The first time that the idea of women’s objectification or distortion in the media was brought to me was when I was at the young age of 12, and it was brought to me by a Smurf.
Yes, a Smurf as in a small blue cartoon creature living in a mushroom forest. I was at a conference in Los Angeles called Turn Beauty Inside Out, hosted by New Moon Magazine. Amongst the powerful and much admired female leaders there was Geena Davis, not only a long time actress, producer, and writer, but also a former model.
Davis began her spiel with a single image: a lovely blue Smurfette with long flowing blonde hair and a tiny white dress. Naturally, my first reaction was questioning why on earth this brilliant woman was bringing a silly cartoon TV show into her talk about inner beauty and respecting women. Then she started talking about it, really talking, and that was it, I was hooked on the idea. She talked about how despite yes, being some silly cartoon character, this Smurfette accurately exemplifies what happens to women in the media.
The Smurfette was created as an airhead of a character, always going to the “big, strong men” for support. She was quite superficial, many of her scenes solely including her trying to decide what dress to wear or if her flowerbed looks okay. She used her tiny little dress and long batting eyelashes to manipulate the male Smurfs of the town into doing whatever little thing she pleased. The most significant of all: she is the one female in a Smurf town of 100 men, therefore representing all of femininity and womankind as a whole.
Geena Davis isn’t the only one who’s taken notice of this almost bold statement of sexism in the show. It’s been commented on from sources like comedian Sarah Silverman’s twitter, who said “The Smurfs are named for traits, like Brainy, Gutsy & Smurfette – whose trait is being “the girl one,” or even to the degrading debate between characters in 2001 movie Donnie Darko of why the Smurfette even exists besides, according to them, to give the male Smurfs various sexual favors.
Once 12-year-old me realized that these messages degrading girls like me were not so far away after all, that they were on a beloved cartoon show aimed at younger audiences, my mind was expanded on this concept of media pressure on girls. From there, it meant an incredible amount to me, and it still does to this day, which is why I chose to explore it even more with a sculptural mixed media piece that I called Beauty and the Box.
In this project, I focused on self-image and the pressures that the media puts on it, and females’ and their appearances. Throughout the piece, it shows how this unrealistic image that millions of girls around the world are striving for, whether it be from media pressure, peer pressure, etc., is unreachable because no matter what, one can not look like a classic Barbie, girls do not act like Smurfette in real life, and society will never fully approve, but these ideas still surround them anyway. The entire time I was digging into the concepts of this project and physically making the sculpture, my mind kept returning to the image of a little blue cartoon character with flowing blonde hair and a little dress projected on a large screen at the conference, and I would send a silent thank you to Geena Davis, the one who unknowingly started it all for me.