America the Beautiful
By Melissa Camacho,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Probing docu about society's obsession with looks.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The film shows the negative and often self-destructive behavior that can result from buying into an unrealistic notion of beauty. Race, as it pertains to skin color and beauty, is discussed. Michelle Taylor is shown as both pushy and insensitive about the negative impact that modeling has on her daughter. Fashion publishers/execs appear greedy as they discuss the money that can be made from people trying to obtain physical perfection.
Violence & Scariness
Some brief-but-graphic footage of plastic surgery being performed.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Lots of images of models in skimpy clothing in magazines and on runways. Nudity (bare breasts) is blurred. Clips of music videos featuring women in sexy outfits and dancing provocatively (including Britney Spears and Madonna kissing) are shown. Teens discuss looking like "sluts" to get boys' attention. Gerren argues with her mother about wearing a padded bra to school.
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Occasional swearing includes "f--k," "s--t," "dick," and "a--hole."
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Products & Purchases
Includes brief interviews with celebrities like Paris Hilton, Jessica Simpson, and Martin Short. Fashion logos for Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY, Richard Tyler , etc. and brand names like L'oreal, Dove, Sally Hansen, and others are also visible.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Alcoholic beverages (wine, cocktails) are visible in one scene.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this documentary -- which examines many Americans' unhealthy fixation with physical beauty -- looks at how the fashion and entertainment industries perpetuate an unrealistic image of female perfection that can lead to low self-esteem, eating disorders, and other problems. There's a bit of strong language (including "f--k" and "s--t") and some crude sexual references; women (mostly models) are seen in skimpy clothing (but any nudity is blurred). Commercial logos and designer labels are prominent, but they're appropriate within the film's context. Brief scenes of surgical procedures may be disturbing to younger or more sensitive viewers. Parents, this is a good movie to watch alongside your teen; check out some of our tips about how to talk to them about the issues the movie deals with.
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Where to Watch
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What's the Story?
AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL explores our country's obsession with appearance. Written, produced, and directed by Darryl Roberts, the film begins with 12-year-old Gerren Taylor, who in 2003 was a rising superstar in the modeling world. As the film follows the ups and downs of her fashion career over several years, it highlights the contradictory messages about physical beauty that people of all ages are forced to make sense of every day thanks to a constant barrage of media images. It also explores various issues relating to how people attempt to meet unrealistic expectations of physical beauty, including diminishing self-esteem among young girls, discrimination, eating disorders, and cosmetic surgery.
Is It Any Good?
As fashion execs, tabloid journalists, advertisers, and plastic surgeons discuss how and why they contribute to this unattainable standard of beauty, this film proves to be both witty and troubling. Men make candid (and sometimes crude) observations about how important a woman's physical attributes -- like weight, height, and skin color -- are when they think about their ideal mate, but then can't explain why they feel the way they do. There are some heartbreaking moments, too, as the film documents the real devastation that can occur when people buy into the idea of looking "perfect" -- including becoming the victim of botched cosmetic surgery or dying from bulimia.
This documentary, which took five years to complete, doesn't take an unbiased approach to its subject. And most of Roberts' findings aren't particularly surprising, either. But the film is both socially probing and entertaining as it shows how far women have come in American society -- only to still be objectified by idealized standards of beauty that often hold them back. The movie also demonstrates how both men and women are becoming less able to appreciate the ordinary and how incapable they are becoming of finding the true beauty that lies inside them.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about whether the media creates and/or perpetuates an idealized -- and unattainable -- standard of beauty. Do advertisements, music videos, and fashion magazines create these images, or do they simply reflect what people want to see? Do you think the media can cause someone to develop a negative body image or eating disorder? Why or why not? Families can also discuss modeling. How young is too young to start a modeling career? How are young models portrayed in advertisements and other kinds of media? How do you think that affects them?
- In theaters: August 1, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: December 1, 2009
- Cast: Darryl Roberts, Gellen Taylor, Michelle Taylor
- Director: Darryl Roberts
- Studio: Sensory Overload Productions
- Genre: Documentary
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some language, including sexual references.
- Last updated: December 7, 2022
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