DRAWING BACK THE CURTAIN
FIONA KIEFER AND KAIA KELLY
Sunday, October 29, 2023
Sex sells. It’s certainly no secret, though Hollywood may pretend like it is. However, the meaning of sex extends far beyond the literal definition of the word. Sex can be subtle. Sex can be bold. Sex is a fierce black pantsuit with red lingerie peeking out from beneath. Sex is tears of female frustration falling down chiseled cheekbones. Hollywood uses sex as a tool to appeal to different demographics; reminding men why they love women and providing women new ways to hate themselves. Sex and women’s bodies are a business, an entire industry. Hollywood preys on the desires of men and insecurities of women. Many influential figures in the industry have fallen victim to this Hollywood tragedy. Big production companies use women’s bodies as currency, strategically flaunting them in feature films for big bucks and box office booms.
As the curtain is pulled back, so is the truth: it is nearly impossible for women to escape sexualization in the film industry. The issue dates back to the days of old Hollywood glam. An iconic era marked by cinched waists, hand gloves, and a mid-Atlantic accent. A time when sex was almost as taboo as a nude lip. 20th century women were urged to practice class and conservatism, which transformed sensuality into something covert. Subtle suggestions screamed sensual seduction. This silent sexual revolution figuratively and literally set the stage for future women in the industry. As the conversation surrounding sex and desire became increasingly normalized, so did the provocative nature of women’s roles.
Flash forward a decade or two, nude scenes, provocative clothing, and sexual innuendos are now commonplace in the industry. Think, Marilyn Monroe. Her “blonde bombshell” persona on and off screen has long hypnotized men and women alike. The obsession with her body and inherent sexuality has prevailed from the 1950s into present time, with remarkable potency. From affairs, violations, and the various tragedies that make up her story, her iconography remains a pillar in the foundations of modern culture. Her fame is especially prevalent in the influencer sphere, where stars like Kim Kardashian embody her significance and symbolization.
Marilyn is noted for the scandals which galvanized her stardom, and the sex appeal which made it permanent. Prior to major fame, Marilyn was trying to make her big break, enjoyed posing for photographers and flirting with the camera. In 1952, as she had begun to make strides in the industry, a nude Playboy calendar gained traction, many speculating the photos were her. Against the better judgment of her advisors, she identified the photos as herself. This identification with the crude photos went against everything the period stood for. She was racy, unpredictable and undeniable in her sexuality. This claim skyrocketed her career and bred worldwide obsession for her figure, voice, acting and lifestyle. Kim Kardashian was subject to a similar exposition of what would otherwise remain private by societal standards. In 2007 a sex tape of her and former boyfriend, Ray J, was released, placing her and her family on the map. Today, both Kim and Marilyn hold unprecedented influence, setting beauty standards, often unrealistically, and creating a cultural dialogue that begins and ends with sex.
Their embodiment of sex is a part of a larger web of weaving insecurity in audiences and creating idealizations of what a woman should be, in typically unrealistic and unattainable ways. This tantalizing web continues to grow, as women are pigeon-holed into stereotypes like the ‘femme-fatale’ or the crazy ex-girlfriend, never being afforded the opportunity to be motivated beyond sexuality. A study conducted by Plan International found that even when women are in high level leadership roles on screen, they are four times more likely to have scenes portraying nudity than their male counterparts, leading to the conclusion that even upholding a role of a boss does not hinder Hollywood from treating women as eye candy. It is also found that films which sexualize and objectify women are higher grossing than those that do not. The use of sex has historically been used to grab the audience's attention in a cheap way, never failing to keep people watching, buying or talking. Media shapes the worldview, especially prominent media figures such as Marilyn Monroe and Kim Kardashian. Therefore when the beauty standard is hypersexualized, women adopt the same lens, in turn objectifying themselves and placing their worth solely in physical attractiveness. It really is true what they say: there is simply no business quite like body business.