Wednesday, July 7

Season One, Episode Two: Models and Mortals

... or Beauty and Intellect, Can They Co-Exist?

The Summary: The episode begins with Miranda learning that she has inadvertently gone out on a date with a "modelizer"--a bloke who refuses to date "ordinary" women (Miranda is his "intellectual beard for the evening"), choosing instead to bestow his romantic attentions exclusively on models. (Is this a real thing in fancy-pants cities like New York? Ask me not, I dwell in the suburbs!) Taking this incident as a jumping-off place, the episode proceeds to muse about beauty--what, exactly, is beauty? Why, precisely, is our culture's idea of what constitutes "beauty" so prodigiously messed-up? How, specifically, do ideals of beauty shape women's lives? How, I ask you, how??? Here's how the episode delves into the beauty morass:

1) Charlotte hates her thighs. Because goodness knows, Kristin Davis falls well short of our culture's expectations of beauty in that regard! Except... maybe not?
2) Samantha insists that she is uncomplicatedly happy and confident about the way that she looks. Except... she feels the need to sleep with Carrie's creepy, modelizer friend Barkley primarily in order to validate said looks. So perhaps.... not so happy and confident, after all?
3) Miranda chooses to resume dating Skipper (whom we learn she has steadfastly ignored since their first, ill-starred date in the pilot), after he tells her he thinks she's "luminous." Validate a lady's appearance, and suddenly, she's not ignoring your calls, but inviting you home! Who knew it was so easy?
4) Carrie continues her flirtation with Big, and is made a leetle nervous and insecure by the fact that he has often had a model on his arm in the past. (Oh, and in the present as well, actually.) In the end, though, he tells her that when it comes right down to brass tacks, men most enjoy the company of women who can make them laugh (because Carrie can make him laugh, get it?)

The Analysis:
Person of Color Who Actually Has a Speaking Role--The Tally Begins
: And two episodes in, we're officially up to two! First, we have Deanne, an African-American woman who is a guest at a dinner party which Miranda attends with her modelizer date. It's not a big part, but it is an actual speaking role, so... duly noted! And second, we have Misha, an African-American model who appears at a party with Big. I don't know if we can properly call this a speaking role since all she says is "thank you," when Carrie compliments her on her modeling abilities. But words are words, I guess?

Thing Which Severely Creeps Me Out About This Episode: So, one of the chief plot points of this episode is that Carrie's friend Barkley (but... where is Gnarls?), an artist/modelizer, has made sleeping with women who are models not only into his hobby, but also into his "art." He shows Carrie an "art installation" he's made, which is essentially a collection of various different videos of him having sex with various different models. When Carrie asks him if they know about these videos, he says (with a little frat-boyish smirk), "Probably." But his tone of voice makes it clear that "Probably" means "Of course not! Aren't I a lovable scamp, with my rascally illicit taping escapades?" Um, nope, sorry, you're not, sir. Your loveability, I feel it not. Carrie shrugs off the possible non-consent of the women whom she sits down to (quite avidly) watch, implying that it's perfectly okay to adopt Barkley's attitude that these women are "beautiful things" to be watched and enjoyed as little more than lovely objects. But... repeat after me, SATC writers, women are not objects. And videotaping a woman without her knowledge of consent... not mildly naughty hijinx, but intensely creepy, quite illegal, and also a little thing I like to call "distinctly immoral." So--Barkley plotline--boo, hiss.

Thing Which I Find A Leetle Troubling About This Episode: In that same vein, this episode does seem to slip a bit into the trap of "beautiful people may be beautiful, but clearly beauty of face and loveliness of form is inevitably accompanied by blankness of brain." Derek, a model whom Carrie spends considerable time chatting with in this episode, is clearly very sweet, but equally clearly also quite dim. Ditto the female models whom Carrie talks to throughout the episode. One solemnly informs her, for example, that while most people think that models are dumb, she's actually "very literary" and will sit down sometimes and read "an entire magazine, cover to cover." Because, get it, magazines are silly and shallow, just like the pretty ladies who read them (and pose for them)! I'm not sure that it helps to complicate our ideas about beauty, so much, to suggest that beautiful people are not particularly intelligent or interesting. Isn't that already kind of a nasty, pernicious stereotype about beautiful women?

Thing Which I Quite Enjoy About This Episode: I'll stop being a sourpuss just long enough (feminists are so negative, jeez) to note that, overall, I actually quite like the way that this episode grapples with beauty culture and the ways in which said culture messes with the womenfolk's heads. Of course, there's a lot left unsaid here. (See, I swung right back to the negative, I cannot be stopped.) Such as, the fact that all four women are white, thin, able-bodied, and conventionally attractive and feminine, which puts them on a very different footing within American beauty culture than lots and lots of other women. But still, I think the episode nonetheless does a nice job of pointing out that ideals of feminine beauty in our culture are insane, unattainable, and ridiculous, and of thinking about the ways in which these ideas nonetheless manage to get under women's skin and into their heads in truly damaging, destructive, and pernicious ways. All four women are clearly struggling with insecurities about the way they look (which, yes, is a little problematic given the fact that these women are portrayed by actresses, part of whose job it is to be "beautiful" and to rigorously uphold "beauty" in terms of the thinness of their bodies, the meticulousness of their makeup and grooming, etc.), openly lamenting the "shortcomings" of their noses, chins, and thighs, and sleeping with men primarily because said men validate them as beautiful.

Beauty culture has clearly taken a toll on the ways in which these characters think about themselves and interact with others--but to its credit, the show actively presents this reality as unfortunate--questions these ideas about beauty, rather than just straightforwardly accepting them. It also draws a pretty clear line in the sand between Men Who Value Only Beauty in Women (who are represented as creeps and dimwits) and Men Who Actually Value Women for Other Things (who are represented as charming and desirable.) So, even though in many ways the show upholds normative standards of beauty, at least they also directly address the fact that said normative standards are messed. Up.

Immortal Lines, Memorable Words:
Carrie, on the wisdom of matchmaking: "I believe there is a curse put on the head of anybody who tries to set up their friends." (Are you listening to this, Emma Woodhouse?)

Carrie, on beauty: "The truth was, I thought I had come to terms with my looks the year I turned 30, when I realized I no longer had the energy to be totally superficial." (As a statement of "the wisdom that comes with age," I quite enjoy this.)

Next Up?: An episode entitled "Bay of Married Pigs," which, contrary to your expectations, is not about ill-advised Kennedy-era military actions, but rather about the "cold war" between married folks and single folks. Does it exist? If so, what is it? We shall find out...


  1. I, for one, love feminist negativity! :)

    Wow, I really did miss a lot watching this show the first time around! It seems like SATC tries to point out these awful anti-feminist aspects of society, yet falls disappointingly short. I attribute it to only being able to fit in so much within an episode's timeframe. The whole "depicting models as a few sandwiches short of a picnic" is one way of making the other 95% of women in the world fell better about not being 6'2 with a waist of a 12 year old boy.......however, then we begin to demonize the women who have said qualities. Because of....genetics? That ain't right, either. Continues to perpetuate the Women's Wars - we're *supposed* to hate on women who are - by society's standards - attractive.

    Immaturity does feminism no good :(

  2. Thank you, Ms. L, feminist negativity is fun, I think! Because we are always being constructive and negative, of course :)

    You make a wise point, they can't cover all potential body image and beauty issues in one Very Special Episode - really, it's neat that they tackled it at all, and did so so early in their run.

    I hadn't thought of it from that perspective, either - of this "well, at least we can make bitchy comments about women who are beautiful!" stuff as being part of the "women turning against other women, rather than attacking the bigger, messed-up system" thing. So true!

  3. As you can see, I'm a little behind on my comments, but I'll catch up.

    Holly, this was EXCELLENT. The whole questioning what is beauty thing. People say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think that's bullshit. I think that for society beauty is in the eye of the MEDIA. They lead us with their ideals of beauty and we follow. What's in, what's out. What's hot, what's not, etc, etc,etc. Even the most beautiful or most mentally healthy person struggles with this. I think I gave up in my late twenties, lol. As a result, I have probably amassed the largest t-shirt collection of anyone I know.

    So, I think beauty AND intellect are definitely a possibility. You and "Ms. L" are perfect examples.

    Anyways, I also am loving Carrie's quote: "The truth was, I thought I had come to terms with my looks the year I turned 30, when I realized I no longer had the energy to be totally superficial."

    Although, it doesn't stop her from collecting the fancy shoes or big wardrobe she needs a separate room for...

    and Lisa, great comment!

  4. Thanks so much, Ms. C! And anyone who says beauty and awesome T-shirt collections cannot co-exist... clearly, they are wrong.

    I think the episode does a really good job of trying to reorder and deconstruct our ideas of beauty... albeit, this is something which gets undermined as the series unfolds, and the women start always looking perfect, all the time. (Ah, waking up with perfect, elaborate makeup already on! It is so common among the womenfolk!)