The Trouble with Sexy: Why Being a Sex Symbol Isn't All Good

Actress Megan Fox and her obvious sex appeal on the cover of Rolling Stone a couple of years back.
Actress Megan Fox and her obvious sex appeal on the cover of Rolling Stone a couple of years back.

If You're Sexy and You Know It...

We see them all of the time. They top the Maxim list, the GQ list, the Esquire list, you name it. It must be good to be them or look like them at least, right? Well, that's true but there is substantial evidence that points to the fact that being a sex symbol might do you as much harm as it does good. Sure, it opens the doors for your talent to be on display to the world, but it also ignores the ugly truth of life. People age and looks eventually fade. Judge Judy says it best, "Beauty fades, but dumb is forever." What does that mean? That's what this hub is for.

Now there are people who have based their initial careers on their looks and sex appeal who have succeeded by reaching beyond their fans' initial attraction. However, there are many young artists and actors/actresses who have felt themselves plagued by their outward appearance. As a a result, their careers are not what they could have been because sex appeal has trumped the talents they are perceived to have had.

In this hub, I'll primarily address the issues many female actresses and artists have faced as a result of their blatant sex appeal as well as the reason why male sex symbols don't face the same issues.

Pam Anderson ushering in a new era of blonde in the 1990s.
Pam Anderson ushering in a new era of blonde in the 1990s.

Babewatch No More: Pam Anderson

If you've ever been privileged enough to see the 90s equivalent of Charlie's Angels' jiggle television otherwise known as Baywatch, you know that most people didn't tune in for the acting. Most people liked to the see the slow motion running of Pam Anderson and her compatriots as they attempted to save the world in red bikinis.

Pam Anderson was the ultimate 90s sex symbol. She was buxom and blonde and the subject of many male fantasies. Her antics with her then-husband Tommy Lee only added to her appeal and then came the tape seen all around the world. You know, the one with the footage of Tommy and Pam on their honeymoon. From there it was pretty much inevitable that she would be known for her sensual allure than her actual.. acting talents.

Once Pam left Baywatch in the late 1990s, she pursued an ill-fated movie career (Barbed Wire, anyone) and managed to land her own syndicated show, V.I.P. Now anyone who can tell me what V.I.P. was about should win a hot cookie, because all I remember is that it was a hot mess and a half. It was pretty much Baywatch with the addition of tight blouses and leather pants.

That show failed around the same time she and Tommy Lee called off their marriage. And then there was her disastrous pursuit of romance which kept her in the tabloids. After a short-lived marriage to rap-rocker Kid Rock, she married fellow sex-tape entrepreneur Rick Solomon (best known for being Paris Hilton's shady One Night in Paris co-star/promoter). That marriage lasted as long as a ham sandwich and once again she was back on the market.

So was her career, if you can call it that. Last we've heard of Pam she was trying to pursue a career as a magician's assistant in Vegas. That's right, the next time you see Siegfried and Roy it might just be Siegfried, Roy, and Pam. What went wrong? Well, for starters, Pam never did anything to dissuade her image as a sexpot. In fact, with every rumor and relationship (along with that infamous Lit video cameo) she perpetuated her image. No one took her seriously and now because of aging, as well as a love-hate relationship with publicity she's pretty much washed up.

Being sexy only lasts so long and once you can't deliver the goods, it becomes more of a question of when you will implode compared to if. Pam Anderson wanted to act, but she ended up acting like she could act and being a sexpot. Unfortunately, there's no sexpot retirement plan.

Jessica Alba on the cover of Maxim a few years back.
Jessica Alba on the cover of Maxim a few years back.
Jessica Biel was named Esquire's Sexiest Woman Alive in 2007.
Jessica Biel was named Esquire's Sexiest Woman Alive in 2007.

Jessica and Jessica: A Tale of Two Hotties

Jessica Alba and Jessica Biel are both former teen stars. They both share the same name and the same kind of fans. Much to their dismay, their fans don't remember much past the last Maxim Hot 100 List. Not that it's necessarily bad, but so far it isn't looking too good for either of them.

Jessica Alba burst on the scene in the late 1990s as the iconic heroine Dark Angel on Fox. After a few seasons, the show was canceled and Alba decided it was time to jump start her career in the movies. After a starring role in Honey and other films like "The Eye" and "Into the Blue", her career appears to have plateaued.

Is it all her fault? Well no. She has said herself that being typecast as a sex kitten is not something an actress like Natalie Portman seems to face. At the same, time she has admitted to using her sexual appeal to get people to notice her talent. However, I think she could go to further lengths to remove her sexuality from the equation. When I think of recent Oscar winners, I think of beautiful, alluring women like Halle Berry and Charlize Theron playing "ugly" if you will to really let their talent shine through.

Jessica Alba continues to accept roles that put her in position to be seen as a sex kitten. Even now, after having children her sexy image has not waned. She has appeared in pictures like Spy Kids: 4 as a more matronly figure, but she is still seen as the sexy girl in leather from Dark Angel. Maybe she'll begin to really use her new experiences as leverage to take more interesting roles.

And I don't think it necessarily means her trading in her sexuality for authenticity but more just not taking what is in front of her. There are plenty of dynamic roles that don't require playing on her looks or sex appeal. It's just means she has to become more aware of what's available.

Jessica Biel also grew up on television, but literally lost her clothes to get off of 7th Heaven. Since then, she's had trouble getting people to the theater with most of her clothes on. She seems to specialize in tomboy-sexpot roles in movies like "Blade:Trinity" and "The A-Team." Of course, there's the occasional rom-com like "Valentine's Day" and the upcoming sequel, "New Year's Eve."

But beyond her physique, people have only seemed to notice her for her personal life (namely the Justin Timberlake part). But I can't help but wonder, if she were to actually make a decent movie, how would that change her career? It would definitely be easier for her to have a lasting impact because in a few years she's going to be less and less of a sex symbol and more like a former pretty girl looking for a solid career.

Another inherit problem with Biel's success would be her approach to her looks and the industry has not exactly endeared her with the viewing public, more notably the female demographic . She says that pretty gets her in the door but people can't see beyond that. It's hard to go beyond the surface when she willingly does cheesecake shoots for magazines like GQ.

The real question lies in if Jessica Biel can go beyond being dating a superstar to actually being one. And that means doing less sexy photo shoots and doing more script reading. Again, I don't think she should have to play a dowdy version of herself, but actually seeing herself as the type of actress who can open doors because of her abilities.

Only time will tell if Jessica and Jessica will actually be remembered for something beyond their looks and sex appeal. But again it all has too do with choices.

Britney Spears posing in a photo shoot from a few years back.
Britney Spears posing in a photo shoot from a few years back.
Christina Aguilera posing pinup style for Maxim several years ago.
Christina Aguilera posing pinup style for Maxim several years ago.

Slave to Sex Appeal: The Britney and Christina Files

Both former mouseketeers Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera have managed to carve out careers that have lasted well into the new millennium but at a very high price. Each have seemingly used their sexuality to gain attention, maintain interest and at times compensate for a lack of creativity.

Christina Aguilera arguably possesses one of the most unique voices of her generation, but it is easy to forget that. Her public struggles as of late reflect someone who is in a downward spiral but also bring to the forefront that she is no longer the girl in the "Dirrty" video but an overweight single mom who has to earn a living on reality television.

When Aguilera first debuted in 1999 she was slightly more innocent than Britney. She came across as sexy, but in a more demure and innocuous fashion than her fellow mouseketeer. With belly baring tops and strappy heels, she seemed sweet and a tad sassy. However, as we later found out it wasn't the real Xtina.

She returned in 2002 with the "Dirrty" Xtina persona which inevitably marked a more sexual, diva persona that writhed around in filthy clubs, revealing chaps, and girl-fights. However, she redeemed herself by releasing mega-hit "Beautiful" which focused on inner beauty rather than outer beauty. However, it was obvious Aguilera was more determined to celebrate her sexuality by taking the gloves off.

2006's Back to Basics was her follow-up and while it showcased a dramatically more reserved and married Christina, she was still open about her sexuality. In 2010, she was back after having her son Max and decidedly went more S&M with the Bionic album. Both album's did not generate high sales and as a result her career has been in stalemate with the exception of her judging post on NBC's The Voice.

However, her public divorce as well as her first film flop "Burlesque" as well as the infamous Super Bowl anthem flap seem to have contributed to her being less of a sex symbol and more of a punchline. And I think it's a shame because she is a really talented artist who has so much to offer but unfortunately has relied too much on other things rather than her raw vocal talents.

The same could be said for her fellow Mouseketeer Britney, who has pretty much relied on her sexuality to make hits and headlines. If you think of her catalog, it's very hard to name think of something that doesn't hint at sex or is somehow sensual. Her videos definitely contribute to that portrayal as well.

While Britney has been around in the past thirteen years, we've seen her evolve from cute teen star to adult sex kitten to wife and mother to someone in need of help to comeback queen. I think that many women can relate to Britney's struggles, but unfortunately people looking for the sexy girl who used to do 1000 crunches instead of a woman with two kids.

Britney has tried to maintain her sexy image, but has come under fire for being less than svelte. Is this a fair criticism? No. Is it a fair criticism for someone who's appeal is based on the marketing of her sexuality? Yes.

The world isn't fair but when someone presents their sexuality in such an open way for consumption, it's hard to be sympathetic when they seem less than sexy. Britney still has a very successful career but she's not yet reached the point when people will really consider her too old to be the sex kitten.

However, she could follow Madonna's lead and try to challenge notions of sexuality and age, but only time will tell if Britney can be that inventive with her career.

George Clooney posing for a magazine a few years ago.
George Clooney posing for a magazine a few years ago.
Sean Connery, in a screen capture from his Bond days.
Sean Connery, in a screen capture from his Bond days.

Double Standard: Male Sex Symbols

You're probably wondering why I haven't really addressed the same issues with male sex symbols. As far as I've observed, it hasn't been nearly as hard for male sex symbols to have a career long after their considered sexy.

There are plenty examples of this. For instance, Sean Connery has qualified for AARP benefits since the 1980s, but has that stopped us from naming him "Sexiest Man Alive." And People took it to another level in 1999 by naming him "Sexiest Man of the Century." Why? His accent and his rogue charm are enough for him to be considered distinguished and mature rather than over the hill and grandpa-like.

Another prime example is George Clooney who is essentially the pop culture son of Connery and at 50 is still considered sexy for his talents as well as his unflappable ability to shamelessly court much younger women. While peers of his like Ellen Barkin and Demi Moore are considered to be ravenous cougars for doing the same thing with younger men.

The tides are somewhat turning as women in the 40s and beyond in Hollywood are finally being given intriguing roles in films and television, but not without a fight. Many of them are producing, co-writing, and demanding for these roles to portray women aging as a process to be embraced rather than feared. However, many of these women have to employ drastic techniques such as crash diets, rigorous workout regimes, and more to keep up with their younger counterparts.

But hopefully as more and more people actively enjoy the work of actors and actresses of all ages, the double standard will start to ease more and more if not disappear.

What do you think? Are female sex symbols doomed to a worse fate than male sex symbols? Is it changing in your eyes? Please let me know in comments. Thanks for reading!

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Comments 28 comments

juliafranceschini 5 years ago

Great hub. Thank you for mentioning the Jessica phenomenon. I consider Biel and Alba to be overrated actresses that never seem to hold a movie. It's unfortunate that their sex appeal steals the show, but their acting chops are no where to be seen.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thank you for the comments! I don't really consider them real actresses, most movies they star in are overshadowed by the really good actors/actresses. Most reviews barely mention them anyway, but it will be interesting to see if they still captivate the same type of interest in 10 years when they are approaching 40.


cooldad profile image

cooldad 5 years ago from Florida

Interesting hub. I think what is most troubling for me is that young girls by the droves want to be like these women because of their appearance. When in reality, most of these sex symbols are devoid of anything worth aspiring to be.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thanks Cooldad. I agree. Most sex symbols, except for the rare types that embody real substance and depth, are not that interesting or inspiring. I like people who are talented but don't rely on their appearance to get by.


NotSoPerfect profile image

NotSoPerfect 5 years ago from United States

Really interesting read. Good job! Voted up, useful and interesting.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thanks NotSoPerfect for reading and stopping by!


Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 5 years ago from California

Unfortunately for the female sex symbols, once they begin to age their career may take a dive - that's when intelligence and talent can extend a career, and there are plenty of women who have followed through in that way. Later!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thanks Kosmo! I agree, it's one thing to be sexy but to have intelligence and talent guarantees a real career. Thanks for stopping by!


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

NOw how did I miss this one!?! I clapped my hands! George Clooney was a nice treat. BO would have been nice also! Haha! BTW...I just noticed your updated profile, Thank you. I'm honored to be 2nd to cogerson:)


KDF profile image

KDF 4 years ago from Central Illinois

I don't know but I think it applies to men as well. Me personally, went from a good-looking (at least that's what they told me) athletic kinda guy in my younger years to a short bald fat guy with no money!! LMAO

Well at least my kids love me! : )


angela p profile image

angela p 4 years ago from Richmond, Virginia

So many women want to look like Pamela Anderson or Jessica Alba. When being happy with themselves and confident in the way they look is sexy in itself... IMHO. Great Hub.


Charles Hilton 4 years ago

Another excellent and well-written hub! Spot-on in every way. And I couldn't help but chuckle at the idea of Brittany Spears ever challenging any notion---that would take intelligence and original thought.

I've heard it said by women that men get better looking as they get older, while women don't. And maybe there is some element in that that comes into play when it comes to Hollywood acting careers(even though I've seen and known many women who age beautifully and many men who don't).

But, we all know, that in all times and places since the birth of settled civilizations, that social structures and mores have been for the benefit of men. That double-standard is only slowly changing and still has far to go. Hollywood, like most of our institutions, is still, to some extent, an "old-boy" network.

I would attribute some of the disparity to the money factor, but, we've seen how the hot-chick-in-leather-super-hero movies bomb at the box office; so, why do they still keep making them?

I can't help but notice that most of today's Hollywood movies are similar in substance to most of the insipid TV commercials that play like they were crafted by hormonal, 15-year-old doofuses. Which is why I almost never go to the movies anymore. And when I seldom watch TV, I mute the commercials so as not to throw a brick at the screen.

Okay, I've got to stop now. Your hubs get me to rambling. lol


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thanks Sunshine and thanks for the clap! I knew you would have enjoyed BO but I don't think he has much trouble beyond the campaign trail! Thanks as always :)!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi KDF,

I think everyone can relate from going from hottie to daddy! Thanks for stopping by!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Angela,

I agree that being happy with yourself is all that truly matters in having confidence and sex appeal! Thank you for dropping by and commenting!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Charles,

I really appreciate your insight on pop culture. I think Britney Spears in some way has changed pop culture because like Madonna and Michael Jackson before her, she has amassed this sort of cult status and can never escape criticisms, comparisons, and judgments.

I've heard the double standard about looks too but I agree that it is changing thanks to smart, sassy, and savvy women like Sandra Bullock, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, and the awesome Betty White pushing these notions of sex appeal being the only thing a woman can give as an actress.

I also agree that the substance of many films and TV are similar but thankfully that is changing as well since women are being allowed into writing, producing, and directing!

While movies and television do drive me crazy at times, there are some gems still around, you just have to look harder. But I always agree that commercials are a constant nuisance.

Thanks so much for your insights and thoughts!


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 4 years ago from North Carolina

Love the photo of Sean Connery. He is my favorite next to Vin Diesel. You did a great job pointed out that good looking doesn't always guarantee good results. Jessica Alba is the WORST actress I have ever had the misfortune of watching. I try to avoid her movies. It is painful to watch. Great hub!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Tammy,

I like Sean Connery because he seems to understand his place as an actor and a sex symbol unlike some others. And I agree that Jessica Alba is not too hot as an actress. Thanks for stopping by!


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

I'm back for a re-visit since George is on the Oscars tonight!:)


kelleyward 4 years ago

I really liked reading his while watching the Oscars! Thanks for sharing.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hopefully ol' Cloon-Dog wins!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thanks Kelley!


Nalini Marquez profile image

Nalini Marquez 4 years ago

Excellent. This was super well-done and I really enjoyed reading it. I enjoyed both the topic and your analysis of it. Female sex symbols are definitely doomed to a worse fate than male sex-symbols; which is a shame because what they're selling to get in the door very often closes the doors they wanted to open. I voted up, interesting, and awesome because it was a great hub!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Thanks so much Nalini for reading and for commenting. I agree there is a double standard between male and female sex symbols and it is unlikely to change. And unless you can break free from the label, it does dry up the opportunities that these actors and actresses wanted in the first place.


Express10 profile image

Express10 3 years ago from East Coast

The double standard seems to persist, I'm glad you mentioned the fact that it exists in your hub. It's unfair but there are many women that choose to do absolutely nothing to show a different side of themselves. As for the men, they almost always seem to get the benefit of the doubt and a few "atta boy" comments along the way.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 3 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hi Express10,

I agree. This persists and it is amazing how many women don't take a chance and go outside of the box. Thanks for coming by and commenting!


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 3 years ago from Baltimore, MD

This is such a fascinating hub. I never realized Pam Anderson was so down and out. Bummer. But hey, being a magician's assistant could be fun... right? Cool hub and voted up!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 3 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina Author

Hey Jeannie,

Hahaha! Just goes to show you a career that starts on Home Improvement doesn't lead to long-term improvement. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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