As you know, Mondays I post about health and eating disorders mostly but I must say I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about today. While thinking about this, I was watching the 1996 movie ‘The Mirror has Two Faces’ and although the theme of the movie doesn’t have much to do with eating disorders, it does have to do with the ideas of beauty and confidence and how these contribute to a woman’s happiness. This movie was directed and starred Brabra Streisand, as well as Jeff Bridges and Lauren Bacall and released in 1996.
Rose (Streisand) is a very successful Literature professor in Columbia University, while Gregory (Bridges) is a very boring Math professor. Gregory, after several romantic failures, believes sex has ruined his life. He now wants to have a lasting and substantial relationship with somebody he doesn’t feel attracted to. Following the advise of a phone sex line (don’t ask), he puts an ad in the newspaper. Rose’s sister replies to it on her behalf. They meet, they go out a few times, they never kiss or touch other than platonically, and yet they get married.
As her best friend asks her how they manage, one of the comments she makes is that is great not having to pay attention to what she eats in front of him (The Mirror Has Two Faces, 1996). This is something that rang true to me, women feeling embarrassed or, at least, self conscious, eating in front of men. Indeed, I feel self conscious eating in front of anybody, men or women. I used to stop eating when I thought it was a bit past ‘acceptable’ and yet obsess with what was still on the table and wonder what would the other person think if I took another piece of chicken or another biscuit. It is a sign of how far I’ve come that that doesn’t happen anymore. Still, it was reported in 2010 that 60% of women felt uncomfortable eating in front of their partners (The Daily Mail, 2010). To support that figure, when you Google ‘Eating in front of boyfriend’ you get over 23 million results. The first page exclusively talks about embarrassment, fear and inability to eat in front of men, with one link to 3 Ways to Eat in Front of your Crush. Because you need a guide, you know.
And obviously, this is not an exclusive fear of young women. Streisand’s character could be anything between mid thirties and mid forties. With 60% of women worrying about it, it is safe to assume this is valid for most age brackets. This is not a main characteristic of Rose, it’s not key in the movie, it’s mentioned in the passing, a feature so taken for granted, it’s only mentioned in passing, yet was chosen for the characterisation of a character with big self-esteem issues.
I suppose, though, if you grow up with a mother who looks exactly like Lauren Bacall, which would be Rose’s case since her mother is played by the iconic actress, you’d have some self-esteem issues.
Jokes aside, the movie continues as you would expect. Their companionship evolves to a point where they are both in love with each other. Rose, being a smart woman, is very aware of that but Gregory, being completely oblivious to his own feelings, doesn’t quite realise it yet. Anyway, as he goes into a book tour after a crisis in their marriage, she has to face her own demons. After a heart-to-heart conversation with her mother, Rose goes into a full makeover frenzy. Exercising, hair, makeup, clothes, the lot. And she looks amazing, of course. And she is happy the way she looks.
Now, suddenly, he can’t bear that she looks like that and her ex, the one who left her for her sister, invites her out. She is taking full advantage of the attention she always envied her mother and sister getting.
And this is exactly the image that weight loss and exercising programs give you everyday. ‘This is how I looked before and this is how I look now’ and isn’t it wonderful? The implications of this messages are pretty obvious: increased self confidence, attention, wear the clothes you want to. It’s the message the media wants to sell us and this is not new. At the time Streisand made this movie, she used Gregory’s character (Bridges) to criticize the message the media gives about how a woman should look. After Gregory breaks down at the beginning of the movie, he is overwhelmed by the flood of images on advertisement and TV that use sex as a lure. He later comments on it to Rose when he is trying to explain his ‘theory’ about love and marriage.
Now, in a classic movie, the makeover would last forever. Thankfully, this is not a classic movie. For starters, Streisand was in her fifties in 1996 and Bridges was in his late forties. Unlike many Hollywood movies, the love interest of the male lead is not thirty years younger than him but that’s likely because the movie was directed by a woman and not just any woman. It was a woman with the professional weight of Barbra Streisand and all that the name carries with it. Consider those ages while you remember that, only two or three years ago, Maggie Gyllenhaal was told she was too old to be the love interest of a man in his fifties in a movie she was auditioning for. She was thirty-five.
As Rose is getting ready for work, an ad plays on TV. The shot is of her, doing her hair. We see her reflection only, while we hear in the background the add saying:
‘If you’re like most people, your appearance is important to you.’
In a defeated tone, Rose says: ‘yeah’ (The Mirror Has Two Faces, 1996).
Because who has decided that most people should care about their appearance? And yet most people do, but I don’t think people worry about the way they look in itself. We care about it, I think, because we are told that the rest of our life depends on it. Our confidence, a happy love life, success, money (because no ugly woman was ever photographed in a Bentley, although plenty of not so appealing men. I’m looking at you, Clarkson).
In any case, as Gregory (Bridges) comes to his senses and realizes he wants his wife back, she gets back to her old self and stops dieting, stashing food in her bedside table drawer and all. Now, when I watched this movie for the first time I was sixteen. I watched it when it came out in the cinema and loved it. To this day it’s still one of my favorite movies. Still, when she said, near the end, she ‘was putting on weight as we speak’ I was annoyed. Scared. Disappointed. It’s taken me to this day to figure out why that annoyed me.
It’s simple, isn’t it, though? It annoyed me because it distraught the fantasy that one day I would look fantastic and it would last forever. Streisand was portraying the yo-yo dieting in only a few minutes of her movie, and yet that took a dimension of its own for me. The media telling us on one side that you can change your life forever, and yet this other media telling me now ‘mmm, maybe not’.
So, she is on her way to getting back to the way she was, realising she was happier than she thought, when Gregory and her patch things up and he tells her one of this character’s great lines:
‘I don’t care if you’re pretty, I love you anyway!’ (The Mirror Has Two Faces, 1996).
He had some great lines, I must say. Such as: ‘She eats carrots now, isn’t that tragic?’ (The Mirror Has Two Faces, 1996).
Although this wasn’t a movie review, I want to give Gregory’s character a few more thoughts. He is the romantic lead who disappoints the heroine in the movie, but you have to love him. He knows her better than anybody else, pays attention to her idiosyncrasies and loves her for it. When he is offered to lecture in Europe, his first thought is to check with her. When he comes back from Europe, he is outraged at her becoming more beautiful, as opposed to the other way around, an issue that some women face as they get older (although I’d hope not so many women). He also admires her in her professional capacity, asks for her help and actually listens to what she has to say. It was a well written character and one Jeff Bridges did wonders with.
In any case, it’s a happy ending for this romantic comedy, which was to be expected but the important thing is that, at the end, Rose realized that she was already successful in her job and had a man who loved her and none of it had to do with the way she looked. Now, all that’s left is for us, men and women, to come to that same conclusion, and the world will start to be a much better place.
Now, I know this wasn’t a movie review, but it was a bit, so do watch it, it’s a good one for the holiday season!
- Daily Mail Reporter, 2010. ‘Six in 10 women don’t like eating in front of their partners and 40 per cent worry about their weight’ The Daily Mail [Online]. Available here. Accessed 31st October 2016.
- The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996). Directed by Barbra Streisand. TriStar Pictures. California.