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Rewriting the Script of the Female Entertainer

vhiggins's picture


vhiggins's picture

“You will never be as

“You will never be as beautiful in your life as you are now, so now is the time to start.”

As a young woman who aspires to do anything related to media and popular culture: modeling, singing, dancing, acting, this view is one that spearheads  a great amount of young careers. The idea that beauty is the quality that supersedes any amount of talent is widely held in the entertainment industry, and follows right behind the exploitation of women in society in general based on their physical appearance. The problem with adapting this philosophy in pursuit of a famous career is that women who participate in their self-exploitation then make it justifiable to be exploited by others. 

In exploring my own self-representation as someone who wants to pursue a career in music and entertainment, this issue particularly resonates with me. It seems that there is a script for female entertainers, one that has been performed by artists such as Madonna, Britney Spears, Rihanna and most recently, Miley Cyrus; a route that has also been successfully bypassed, by popular feminist artists, namely Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill, and Janelle Monae, who advocated for a more heightened sense of empowerment in women. If you know any of these artists, you could recognize the distinction between the women who achieved great success based on their physical appearances and the women who worked to be successful based on their inner and deeper artistic qualities, and which route each woman took. 

So, how much of the script is already written for me? Already a buoy floating in the ocean of skewed perceptions of my self-representation, how will I write myself? How can I optimally avoid drowning in self-exploitation and hypersexuality in the name of fortune, fame, and music? 

In a recently open penned letter written to Miley Cyrus, Sinead O’Connor, a popular singer-songwriter of the 80s and 90s addresses such issues in an attempt to offer Cyrus career and life advice via Facebook, and says “Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent.”

What come into play here are two contrasting aspects of self-representation that continually collide as female entertainers play out the duration of their careers, especially young Black women like me who aspire to be artists, who’s script alone is written as particularly exploitative; only being known and successful for being extremely physically desirable, or for what transcends the physical, which in this case is being talented.  

However, in an effort to rewrite this limited role given to women in the entertainment industry, especially women of color, it is important to understand that women were never given the opportunity to write their own script. The phenomenon of exploiting women on a grand scale, I feel, is a preventative measure taken by the predominately male controllers of the media in order to ensure that women continue to fit this mold and perpetually offer their bodies as commodities. This way, women do not interest themselves with changing the script, and settle for self-exploitation as the catapult to success (which is every man’s dream, right?). 

What O’Connor references in her letter is that fact that Cyrus believes that it is she who is taking control of her sexuality, when actually there is a media machine working against not only her, but all women, that leads her to believe that her oversexualization and self-exploitation is her own idea. 

So, considering these elements, and in an effort to approach this stigma placed against me, it is important to start with understanding how these relationships manifest themselves on an individual level. If I were to be a woman who measured her value based on the male attention she received on a daily basis, that would directly translate into the attention I would seek on a greater platform. And what sells better (and easier) than beauty and sex?

“You will never be as beautiful in your life as you are now, so now is the time to start.”

This is an actual quote from another woman as her attempt to give me career advice. To offer some context, I am intern at The Studio Milkboy, which is a recording studio in Philadelphia. The woman, who is maybe 35 years old, attempted a career in music and acting but never gained enough footing to become as successful as she had hoped to be. So, not only was it problematic that she was offering this “advice” by telling me that my beauty is my ticket to success, what’s more is that a coworker of mine and my boss, both male, immediately cosigned her theory and encouraged me to listen to what she was saying. So here I am, a 20 year old musical hopeful, being told by another woman and two men, one of whom is my boss, that the determinant of achieving my dreams was something as fleeting and temporary as my youthful beauty. (Little do they know that my prime has yet to begin, but of course I let them know that *hair flip) 

In my opinion, I have already begun to write my own script, the key being my education and my developing ability to see past the smoke screen that is put up by popular societal views that dictate the actions of its people. I can see that this demeaning philosophy should not affect me on an everyday level, since I am learning and continually growing to know that my value is definitely not reliant on my beauty or sexuality but what I have to offer from within, which will be my music. I am not saying that I have all the answers to ending women’s oppression via oversexualization throughout the country, but I can offer the things that I am learning on the daily basis to help anyone that I can reach. Popular singer/ rapper Lauryn Hill recently said, “messages like these I imagine find their audience, or their audience finds them, like water seeking it's level." Even though I am at the beginning of my journey, I can sense that there are many other women who are at the beginning of theirs as well, and following these words from Lauryn Hill, I believe that we can relate on an individual level. I will try to make myself accessible to the reception of the women who will look to me, as I do to many Black feminist artists now, as a voice to express all of our common or similar experiences and a guide to understanding how they operate in our every day lives. 

Popular Black feminist musicians who have managed a successful career conveying a not so popular message of female empowerment, I feel, have set the stage for young women like me, who desire to embody a similar, enlightening message to women of all ages. Through these examples, I am coming to find that I do not have to sell my body in attempt to get people to listen to my music, or to be successful in any aspect of life. The music I hope to make will have a positive message and listening experience to all people, but I will make an extra effort to present myself in a way that is inspirational and divisible from the view that the only thing that determines my worth as a woman is my physical appearance. This, I feel, is the key to writing the script as I see fit. Whether or not I succeed, however, will be based not on my outer beauty, but on the reception of the message I will try to promote by a willing audience. 

This is how I can change the pre-written script that has been performed over and over - well before I was born. By acknowledging its negativity on an individual level, this will help me on the road to achieving my dreams, being educated enough to know of the systems working against me on a larger level. I hope to write myself as a woman who fully appreciates her beauty, but does not allow that to define her. I hope to perform as a woman who once was controlled by the misogynistic and male-dominated society, but has learned through education and examples of women who come before me that show that youthful, sexy beauty is not the end-all be-all of my potential successes on a widespread level. I hope that my audience is partly dominated by other women that seek the same message, or a bit of validation from women who have heard the message and were receptive to it, allowing it to enlighten and empower their internal beauty. 

My journey has just begun, and it has been one exhausting but enlightening road so far, and through my own self-representation and performance I hope to set the same example for women who aspire the same as I in the future.