? The female lead in Attack of the Crab Monsters is one of the third variety, a marine biologist who utters unfortunate lines like, "Well, I suppose I'd better go make everyone some lunch" in the aftermath of a giant crab attack, and constantly clings to her scientist-fiance's shoulder.

However, for all the '50s female stereotypes at play, I couldn't help remarking how normal Pamela Duncan, the lead actress, looked. The script calls for her to scuba dive at several points, and the first thing I noticed as she swam across the screen was that she (or her stunt double) had powerful legs, the kind of legs you would need if you were actually, you know, a real scuba diver. However, at the same time, a horrible suspicion struck me that today's moviemakers would reject her for a lead role as being "fat," because she didn't look like an emaciated twelve-year-old.

In American culture, the standard of beauty dictates that actresses and models should look like some kind of bizarre, elongated manga character, with unnaturally proportioned facial features, impossible bone structure, and zero body fat. I'm sure you've seen this Dove commercial that shows the process of a woman's face being altered in preparation for a billboard campaign. If not, take a minute to watch it, and pay special attention to the last 20 seconds or so, when Photoshop comes into play.

I'm not saying the sexism of the '50s was preferable to today, that people of that time didn't have their own unreasonable prejudices about body image and beauty (Notice, for instance, that the woman on the movie poster is a blonde, whereas Pamela Duncan is a brunette.), or that no one in that decade suffered from an eating disorder.  But at least previous generations of women didn't have to compete with Photoshop.

I recently watched a documentary called America the Beautiful, which follows the career of a 12-year old girl (!!!) who breaks into the high fashion industry. It discusses the effects of unrealistic body image expectations on girls and women, and explores the basis of those expectations in the advertising and fashion industries. It's a disturbing, fascinating film, and it made me think more carefully about how I talk about myself in front of my little sisters. I may think I need to drop 20 lbs. for my health's sake, but I don't want them going around thinking that criticizing your own body is simply something that women are supposed to do. I don't want them to think they're ugly if they have hips or arms that are more than bone. I want them to grow up to think that being an actual, real woman, with breasts and hips and room for internal organs, is beautiful.

Because in what bizarre world is this. . .

. . .more beautiful than this?

Maybe we should let the crab monsters win.

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