The over-tanned human Barbie could be any Botox addict I see at the beach every summer in California’s Orange County. In fact, the city where I was raised, Irvine, Calif., is so notoriously appearance-conscious it ranks as the No. 1 city in America in household spending on high-end fashion.
Last year, I returned to my hometown to lead several discussions on the documentary film “Miss Representation.” The film, written, directed, and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, attempts to refute the media portrayal that “a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality,” as the film’s website describes it.
I had high hopes of creating radical change around issues of female empowerment and body image among Irvine’s youth. But I found resistance instead.
After I asked a question about the difference between growing up male and female, one young woman insisted that this difference – of girls being pressured to dress or act in a certain way – “just doesn’t exist anymore. There is no pressure in high school.”
I was speechless. She attends my alma mater, and when I went there in the early 2000s, girls obsessed about weight – and teeth whitening, shopping, manicures, pedicures, waxing, and hair salons. With plastic surgery, it’s getting worse. And all over Orange County, mothers sign waivers for their underage daughters to tan.