Straight/Curve: Redefining Body Image

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Straight/Curve: Redefining Body Image Movie Poster Image
Earnest, well-intentioned docu about female body image.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 83 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Highly critical of current societal glorification of thin, white, and young females. Promotes re-evaluating cultural standards for beauty to include diverse body shapes, ethnicities, lifestyles. Encourages young women and teens to recognize their individuality and speak out loud about infinite dimensions of "beauty." In visuals, tends to conflate "beautiful" with "sexy." 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Provides platform for wide variety of professionals (academics, fashion industry leaders, models) who work toward changing perspectives of beauty, glamour. Representative teens give voice to insecurity, self-criticism, self-defeat, but appear thoughtful, optimistic about possibility of changing perspectives. On the other hand, many photos and photo sessions emphasize sexuality, objectifying the participants even as they present a case for "redefining body image." Diversity.

Violence
Sex

Lots of glamour photography with women in sexy poses, revealing clothing. One character is a proudly gay woman.

Language

"Goddamn," "crap."

Consumerism

Clothing manufacturers and designers (e.g., Chromat, Lane Bryant, Aerie for American Eagle). Images of many magazines (e.g., Redbook, Glamour, Vogue).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Straight/Curve: Redefining Body Image is a documentary that focuses on challenges that young women face in a culture that values thin, young, and white as the physical ideal. While the concept presented here is familiar, filmmaker Jenny McQuaile interviews both professionals (academics, fashion industry icons, and models) and teen girls to give lots of straightforward information and statistics and relate personal experiences in an interesting and comprehensive way. On the other hand, the film's visual emphasis -- photographs and videos of photographic sessions -- tends to equate beauty with sexuality. Even the most enlightened of the participating models, and the female photographer at the center of the film, present their diverse body types, ages, and ethnicities in a sexual manner in many sequences. Expect lots of revealing fashions: numerous swimsuit and underwear photo sessions, and dramatic sexual posing.

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What's the story?

Filmmaker Jenny McQuaile gathers an impressive array of experts to deliver her messages in STRAIGHT/CURVE: REDEFINING BODY IMAGE. Screen time is divided between in-depth interviews with ordinary teen girls and extraordinary models who have very personal stories to tell and with professionals in the fields of fashion, psychology, academics, and social services. As preparations are under way for a high anticipated Photographic Symposium/Exhibit, from which the movie gets its title, McQuaile is on hand for the photo sessions, personal insights, and camaraderie. Intercut with those sequences are interviews with folks from prominent university design programs that are addressing the issue (e.g., Syracuse University School of Design, Parsons), fashion houses (e.g., Chromat, Emme Style, American Eagle's "Aerie" line, Lane Bryant, Tim Gunn), and nonprofits (e.g., Claire Mysko of the National Eating Disorder Association). Topics covered include the prevalence of eating disorders among young girls, the stigma of being overweight even as children, body mass index (BMI), efforts to legislate "truth in advertising" by prohibiting "touching-up" (Photoshopping), and widespread unhealthy relationships with food. 

Is it any good?

Powerful messages and insights delivered by this well-meaning film are overshadowed throughout by a number of sexualized photos and photo sessions that contradict both the premise and the intent. Jenny McQuaile and her team battle female stereotypes, excessive emphasis on weight and appearance, and pervasive negative self-image among young people in Straight/Curve: Redefining Body Image. The models and the teens really deliver the goods. They're brave, honest, and engaging, deeply personalizing the issues explored. And it's uplifting to see that the plight of "plus-sized" women is being addressed in design schools and in the fashion industry. The statistics quoted and expert voices about girls and eating disorders all work to shore up McQuaile's concept.

If only more thought had been given to what images were photographed. It's clear when photographer Anastasia Garcia directs one model -- "Still sexy. We need to see it as being very sexy" -- that a substantial element of the movie equates beauty with sexiness. A specific example shows a spirited female athlete photographed in wonderful action shots wearing sports gear. When we see her "dress up," she's in an outfit with lots of leather straps and lots of skin. The film has a lot to offer young women and girls but demands a caution about another challenge females face: that of being seen as sexual objects. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the film's statement "Hi, Size. Welcome. I'm your friend now." What does it mean to you? Can such a simple, heartfelt idea help you think differently about yourself? What other messages did you take away from Straight/Curve: Redefining Body Image?

  • Were you surprised by the lack of "glamour" when watching the fashion models during their daily routines? How "normal" did they seem? What did it take to get them ready for their on-camera moments?

  • The movie talked a lot about "touching up" the photographs and Photoshopping the fashion images that were published. How does this method of altering reality affect our perceptions? Why do the models prefer to be represented as they are? Do you agree with them? Why or why not?

  • Find out the meaning of the term "sexual objectification." How does it apply to some of the modeling sequences in this film? Did the inclusion of so many sexy poses and such body-baring clothing muddy the filmmaker's core message? Why or why not?

Movie details

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