The Death of the Female Icon



Museum of Toys: Prague
Museum of Toys: Prague

Whatever happened to female icons? You know, the empowered women of yester-decades who actually taught young women to be badasses instead of objects?

Technically I’m a millennial and I feel completely gypped that I missed the heyday of the power chick. Sure, I remember Fiona, Alanis, and Gwen back when she was still quirky with braces and clown shoes, but being born in 1989 meant I was only 7 when Tidal and Jagged Little Pill were released and just 6 when Tragic Kingdom dropped. While I do remember a few years of listening to them, Sarah McLachlan, Jewel, Tracy Chapman, and PJ Harvey, I quickly fell under the spell of the Spice Girls and was then ushered into the blonde utopia of Britney, Christina, Mandy, and Jessica who became the new new idols. I can’t decide if it was an age thing, or a coincidence of the timing of my tweendom and the transition from Alternative Rock to Bubble Gum Pop, but looking back really bums me out because I missed the last authentic wave of female rebels who challenged the ideals of mainstream society instead of using them to fill up their pockets.

Everything shifted around the mid 90’s. Obviously revealing clothing wasn’t a new phenomenon but it didn’t seem to be the quite such standard protocol before then. In fact, the two decades before my birth were quite clearly focused on rights, race, radical thought, and disassociating from the prim and proper ways of the two decades before them. After the 90’s, things took a dramatic change of course. Consider models: the strong, long, buxom yet lean bodies and big hair of Cindy, Claudia, and Naomi were replaced with the knobby knees of Gemma Ward, Karlie Kloss, and Chanel Iman (who seriously had no choice but to model with that name). Thankfully we now have mega-babes Lara Stone and Bar Rafaeli to counter the helpless, heroin addict look… but the era of the glamazon is long gone. Meek sells.

Whatever happened to musical artists like Annie Lennox, Stevie Nicks, Joni Mitchell, Blondie, Janis Joplin, and Donna Summer? Women who were, alebeit a bit folksier than current mainstream stars but who still commanded huge followings a la Miley, Gaga, and Rihanna, yet actually had real things to say about topics other than drugs, money, and sex? (I know I’m making generalizations but go with me). I’ll give it to Beyonce that she’s essentially the next Tina Turner and hasn’t watered down that power, but she still knows how to strip down (see her 2014 Grammy performance for proof) which is what ultimately makes money in our modern world thanks to the illusion created by the corporatized industries of the “arts.”

Class. That’s what I think of when I watch the actresses in old movies. They were elegant, chicly covered up, and sophisticated like Katherine Hepburn in the 30’s and 40’s, Lauren Bacall in the 40’s and 50’s, Audrey Hepburn in the 50’s and 60’s, and Julie Christie in the 60’s and 70’s. Even Marilyn Monroe’s most scandalous moments have NOTHING on Lindsay or Paris. A quick Google image search of any of these icons produces a collection of striking images of women who commanded the silver screen and were some of the most desired women in the world without posing naked holding a puppy on the cover of People. It’s actually difficult to not find images of modern actresses in at least one shoot where they’re not in a tiny swimsuit or on a bed looking frazzled as they’d just slept with someone. There are a few females these days who I consider to be in the same kind of realm as those of the 20th century, such as (in no particular order) Jessica Chastain, Diane Keaton, and Emma Watson, but these women are few and far between. They’re also threatening in their indifference and confusing to both men and women who have become immune to the ideals of a different standard of behavior.

A problem is that it’s now normalized for women to pose for men’s magazines regardless of their profession. You didn’t see Gilda Radner in a lowcut, tight top in GQ, but I can’t say the same for the likes of Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, even self-proclaimed supernerd Tina Fey who play the pinup game from time to time. I’m not saying it’s blasphemous to do photo shoots and embrace femininity, but I am questioning why it feels like every woman out there is on hold to take her top off for *some famed photographer*. Why does it seem like the women who don’t talk about their femininity, do cover themselves up, and don’t play the game are seen as boring, prude, or powerless. Why is it that the more naked you get the more power you command? Why are we, as women, handing back over what was so brutally fought for on our behalf?

For me, I saw the (albeit brief) transition and am aware that I had to find my own role models by sometimes stepping into the past to become inspired about who I want to become. But for the next generation, what are they going to do? As the “celebrity market” gets more and more saturated and watered down, who is going to the front-woman of celebrity culture and teach young women to kickass, rebel against conformity, and stand up for feminism? Because it’s sure as sh*t not going to be Taylor Swift.


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