Is America Obsessed With Beauty?

Director Darryl Roberts explores whether Americans care too much about looks in his new movie America the Beautiful. He follows models and interviews media editors to get answers.

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ALEX COHEN, host:

Also in theaters in L.A. and New York this weekend and across the country later this year, a new documentary called "America the Beautiful." The movie takes a look at this country and it's obsession with beauty. "America the Beautiful" features interviews with fashion editors, celebrities like Paris Hilton and younger girls like this one, talking about the price some girls pay to look like a model.

(Soundbite of movie "America the Beautiful)

Ms. GERREN TAYLOR (Child Actress): (As herself) My best friend died when she was almost 11 years old and when she died, she weighed 47 pounds. And for a 10-year-old and that's disgusting.

COHEN: "America the Beautiful" was produced and directed by Darryl Roberts, who joins us now in the studio. Thanks for coming in.

Mr. DARRYL ROBERTS (Producer and Director, "America the Beautiful"): Thank you for having me.

COHEN: I'd like to start off by asking you about this film and why you did it? You know, the idea that were fixated on a very limited and often dangerous concept of beauties. It has been covered before, but it's usually women that are behind this films in this articles. You're a guy, why did you do it?

Mr. ROBERTS: I read a story about a guy who had murdered a model, because she was beautiful and he couldn't have her. That incident made me look at some things that I had done that was not very smart. I had a relationship with three women, like consecutively, and all of them were beautiful human beings and - on the inside. And I didn't marry either one of them, because I attempted to find somebody just like them that was more beautiful. And I thought that it would just be a great topic for a documentary. To see why we're so obsess with beauty and - I just start shooting.

COHEN: Your film looks it all sort of things, but one of the essential characters is a young girl, her name is Gerren and she starts modeling when she's just 12 years old. You follow her throughout the course of several years. As you watched her, how did you see this concept of beauty affecting her life?

Mr. ROBERTS: I tell you how, when she was 10 years old, she said the people call her Giraffe and stick and bean-poll. She felt very awkward. At the aged of 12, she was on the runaway modeling, with everybody telling her she was beautiful and she got herself esteem from that kind of stimulus. At 15, she went to London and Paris to try to become an international model and they told her she was seven centimeters too big, so in effect she was too obese to model. She came back to the States and developed a low self-esteem. She started thinking that she was ugly. But the media and the fashion industry defined what's beautiful. And when it was her, she felt beautiful, but when it changed, whether it was your face or your body, then now you're not beautiful.

COHEN: You mentioned the word obese that was used in reference to Gerren, which - we should point out to our listeners who can't see her. This girl is six feet tall and she is a size two. She's very slender. But she's been told that she's too big and that for me was one of the most disturbing scenes in the movie, where she response to these claims that people call her obese.

(Soundbite of movie "America the Beautiful")

Ms. GERREN TAYLOR (Child Actress): (As Herself) My stomach, flat - flat, my boobs, they don't go to my knees. My leg, is this an obese leg to you? It barely even jiggles - needs some muscle. Does the muscle jiggle? It doesn't.

COHEN: Gerren is African-American, you are also African-American. I'm wondering as you did this film, if you noticed any differences when it comes to different races and the concept of beauty we have here?

Mr. ROBERTS: Yeah, and this is new for us because growing up - remember African-American's had a totally separate identification of what a healthy body image was. For about 2006, young African-American girls where developing eating disorders, they started having body image problems. Now everybody's running around, worrying about how they look.

COHEN: Throughout this movie, you definitely seemed to indicate how much big companies and advertising place such a key role in all of this. They sell us the products, that make the money, that we think will hopefully make us more beautiful. But you offer a piece of advice in the film, that comes after a scene about the dangers of plastic surgery and you went and you saw a surgery, and you told all the men you know to do something after that. What was that advice?

Mr. ROBERTS: You know, there's this woman that they could not get to wake up after having plastic surgery. I thought she had died, she finally woke up a hour later. But when I left, I was walking down the street and my knees were kind of buckling. I was so devastated. I took out my cellphone and literally every single guy that I knew. I repeatedly called them and told them right now, stop what you were doing and go find your mother, your sister, your daughter, every woman in your life and tell them that they're beautiful exactly the way that they are.

COHEN: Darryl Roberts, wrote, produced and directed the documentary "American the Beautiful". Thank you so much.

Mr. ROBERTS: Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: Stay with us, NPR's Day To Day continues.

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