A couple of weeks ago I found myself having dinner out with a bunch of middle-aged parents (myself included), something my husband and I enjoy now and then.
Now, what do you talk about when you don’t want to talk about your kids (you’ve got the night off after all), and any topic surrounding the aches and pains of being middle-aged has already been exhausted?
Movies of course! Everyone loves movies, don’t they?
“What’s the one film you’d see over and over again?” someone at the table asks, prompting the eruption of a cacophony of voices. Everyone has a film, it seems, that they love above all else.
“I just love Wonder Woman,” someone says, and several mums nod enthusiastically.
“It’s a fabulous film.”
“It’s so empowering.”
“I watched it with my daughters, and we all loved it.”
Now I don’t particularly enjoy being the lone contrarian in a conversation, especially when I am stone-cold sober, which is my permanent state these days as I no longer drink alcohol. But sometimes I just can’t shut up.
“Actually, I have a problem with Wonder Woman,” I say, and at once the mood at my end of the table drops markedly.
“Why?” someone asks, looking at me incredulously.
“Well, if you have a scar across your face or any kind of facial ‘disfigurement’, you may not feel at all empowered by Wonder Woman,” I say.
I’m referring to one of the main villains of the film, Dr Poison, who wears a prosthetic mask to conceal her visibly scarred face. Like so many of Hollywood’s famous villains – Darth Vader, Freddie Kruger, countless James Bond baddies, etc. – Dr Poison’s evil character is directly linked to her facial disfigurement. As in so many films, the implicit message here is that beauty = good and ugly/disfigured = evil.
These villains, including the actress portraying Dr Poison, are almost exclusively played by actors who do not have any disfigurement but are made to look the part with the help of makeup and prosthetics.
“Come on, Jenny,” someone at the dinner party says, “it’s just entertainment. It’s only a film.”
No, it isn’t. It isn’t ‘just’ a piece of entertainment for people – and in this case young girls and women in particular – living with a condition that affects their appearance, many of whom struggle daily with bullying and discrimination because of the way they look.
How disfigurement (as well as race, gender, sexual orientation etc.) is represented on the movie screen matters a great deal. We may be oblivious of the subliminal messages conveyed on the movie screen or dismiss them as ‘just a bit of fun’ but the reality is that what we – and our sons and daughters – watch on the screen influences the way we interpret the world around us.
I for one love my scars, and there’s nothing scary or evil about them. And the fact that I may sometimes be a bitch has absolutely nothing to do with my disfigurement.