I didn’t actually see my first John Waters film until I was in my early 20s. And, of course, it was Hairspray, with Ricki Lake as Tracy and Divine as her mother (which was also my first introduction to drag queens). And, of course, Ruth Brown as Motormouth Maybelle Stubbs. While Divine wasn’t technically pretty, both Ricki and Ruth are quite attractive. And, yes, it took me until my early 20s to actually even BEGIN to feel that I might be attractive as a woman.
This movie rocked my world — not because of the story (though, John Waters tends to go to extremes with his movies in order to show just how ridiculous that certain prejudices are) — because it showed not only a pretty girl getting recognition, but also large, lovely girl getting recognition. And in the process also underscoring the silliness of much of the segregation proponents of the portrayed time period.
Hairspray was not the only one of John Waters’ films that pushed stereotypes and prejudice. Cry-Baby also pushed a lot of buttons, and showed that many of the stereotypes of the 50s were just as prejudiced. And also pointed out two other items of importance:
- That rock & roll has its roots in African-American music (including Elvis Presley’s music).
- And that prisons have consistently had more African-American males incarcerated, just as we have today.
Of course, my favorite song from Cry-Baby is:
Sadly, it also encouraged my “bad boy” preference.
But, Hairspray affected me so strongly that when Ricki Lake lost weight for her talk show (and at the time, most of the interviews I read in my 20s said that the producers of the show insisted she lose the weight) I felt actually betrayed that this woman who I saw as a role model for being attractive AND big was caving in to the mainstream expectations.
But it also meant that I had to look to myself to be my OWN role model. Too bad that incipient growth of self-worth got thrown out the window when I got married.
The point is, however, that these two movies had a huge impact on me. Not because of the content (though, that had some impact) but because in both movies Ricki Lake is obviously a rather large girl, and in both of them attracts quite attractive men into her life.
Particularly after my high school and early college experience with the opposite sex, in which I felt either completely sexless (as the “always friend and confidant”) or worse, when I did have a few chances at time with the opposite sex they either preferred my sister (or an attractive friend) or worse, found ways to stand me up with limp excuses. And then, of course, there were also the sexual assaults.
Not a big surprise that I would fall for a charmer after that, and after some really bad choices in my early 20s.
I needed that role model. And Ricki Lake was that for me, getting me started on the road to body acceptance. A few years later I was discussing with a friend how we should open our own lingerie store, dedicated to the “hard to fit” woman (not just larger women, but smaller women whose body shape wasn’t what the fashion industry considered “normal.”
Particularly in Ricki’s role for Cry-Baby, she also started me on the path to learning sexual positivity — although that took far longer for me to learn its lesson.
Perhaps I don’t know enough of the current “teen” or “younger” stars, but I’m not seeing that kind of role model for today’s younger women — except for perhaps Gabourey Sidibe, Tess Holliday or Adele. For my generation, there’s:
- Queen Latifah (A personal role model)
- Jennifer Coolidge
- Kim Coles
- Camryn Manheim
- Brooke Elliott (from Drop Dead Diva)
And that’s just my top 6 women, and doesn’t even count many of the quite attractive fat men.
Body acceptance is important — AT ANY SIZE! And let me say this:
If you do not have a role model for your body size/shape
BE YOUR OWN ROLE MODEL!