Sex Symbols

I had a conversation with my best friend this morning and she seemed to be shooting hot lava out of her mouth, because she wants to know why Beyonce seems to be the “norm” of what absolute beauty is. She wanted to know what Beyonce has done to help young girls with their body image.

As some of you know celebrities like Sara Jessica Parker, Jessica Simpson, Tyra Banks, Queen Latifah, Ellen etc. have created organizations, clothing lines and/or camps for children/teens/young adults who may be battling body image. Sara Jessica Parker, actor on “Sex and the City”, for years in her teens battled huge eating disorders. Even, the Scandal Goddess Kerry Washington, suffered from eating disorders in her college years. 

She recalled, “I’d eat anything and everything, Sometimes until I passed out. But then, because I had this personality that was driven toward perfectionism, I would tell people I was at the library, but instead go to the gym and exercise for hours and hours and hours.”

The thing is I look at someone like Kerry Washington in a magazine and I see someone that is  perfect. I see her amazing unmarked brown skin and how muscular she is. I look at her hair and how it always has that perfect pin curl. I look at Beyonce and I, like my friend,  and realize we can’t escape her. Queen B is everywhere!!! From her documentary, to her world tour, we cannot escape walking past a subway stop and seeing her image. I know recently, that she flipped out at H&M, because they tried to photoshop her images for their recent campaign advertisments. Even though Queen B flipped out about her almost retouched images, what has she done to help women and men feel comfortable in their own skin? This entry is not an attack at Beyonce at all- because I enjoy her music, and have tickets to the concert in Philly! But, my question to you all is, what makes a sex symbol? Is it great abs? Is it a lighter face? Is it straight hair? Is it just something you are born with? I have no idea. 

My best friend, who is portrayed in “The Body Image Project,” is absolutely gorgeous. She sometimes knows it, but has battled negative body image and confidence for years. She has fought for years to be seen as an actress.  My best friend for years, in this industry, became accustomed to hiding behind the scenes, because “higher ups” never gave her the chance to shine.  She is one of the most life changing actresses that I have come across. The thing is she is a voluptuous woman. She always has been. She has incredible Caribbean curves that I am so jealous at! But, I can remember a very hurtful time, when she got a lot of backlash for performing Maggie the Cat’s famous monologue from Cat on The Hot Tin Roof. I used to have her perform the monologue ALL THE TIME, because I would be so entranced by her rendition of it. This woman can connect on an ancestral level of deepness. But, people, even close friends of ours, would tell her not to do the speech, because Maggie the Cat was “sexy.” “Maggie was a thin” “Maggie was a sex symbol of the time” “Elizabeth Taylor is Maggie the Cat.” This hurt her, and me so badly. It hurt so bad to the point where she doesn’t even do the monologue anymore. The thing is Maggie the Cat was down south, women are thick there! Why can’t Maggie be so voluptuous and curvaceous?  I always promised that I would direct her in this show, because no one can light a candle to my best friend. She is one of the major inspirations for The Body Image Project, because I have watched her fight for years so that she can play ingenue roles. People have typed her into playing the mom or the grandma- at 20!! It is not fair that actor’s are “typed” because of their physical appearance. My motto is: if you can act it, you can play it. 

I had dinner with a friend of mine recently and he is about to become a MAJOR celebrity. I won’t unveil his name in the blog, but you will be seeing him on a lot of tv this fall. But, he has been doing out of control workouts recently so that he could be known as a “sex symbol.” He wants chiselled abs, pecks the whole nine. And yes, he is a gorgeous man. But, why does one have to go crazy in the gym to be a sex symbol. In the entertainment industry, why does your look negotiate what roles you get? 

 I went on two auditions recently. One was for an August Wilson play “Seven Guitars” and the other was for a Lynn Nottage play “By The Way, Meet Vera Stark.” Now- I was called in for two completely different characters. In “Vera Stark” the character is written as the mammy archetype. As most of us know, “mammy”, in our history, is the fun loving, stern larger black woman that usually works in the kitchen.

The other character I auditioned for in “Seven Guitars” was for the role of “Vera”- who has for years been portrayed by slender sized 6-12 women. I can honestly say, I really wanted the role of Vera in “Seven Guitars.” I am tired of playing the comedic relief. I know, because of my shady in between size, people call me in for comedic roles. I am not small enough to be an “ingenue” and I am not old enough to play the roles that are for my “size.” So I find myself always in the middle. The casting director for “Seven Guitars” even went as far as saying that I did a great job, I just didn’t “fit” what they were looking for. Even though I did a great job at reading “Vera” in “Seven Guitars” the director still had me read for the larger than life character of “Louise.”

Do I have to lose weight to be seen as something beautiful and sexy as Beyonce? How can we change the media? How can we create sex symbols, that look differently? How can my best friend, who is a gorgeous curvaceous woman, be seen as a sex symbol one day?

I think about the world now and I do see things beginning to change. I am seeing more sizes available in department stores. I am seeing more natural hair products for women. I am slowly, but surely, seeing more brown skin women play sexy characters in film/tv. BTW I will be talking about the light skin/dark skin wars in black culture soon in the next couple of blogs to come, don’t you worry!

I am seeing a slow movement for natural beauty. But, what does it take to be viewed as a sex symbol? I see Channing Tatum in “White House Down” and I immediately am fixated on how gorgeous and fit he looks. Which is great, but when will there be an actress that is my age and my size that is viewed as sexy and not comedic actress who is screaming up the place or singing out of control riffs! When will there be a curvy female lead in television that people fall out over?

I went to dinner with a friend of mine last night. It was late and we had bacon, grilled cheese sandwiches and beer. A couple of really physically fit men came into the restaurant, and my friend said “I wish I could look like them.” Is that what our obsession is with these celebrities? Do we just want to look like them? Is that why we put them on a high pedestal?

I have interviewed men and women who have bleached their skin to try to look like a celebrity, or person who may be lighter than them. I have interviewed women who have gotten breast AND BUTT enhancements, and have provided their surgeons with pictures of celebrities they would like to resemble.  

What is our obsession obsession with looking perfect? I worry about my future children and what they will see as beautiful. When I have children, I want them to have such a powerful sense of self. I want them to know that they are beautiful. I would hate it if they saw something on television and wanted to alter parts of their body to look like some celebrity. How do we encourage our children and teenagers and ourselves that they/we are beautiful creations? How can we make a difference? How can our “celebrities” contribute to the body image movement. 

How do we reprogram the mind of media and show them a refreshing look of what is sexy? That is my goal with The Body Image Project. I want to answer these questions and I want there to be immediate change. When I think about sex symbols I think about: Marilyn Monroe, Channing Tatum, Usher, Beyonce, Elizabeth Taylor and a couple others. Where do the majority of us “fit” in this sexy equation?

Would love to hear your thoughts?

 

actor | playwright | director 

Danielle 

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14 Comments

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  1. Love Love Love this post. I completely feel where you’re coming from. But, I don’t think being the sex symbol is quite as great as it may seem. The only parts in plays I seem to get are parts of easy women, prostitutes, and the trophy wife. Being a “sex symbol” also takes away from the possibility of being taken seriously as an actress and it SUCKS. Because of my thin waist and big butt, I’m expected to be a sexual being rather than a respectable, educated, classy woman. Just my thoughts. 🙂

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  2. Oh, and one more thing! You should start your own theater company where this kind of issue is kicked out of the door! A company where this *friend* is Maggie the Cat and KILLS!!!!! People will come from all over the world to see this company!!

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  3. Now: I’m always curious as to what google will show me when I type in things like “sex symbol” into the search engine. First results – wikipedia: “A sex symbol is a celebrity of either sex, typically an actor, musician, supermodel, teen idol, or sports star, noted for his or her sex appeal. The term was first used in the mid-1950s in relation to the popularity of certain film stars, especially Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot.” askmen.com: “Half a century ago, things were different; a certain status had to be obtained before such an honor could be bestowed. There have been many gorgeous women to grace the silver screen; Grace Kelly, Lauren Bacall, and Jane Fonda were undeniably beautiful but as always, this list is limited to ten. So here are the top ten timeless sex symbols that spring to mind when I think of “classic beauties.” Keep in mind that your girlfriend doesn’t qualify… Ava Gardner, Angie Dickinson, Josephine Baker, Jayne Mansfield, Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Rita Hayworth, and Marilyn Monroe.” thesaurus.com: “Part of Speech: noun Definition:person who is sexual ideal
    Synonyms: Adonis, Greek god, beefcake, dreamboat, hunk, looker, sex object, stud”

    Hmmm. Already, we have some idea as to what this term is meant to mean in our culture and what kind of value it has within it.

    I can also recall reading a Vogue article about the supermodel fad of each decade from the 60s to the 2000s. Each decade’s idea of beauty and sexy was so different! That was the biggest surprise reading it. Although the fashion model world is a bit different than the basic culture’s aesthetic, the one is often influenced by the other. One decade bushy eyebrows are hot and you’re considered exotic and sexy if you have them, in another decade, you’d be seen as a savage, manly looking, and frumpy for your bushy eyebrows. You can’t win! in that regard at least. What’s trendy sexy is always going to be a product of group thinking, the media export, a fad, temporary. What’s timeless sexy, I think, is always going to be: femininity. Whatever that word may mean to a certain culture or person, I think femininity is what wins for society in the end. Because femininity encompasses appearance, attitude, mindset, standards, and overall vibe. Even if a woman doesn’t fit the modern regulations of sexy in her physicality, femininity is always recognized and honored in some form or fashion. Then the question is: what does it mean to be feminine?

    One thing about Beyonce and a LOT of other celebrities now that’s kind of shady to me is their increasingly non-ethnic look. Or, in Beyonce’s case, sometimes she even looks more and more hispanic/latino. It’s the frequent faux blonde hair, red lips, light makeup foundation that makes me wonder. Then again, that may just be the answer to widening the view of what beauty or sexy is – not conforming to one particular look just because your black or a certain weight. Maybe Beyonce’s widening what the scope of what beauty can be for the Black girl by being a Black girl and wearing a tango style dress and Farrah Fawcett hair. And then the next day be able to rock bangles and box-braids. Maybe.

    Another primal thing about the term “sex symbol” is that it’s literally insinuating someone who can replace the idea, word, thought of sex. Someone who is literally a symbol for sex, the same way we see golden arches and know, “McDonald’s”. This idea, to me, goes deeper into biological urges and psychological understandings of what we desire when it comes to sex. Much of which, I think, is more media/tv/movie driven than how we really feel. I often times wonder if I’m a weirdo or just have low libido when I’m in a movie theater and there’s an obvious beefcake scene, where the hot, jock, love interest crush guy takes off his sweaty shirt and the women in the audience hoot and holler and I’m just sitting there unmoved. Yeah, the guy’s got nice abs, but am I ready to take off my panties right there in the movie theater? Nah, dog. And I wonder what’s really getting the women excited – is it literally his model perfect body or what media has told you you’re supposed to feel about his model perfect body? Or both? I dunno. Sexy is as sexy does. and it’s interesting because usually what happens in society is that something will not be the norm of good, but then the paradigm shifts and suddenly, Marilyn Monroe – curvy curvy curvy & explicitly sexy – is the sex goddess instead of being seen as an unmoral and overweight celebrity. Some may have actually seen her as that in her time, but now, over time, she’s widely accepted as goddess. It’s like how rap music was just for thugs a few short years ago, but now, hip hop is widely accepted and CEOs listen to Jay-Z.

    Perhaps the first step, though, is looking (not in the mirror), but in the heart. Who am I? What do I want to say? What does it mean for me to be a woman? A lover? A citizen of this world? What are the powers I posses, and how do they relate/connect to my womanhood? If these are focused on, instead of how can I fit into today’s sexy, something even greater will emerge – SWAG! Perhaps, perhaps. At least that’s what I’ve learned so far throughout years of thinking about these things and having convos. My life’s passion is not to become a sex symbol by far LOL! But I am a woman and a big part of being a woman growing up is Body Image. I’ve experienced feeling beautiful and feeling ugly, feeling sexy and feeling frumpy – all within the same skin, the same body that I’ve had for years. There is something about the inside that affects the outside.

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    • bodyimageprojectblog July 16, 2013 — 1:12 am

      “I often times wonder if I’m a weirdo or just have low libido when I’m in a movie theater and there’s an obvious beefcake scene, where the hot, jock, love interest crush guy takes off his sweaty shirt and the women in the audience hoot and holler and I’m just sitting there unmoved. ” This made me laugh out loud. Because it is so true. I see my mom when she goes off about Denzel and it makes me laugh. The thing about sex symbols in this country is how to be widen the scope in the media? I want with all my power to change what the word “beautiful” means. I think if the definition of the word changes in the media’s eyes. If the world can get there motives right. If we can just change the definition of beautiful on a larger scale; that would be peace. Beauty is a peace of mind. Truly, I believe that.

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  4. Of course, I’m obsessed with your blog and your posts. I think this is an extremely relevant and intriguing topic: Body Image; Sex Symbols as I have thought about this many many times in my life and have had countless conversations about it with my fiance. But first! Have you seen this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWyI77Yh1Gg “A Girl Like Me” by Kiri Davis. “The seven-minute documentary examines such things as the importance of color, hair and facial features for young African American women. The video begins with interviews with Kiri and her peers about how ‘black’ features did not conform to society’s standards of beauty. The next section was a repeat of an experiment conducted by Kenneth Clark in the 1940s where African-American children were asked to choose between black or white dolls. In the original experiment(s) the majority of the children choose the white dolls. When Davis repeated the experiment 15 out of 21 children also choose the white dolls over the black, giving similar reasons as the original subjects, associating white with being “pretty” or “good” and black with “ugly” or “bad”. The dolls used in the documentary were identical except for skin colour.”

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  5. Giiiirl. YOU know how I feel….or do you? Amazing read though.

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  6. LaNeshe (Nesheaholic.com) June 28, 2013 — 11:59 pm

    You know I think y’all are both the bomb. This is a great post. I can also relate to not being looked at for the leading lady or the sexy role. Honestly it took me a long time to even consider myself fit for the role. We definitely need a change to the scope of what a sex symbol is.

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  7. Danielle-

    Reading this blog post made me burst into tears. I think mostly because I relate to it on such a personal level. I used to feel “beautiful”, and now after taking steroids for years, and gaining nearly 100 pounds, I no longer find myself to be that same level of “beautiful”. But I’m still me, so why should I be putting myself down constantly? I’m living in NYC this summer and am constantly surrounded by stick-thin actresses who can kick their face and belt louder than ever. Not only is there a talent competition out there, but if you don’t look like desdemona, for instance (most likely petite), you’re not even going to get considered for the role. I’ve been thinking about this so much lately…about how I feel I need to lose weight before my confidence returns or before anyone casts me. I blame every time I don’t get cast on the fact that I’m over 200 pounds. But I know even typing this out makes me feel idiotic. Why should I feel inferior to girls who can eat whatever they want but maintain a size 2? They are humans too. They have bad days and insecurities just like “big” girls do. When will our world realize it should be about our acting chops and not our bodies??

    I could go on for hours…

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    • bodyimageprojectblog June 29, 2013 — 1:50 am

      I really thank you for this comment, because I am over 200 pounds and have been fighting for years. I have been blessed to play a lot of different characters, because verbatim theatre has legit changed my life. When you are doing verbatim theatre you have the stage is your playground. The thing I said to another commenter is we need to begin to challenge the higher ups. As plus size women, there is always an EXTRA battle we have to fight in the audition room, which is why I am tougher on my students that I direct in shows- bc I know what they are up against. I know what it feels like to be in between everything. A teacher I worked with in the UK told me my casting in America would be problematic, because yes I am a transformative actor, but no one would know what to do with me, or what category to put me in- bc of my size/color. This is why I am doing The Body Image Project. A) To raise awareness of body image in theatre B) To prove to people that plus size women can carry a show on their own and transform into all kinds of characters. This show is bigger than all of us. It is a movement. It is a fight. It is time for a change!

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  8. This is such a beautiful read. This blog is just such an inspirational read. I encourage everyone to read this. It’s even inspired me to reflect and write about my own body image project / journey.

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