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Sunday, February 27, 2011

The ageless quality of teenagers

One thing I’ve learned as a man trying to write in a genre that is mostly of the women, by the women and for the women is that I have plenty to learn. Something that happened during my writers’ group meeting last week suggested maybe we all do.

In a YA novel about a sixteen-year-old who runs away from her country home to live in the city in 1919, a woman has her heroine doing something she’s never done before: fret over her appearance.

A man in the group said he couldn’t imagine a girl reaching age sixteen without doing that. The women in the room whole-heartedly agreed.

All settled, then right? Maybe not.

My far-from-exhaustive research shows that girls today get concerned about their looks at an earlier age than their counterparts of a century ago.

A report in Women’s E-News blames teen media for doting on appearance, noting that “it wasn't always thus.”

"The body has become the central personal project of American girls,” Joan Jacobs Brumberg, author of The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls, says in the article. “This priority makes girls today vastly different from their Victorian counterparts. Although girls in the past and present display many common developmental characteristics—such as self-consciousness, sensitivity to peers and an interest in establishing an independent identity—before the 20th century, girls simply did not organize their thinking about themselves around their bodies.”

A Los Angeles Times article posted at an endocrinologist’s website says another problem is that puberty is rearing its monstrous head earlier due to environmental pollution and the overuse of hormones in food production.

Decidedly unromantic either way.

When I was listening to the writers’ group discussion, my mind wandered to a more innocent time. Not the 1910s. The 1970s. And, yes, as wicked as they were, the ’70s still qualify as more innocent than now.

I can remember getting ready in my room for a Friday-night dance, putting on a Mott the Hoople record and combing and recombing my pathetically straight, limp hair until I had something resembling that cool Gary Collins look. The look lasted only until I went outside, of course, which meant that as soon as I reached the dance, I was in front of a restroom mirror along with several dudes with similarly pathetic hair trying to achieve some mythical look that would snare us the Terri Garrs and Jaclyn Smiths of our dreams.

Who, apparently, were in a bathroom just a few feet away, combing their hair to death.

And I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that something very much like this went on back in 1919.

Monday, February 21, 2011

You gotta like what you're seeing

I’ve read a lot of screenplays written by people who want to break into Hollywood, and most of them are memorable in some way. The most unforgettable character description I ever read was by a guy whose name I can’t recall, but the line is as clear in my head as it was one second after I read it:

“She is extra-beautiful, due to her extra-large breasts.”

Hey…he said “breasts.” Think of all the other words he might have used instead.

I was reminded of the line on Sunday morning, when I flipped through a department store flyer and happened upon the women’s underwear page. One of the items was described as the “daisy fuentes® Extreme Lace push-up bra,” which made me wonder what the extreme part was. Push-up? Lace? Daisy Fuentes?

At any rate, the model didn’t appear all that extreme to me. Certainly the guy who wrote the line above wouldn’t cast her—or any woman built like her—to be in his movie. Which is okay by me, since I’d like an actress who looks like this model to be available to play Lara when the Fast Lane movie comes out.

That’s right—size can matter to men, too. But “size” doesn’t necessarily mean “bigger.” It’s a neutral term, and some guys appreciate the axiom “less is more.”

When I suggested this to one woman in particular, she quipped, “They say love is blind," then added, "but if it is, why do they sell lingerie?” To which I replied, “Because lust has 20/20 vision.”

If not X-ray vision.

Either way, with apologies to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, I may not always be able to describe hot, but I know it when I see it.

Same goes for the guy who wrote the "extra-beautiful" line. And for Dr. Love, himself, Kiss bassist Gene Simmons, who told the Discovery Channel show Biography that women should stop worrying about their thighs and their breasts and their hair.

“What we want is what you have,” he said, looking directly into the camera. “All we ask is that you give us some of it every once in a while.”

Here’s another axiom: Extra-beautiful’s in the eye of the beholder. And, believe me, there’s always somebody looking.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Guys as dolls

Ken turns fifty this month, which means it’s time to wax philosophic about the sexless beau of the iconic plastic woman whose measurements no quantity of silicone could ever replicate.

Over the years Barbie and Ken have been A-list celebrities with unsurpassed staying power, even though the former has been vilified as the reason behind every twinge of inadequacy felt by any flesh-and-blood American female, while the latter has been, largely, a joke due to a certain inadequacy of his own.

All that seems to be forgotten now, though. A recent Chicago Tribune article hails Barbie as “the alpha female” in a category of toys known as “fashion dolls.”

No matter how anti-feminist her physique, she’s certainly always been the alpha in her association with Ken. Always the breadwinner—accounting for 90% of their combined income—she was decidedly equipped to kick Ken’s butt if he ever hit on those Bratz Girlz hottiez, Phoebe and Roxxi.

As if the slutty twinz ever presented a threat to Barbie. G.I Joe is clearly more their type.

Ken’s rep as a weakling, though, is getting a much-needed makeover in a direct-to-Hulu reality show that pits a passel of real-life bros against each other to win the title of Genuine Ken. The winner will be whoever kicks hiney in events like “cooking” and “decorating an apartment on a budget.”

On a budget? For crying out loud, Barbie has a dream house.

I further wonder if there’ll be anything new about the so-called “Great American Boyfriend” who emerges from this show. In 1965, when Barbie and Ken were mere youngsters, “Mystery Date” debuted. Girls exchanged playing cards to assemble an outfit appropriate for a date with a fellah who was waiting behind the door. The fellah would be dressed for a day at the beach or a night at the ball. If the bowling date fellah showed up but you were dressed for skiing, you lost—though I’m not clear on why anyone thought spending time with beer-swilling keglers in a smoke-filled alley was anyone’s dream.

You lost big-time, though, if the door opened to reveal the Dud, a dude who had the audacity to show up in blue jeans, boots and a Henley shirt, with his hair all awry. In other words, a true catch for an Aquarian Age chick just two years hence.

I guess the new Ken is supposed to have more substance than his predecessors and his Mystery Date buds—if by “substance” you mean “does things that stereotypical males don’t do.” One of the unlucky losers, though, who talks about “expecting excellence” of himself and the importance of being patient, supportive and a good listener, got his butt booted because the toes of his shoes pointed up a little too much.

So much for depth.

We all know what it really would take to make Ken a man. Something to fill the space between his legs? Nah. I’m talking about the space between his ears.

Cooking and decorating are a good start. The mystery is how, in half a century to date, did he manage to get only this far?

Check out the original 1965 TV commercial for The Mystery Date Game.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What’s so bad about looking good?

You’ve got to feel at least a little sorry for Disney’s poor, little hot girls. They always get the guy—but they always get the guff, too.

A new study at Appalachian State University determined that physical attractiveness “predicted how positively (characters) were portrayed” in animated Disney movies, and that led the Chicago Tribune to conclude that the beauty Belle is turning our kids into beasts.

In other words, because in Disney’s wonderful world hotter = gooder, Cinderella “taps that bibbidi-bobbidi magic (while) her ugly stepsisters get boo.”

I dunno. I watched Disney’s Cinderella probably three hundred times when I was staying home with my two-year-old daughter, who absolutely had to see the movie every day, and I came away with the impression that crooked intentions, not crooked teeth, lead to the stepsisters’ comeuppance.

Pop culture is lousy with characters who have pretty faces and ugly souls. How about the diabolical meteorologist played by Nicole Kidman in the movie To Die For, which is based on a Joyce Maynard novel? And the mean-girl Heathers in the movie Heathers. And, for that matter, the mean girls in Mean Girls.

The list goes on and on. It gets so long, you could argue attractive people are as likely to be unfairly characterized as evil as ugly ones are.

The punch line, though, is that while watching movies with comely good guys led adults in some studies to say they’d rather befriend attractive people, the Appalachian State study determined that six- to twelve-year-olds are less susceptible to such bias.

I’m not worried about Fast Lane. Everyone’s physically appealing—and everyone’s got good traits and bad. They, like real-life people, are conflicted. They’re sometimes motivated by self-interest, sometimes by altruism. And they can mistakenly believe they’re doing good when they’re really doing bad. I'm hoping all that makes them more appealing overall.

I’m certainly not writing Fast Lane as appropriate bedtime fare for six-year-olds, but I’m confident ’tweeners of average intelligence would have no trouble seeing what’s going on behind the pretty faces.

And, I gotta believe, adults wouldn’t, either.