Ah, female self-esteem. Let us plunge into its depths, let us contemplate its mysteries!
So Carrie has been asked by her friend (Very Special Guest Star Margaret Cho--yay! Openly feminist celebrities!) Lynn to be part of a fashion show called New York Style, which will feature a festive mix of models and "real" New Yorkers. (Because models clearly... are fake people.) Carrie anguishes over whether or not to do it--how can she, since she is not as flawlessly beautiful as Actual Models? Won't people judge her for being delusional enough to think that she belongs on a runway?? Will they not mock and analyze her every flaw??? Neuroses.
Happily, a combination of 1) her friends giving her a good slap upside the head about said neuroses, and 2) learning that Dolce and Gabbana picked her to model their clothes and that she gets to keep said clothes after the show induces Carrie to accept this model-y invitation. Excellent!
Of course, Carrie does not leave her neuroses behind when she jumps into the Modeling Life--she still frets about her lack of perfect beauty, the absurdity of her moving within the world of high fashion, and so on, and so forth. However, there are perks--she begins a flirtation with a fashion photographer, Paul (which ultimately goes nowhere, but is nonetheless pleasant, as he is pleasing to the eye, and pleasingly tells Carrie that vitality and personality, not perfection of face or form, are the essence of beauty--good Paul!), and gets to hang out at Dolce and Gabbana with a designer played by Alan Cumming (whom others might adore primarily because of Cabaret or his brief but lively stint on The L Word, but who stole my heart in Emma. He does "pompous British twit in a frock coat" to perfection, that one.) Good times!
On the night of the fashion show itself... things start out a bit rough, as Carrie learns 1) that instead of the pretty floral dress which she thought that she'd be wearing, she will in fact be prancing down the runaway in naught but a jacket and jeweled panties... I see, and 2) that the other "real people" in the show include such non-model-y, non-conventional-beauty-ish types as Fran Lebowitz and Ed Koch. (You should be honored to join any group in which Fran Frickin' Lebowitz is a member, missy! Show some respect!) However, with a little help from Kevyn Aucoin and Heidi Klum, Carrie snaps out of her "ahhhh, showing imperfect body in public! Being grouped with Frank Rich! The horror!" type anxieties, starts strutting down the runway with her head held high... and then trips over her own high heels, becoming (as Stanford puts it) "fashion roadkill." Yeouch.
However, she picks herself up, dusts herself off, and finishes the show to triumphant applause. (Carrie: "Because when real people fall down in life, they get right back up, and keep walking." As opposed to what fake people do, I suppose... but whatever, we know what she means!) Yay for courage in the face of error, acceptance of imperfection, and free sparkly undergarments from D&G! Good things all 'round!
The other ladies, too, are struggling with self-acceptance in this episode (sadly without Alan Cumming or sparkly designer undergarments by their side/on their persons to facilitate the process... drat. But I suppose one cannot have everything!) Miranda is flummoxed by a guy at her gym coming up to her one day (when she is bathed in sweat and wearing a vile old gray T-shirt) to tell her that he "thinks she's very sexy." How can it be that someone finds her sexy, Miranda wonders? How can it be that someone finds her appealing when she is not all dolled up, Miranda speculates?
Sigh. I feel like I just went through all this (oh right, because I just did), but 1) watching a character played by Cynthia Frickin' Nixon wonder how anyone could find her attractive... more than a little irritating, and 2) sad to, once again, see Miranda incredulous and crammed with self-doubt when a guy whom she considers "out of her league" notices her. (Head... please allow me to reintroduce you to Desk.)
It will not surprise you to learn that this seemingly pleasant turn of events (a bloke whom Miranda thinks is attractive is attracted to her, in turn! And thinks that her athleticism is appealing, to boot!) naturally ends in disaster. Alas, it all starts out so well... Miranda and this gent go out a couple of times... and it's nice! And Miranda's confidence is up, because the gent keeps telling her that she's sexy, and she's starting to think that he just might be right. Doesn't sound so bad, no? Ah, but alas, gentle reader. Of course it's bad. As soon as she voices something of her new-found confidence to the gent, talking about how she is happy with her life, self, and accomplishments ... he shuts down and doesn't want anything more to do with her. I see. [Head and Desk further their reacquaintance by making a violent connection.]
Inspired by Carrie's bravery on the runway (post-Fashion-Roadkill-Debacle) Miranda actually asks the guy (who has stopped calling her) what went wrong, and he says that he lost interest because she seemed "a little full of herself." [Blogger feels urge to tear out hair, but decides that to actually do so would be too painful, and refrains.] I'm sure that will help build up Miranda's confidence in herself just dandily! [Blogger tugs gently, but non-damagingly, at hair, just to relieve her feelings a bit.]
Charlotte, meanwhile, has vulvodynia. Yeouch. Poor Charlotte! In real life, of course, vulvodynia is a serious, debilitating, and tricky-to-treat disease... in the SATC verse, however, it is merely a means to an end, designed to lead us to the revelation that Charlotte thinks her genitals are "ugly," and has never looked at herself Down There properly, because of this distaste for the whole Lady Parts region. (An emergency performance of "The Vagina Workshop" in the MacDougal household seems called for, stat!)
After her friends encourage her to sit down with a hand mirror and actually get acquainted with all things South of the Border, Charlotte eventually takes a deep breath and does so... and is enraptured and amazed by what she sees. Yay for no longer hating one's own body! Yay for increased comfort and familiarity with one's own personal physical terrain! Yay for a miraculous and sudden cure from a condition which in real life often lasts for long periods of time/indefinitely!
And finally, we have Samantha, who is having nude photographs of herself taken. Of course she is. Not to impress any gents, she assures her friends, but so that she'll be able to look at said snaps later in life, and revel in the prime of her beauty once she is elderly (and as such, of course, no longer "hot.") Whatever floats your boat, Samantha J., just keep said snaps out of the living room/other public spaces, hmmmm?
There is, of course, a dark side to Sam's "I wish to savor and appreciate my own loveliness" narrative here--said dark side being how Sam actually defines, and seeks to attain, said loveliness. Namely... by not eating that much. (When she and the ladies go out, she has hot water with lemon. Yum, so filling!) Eventually Sam realizes that this is perhaps not the healthiest course of action, and that she'd actually rather be, you know, alive and eat real food, than maintain her "perfect" body. And so she starts to eat properly again. Yay, food! Let's never fight again, I hate when we are parted, even for a short period of time.
And there is actually a Stanford plotline in this episode, as well, imagine that! Of course, it is about Stanford wading deep into the waters of the Dating Humiliation Pool... what else could it possibly be?
So Stanford is lamenting his lack of recent romantic luck to Carrie, and Carrie and Charlotte decide that they need to find a nice guy to fix him up with immediately, if not sooner. Since Charlotte's wedding stylist Anthony seems to be the only other gay gent whom Charlotte knows, she decides that the commitment-averse, "I only like guys who are stunningly beautiful" Anthony would be a perfect match for the serious-boyfriend-seeking, bespectacled Stanford. Oh dear.
Turns out, of course, that it is not a perfect match--Anthony takes one look at Stanford, decides that he's not good-looking enough for him, and leaves, and Stanford (unsurprisingly) decides that he's not too keen on Anthony, either. (Stanford: "I've been rejected by someone I wasn't interested in. I hate when that happens.") Sorry, Stanford! Maybe try to be a smidge less ragingly shallow in future, Anthony!
LGBT Folks Watch: Fashion show guru Lynn's omnipresent (and silent) companion, Damian, is gay. Seems like a nice gent, wears festive sunglasses... hard to know anything else about him, however, since he is silent as the grave--mute as the tomb--quiet as a mouse--and other cliches about people who don't say much. And then of course, we have Stanford and Anthony--Anthony being portrayed as the height of "he doesn't go to the gym as much as me, and is therefore totally unsuitable as a romantic prospect" image-obsessed shallowness, and Stanford as Tragic Dating Victim and Staunch Support/Sidekick to Carrie, as per usual. The late, great makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin also makes a cameo in the episode--gets a few lines, diffuses some of his considerable charm, works some serious makeup magic on Carrie's eyes, and then disappears. Rest in peace, sir.
People of Color Watch: Silent Damian is Asian-American, as is Lynn. Lynn (unlike her unspeaking companion) plays a pretty significant role in the episode--she's represented as rather loopy, but also as both a talented professional and an interesting person... imagine that! An Asian-American woman in SATC who is neither a dragon lady nor a Madame Butterfly-wannabe! Shocking! Of course, she disappears after this episode, never to be seen again... but fun having her around while it lasted. Buh-bye, Margaret Cho! Write more feminist books, please!
Actors Appearing Twice in the Series--I Will Catch You When You Attempt It, Casting Directors, Watch: I suspect SATC must have been a real boon for New York-based actors during its run--I would be pleased to think so, anyway... nice to think of talented thespians picking up an episode or two of SATC here and there in between doing Shakespeare Off-Broadway, and portraying serial killers on Law and Order.
Once again, the casting directors have slipped in an actor who had appeared earlier in the series in a different part--ha ha! Thought I wouldn't notice, did you, SATC peeps? That was your first mistake! My capacity to notice uninteresting details is boundless--boundless, I tell you! So, the guy who plays Carrie's passing flirtation Paul also played one of Big's sleazy friends way back in Season One. Glad to know that he's cleaned up his act a bit since then--from slimy playboy to thoughtful photographer. Better to go from A to B, then from B to A, I reckon!
Vulvodynia, Serious Illness or Subject for Jokes: A Discussion:
Serious Illness: Well, I will say that I appreciate a high-profile show like SATC even bringing up vulvodynia as a topic of discussion, since loads of people don't even know it exists, but lots of women suffer from it. So... that part of it is good, anyway.
Subject for Jokes: Ha HA, hilarious. Charlotte actually has to keep a journal of her symptoms for her doctor! What could be funnier than a lady documenting painful physical symptoms taking place in her Lady Area? Ah, what a rich vein for humor it is.
Serious Illness: Weeeellll, I was going to mention that... I'm actually not so fond of the way that this episode brings up vulvodynia, but then makes it purely a source of comedy for the other ladies to tease Charlotte about, and also treats it like it's no more serious than a yeast infection--keep a journal for a few weeks, look at yourself in a hand mirror, and poof! You're cured! Not sure it's that simple, in real life. Maybe there was a way that they could have mentioned the disease without making it seem both trivial and amusing?
Subject for Jokes: [Wiping away tears from its eyes, as it has been laughing so hard.] Stop, stop, you're killing me--I mean, Charlotte actually has to go on mood elevators to try to cope with the problem. Her vagina is depressed. It's HILARIOUS. I cannot think of any part of this whole thing that isn't funny.
Serious Illness: Weeeeelllll, is there a difference between seeing the absurdity and humor in the necessary indignities of illness and its treatment, and mocking that illness altogether, and making it seem fundamentally unserious and silly?
Subject for Jokes: [Sides still shaking with suppressed laughter]: Ummmmm--nope, don't think so.
Serious Illness: [Leaves some pamphlets about vulvodynia on the table, in the vain hope that Subject for Jokes might read them, and walks out.]
Ladies: Do Not Be Self-Doubting--But Also, Do Not Be Self-Confident Watch: Pooooor Miranda. Charlotte may have vulvodynia, and Carrie may have fallen flat on her face on a runway, but Miranda is once again in the throes of Self-Doubting and Self-Denigrating. As I have discussed before--I am not really a fan of this self-denigration!
And to the show's credit, I don't think that it is, either--the writers represent Miranda's consternation at being seen as sexy as patently absurd, and show Carrie giving her a good slap upside the head about her bafflement and disbelief--of course Miranda is sexy, and deserves to be recognized as such.
Altogether, I think that the episode does a nice job of emphasizing the fact that Miranda's doubts and inaccuracies about her own attractiveness are absurd, while also noting that it's entirely natural that she should nonetheless be riddled with them--living in a world in which the standards of what female "sexiness" are are decidedly unrealistic, distorted, and unattainable, it's not surprising that lots of women (including the otherwise meticulously analytical and skeptical Miranda) would have drunk some of this particular KoolAid, and be haunted by the fear that they are somehow not (and never will be) "enough" in the Beauty and Sexiness department.
The only thing about the Miranda plotline that sticks in my craw here is that Miranda loses the guy in this episode, not for being insufficiently confident, but rather for being too confident. Le sigh. He is totally into her when she is blushingly, self-deprecatingly denying his assertions that she's sexy--but as soon as she starts to believe it herself, and to talk about her confidence and her happiness in herself... he loses interest. Oh dear. This could be a simple case of "well--then said guy is a jerk!", but I think that the episode actually suggests that it's Miranda who is at "fault" here--that she let his praise go to her head, and that's that a bad thing. Modesty, ladies! Let that forever be your watchword and your guide!
So, in sum--I will give one point to this episode for realistically and sympathetically representing Miranda's doubts about her own attractiveness and self-worth, and take one point away for the episode suggesting that feeling too confident in her own attractiveness and self-worth is problematic. Which, of course, leaves us with a score of... precisely zero. Ah well. Better that than being in the minus ranges, I suppose! We must thank heavens for small mercies!
Body Positivity, Comfort in One's Own Body, Rethinking The Body and Beauty, Other Things Having To Do With Words That Begin with "B" and End In "Y" Watch: Ah, things I like about how this episode handles issues surrounding women's struggles to love and accept their bodies, let me count the ways:
1) Charlotte looking at her vagina in a hand mirror, and not being repulsed by what she sees, but rather delighted and fascinated. Excellent, Betty Dodson and Eve Ensler would be so proud! Having previously internalized the message that her genitals were ugly, and that she was better off knowing nothing about them and their various shenanigans, she actually overcomes such notions here, and achieves a new level of comfort with, and appreciation of, herself. Yay for not finding one's own body repulsive and distasteful!
2) Sam deciding that feeding her body is more important than rigidly controlling how it looks. I do indeed quite like the Sam plotline here, with Samantha overcoming her obsession with looking "perfect" in favor of actually, you know, eating solid food. Perhaps it is a little facile to show her going from "I will only eat steamed vegetables!" to "Bring on the carbs!" in the space of one episode... but still, I think that it works pretty well here. By the end of the episode, Sam is more focused on how she feels than how she looks, and though this by no means, well, means that her struggles with beauty culture and body image are over, it still seems like she has achieved some measure of inner peace here. I'll take it!
3) Carrie loosening her grip on her obsession with perfection and beauty a bit. Throughout the episode, Carrie (always one to throw herself head first into her Obsession of the Moment), is fixated on the notion of "models as perfect, and self as too short, too awkward, etc." Nice to see her let go of those "if I do not look like Heidi Klum, then I must be a hideous, inferior monster" notions a little--in part because of Paul smacking her upside the head for thinking that beauty=unblemished and static perfection. He makes quite a nice little speech about how it's people's flaws, complications, and imperfections which actually make them beautiful. Awwwww.
Next Up...?: "Defining Moments," in which Charlotte continues to try to figure out what the Sam Hill is happening in her marriage (good luck with that!), Sam finds herself attracted to a "fiery" Brazilian artist, who also happens to be a lady (I can't see any stereotypes about either lesbians or Hispanic women coming out of that one), Carrie tries to be friends with Big (greeeeeeat idea, brillllliant), and Miranda is cruising for humiliation of various kinds (because what else could she possibly be cruising for?)