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