Reading the title of this blog you may think that this is quite a strange connection to make and perhaps it is. However, I had the topic of body dysmorphia on my mind recently and when I insisted that my partner and I watch Anger Management when he confessed to having never seen it, I found something interesting in the film that I hadn’t noticed before. (Honestly, if you haven’t seen it just go to this link and watch Jack Nicholson singing I Feel Pretty and save yourself the time)
So I’m going to talk about what might seem as a strangely specific scene in the movie – The part where a woman named Kendra (played by Heather Graham) is used as prop in order to boost Adam Sandler’s self-esteem only to shatter it once more. (I know what you’re thinking, there’s a huge issue here of woman as object but that’s another blog post).
So Kendra is this hot blonde in a striking red dress at a bar. Adam Sandler chats her up with a ridiculous line his psychiatrist (played by Jack Nicholson) tells him to repeat to her. It works because she’s been paid to respond flirtatiously to the man who says these lines (unbeknownst to Sandler).
So Kendra takes him home where she changes into a pink… em… ensemble. I’m not sure what the correct term is for this:
Velour short and jumper set?
Anyways, this is when she begins to reveal her insecurities about her body to Sandler. As she picks up some kind of muffin she declares “I probably shouldn’t be eating this because I’m so fat… my clothes hide it but I’m getting really gooey right here” *points at pert bottom*. This is only fair, everyone has insecurities, right? Why shouldn’t this character?
Sandler declares that he doesn’t see any “goo” and Kendra’s reply is “well, I see it, and I didn’t 5 years ago”. Now, she’s clearly in her early 30s so is she simply talking about the fact that she might not be so pert? Maybe. Maybe when she was 25 she had a butt that reached up to her shoulder blades – who knows? We don’t know, but she’s definitely disturbed by this gooeyness anyways. That’s fine. So how does this revelation of her insecurities develop? Well, she explains that the where she thinks these insecurities derive from – an insulting ex-partner. Great. We relate. Fine. Now what?
Does she put her insecurities aside and continue on with her night? Does she cover up with a jumper? Does she put the muffin down? Does she scoff all the muffins in the world and run around naked?? Does she have sex with Sandler and then after post-sex scoff muffins?
Well, Sandler’s gentle, reassuring and kind words makes her comfortable and she strips down to her underwear in order to seduce him. However, Sandler rejects her because he has a girlfriend.
How does she take it, you ask? Well, in a typical insecure fashion, she thinks he’s lying about having a girlfriend. She thinks the real reason is that she is a “porker”. She then proceeds to eat chocolate, throw muffins and pretty much yo yo from considering herself too fat to too thin and back again within seconds.
Now, it’s all a set-up. She was supposedly directed to go crazy if he rejects her (which makes me wonder, what was she going to do if he didn’t…?) However, what I find most disturbing about the scene is that the issue of body Dysmorphia is used so casually and in a way that trivializes the matter that makes the disorder seem absurd.
Body Dysmorphia is a very real and misunderstood mental illness in which people truly believe that their bodies are aesthetically different than the reality. In a society where many women have distorted images of their bodies, why does this scene pass us so casually? As if no nerves have been hit? As if we don’t recognise this behaviour in some form or another in ourselves, in our friends, in our family? Why doesn’t our jaws drop with a sense of realization that even this woman is demonstrating a contradiction between the misrepresentation of her real body and that ideal body that she has conjured in her head?
A part of me thinks we’re used to this misrepresentation and misunderstanding, so much so that it doesn’t daunt us when we see it being trivialized. I think we’ve started to internalize these indiscretions, these contradictions. We watch America’s Top Model, we see those girls walk around looking normal (for models) and then their pictures appear at the end of the week and they look completely transformed. We see our mothers, our friends look like glamour models one day, only to see them do chores in sweats, make-up free and in their dark-circles and freckled glory the next day.
But just because we’ve come to understand these innate contradictions in our ideal and our real selves, doesn’t mean we should start ignoring when the media trivializes when these contradictions are exemplified to heightened conditions that result in mental issues. Not only Body Dysmorphia, but anorexia and bulimia. These mental disorders are very real and such representations in the media do nothing to help those who suffer with such illnesses.