What TOOTSIE Taught Dustin Hoffman About Beauty Standards
The Mary Sue unearthed this 2012 interview with Dustin Hoffman for the AFI Archives, in which he discusses his role in Tootsie and the way it helped him understand beauty standards in society. In the film, Hoffman plays an actor with a reputation for being difficult, so he disguises himself as a woman to land a job. The film offers comedic social commentary and satire on sexism and gender inequality, but apparently just reading the script wasn't enough to enlighten Hoffman.
In the video, Hoffman describes going in for his screen-test and telling the make-up artist that he wanted to look more beautiful. Hoffman says, "I thought, if I was going to be a woman, I should be beautiful," but then the make-up artist informed him that Hoffman wasn't going to look much prettier than he already did. Hoffman broke down in tears and came to a startling realization: "I think I’m an interesting woman, when I look at myself on screen. I know if I met myself at a party I would never talk to that character because she doesn’t fulfill, physically, the demands we’re brought up to think women have to have in order for us to ask them out."
And there it is: the crushing weight of our society's standards of beauty, the toll they take on the "average" woman, and the sexism those standards facilitate, all wrapped up in one tearful explanation from one of America's favorite actors. Movies, television and magazines all tell us who and what to find beautiful, which body shapes are okay and which ones are bad, all the while encouraging average men to seek out exceptional beauty as deemed worthy by the media, while ignoring normal women. Beauty and attraction are wholly subjective, and allowing society to dictate and shape the way we innately process that subjectivity keeps us from appreciating the beauty that goes beyond surface qualities -- beauty is so much more than our bodies and facial features, but society has been trained to see only the surface and shape of things. We each have our own individual recipes for what makes someone attractive to us, and that recipe isn't the same for every person.
Furthermore, Hoffman's own insecurity about his appearance as a woman echoes the same insecurities all women feel when we look in the mirror and realize that no matter how much make-up we wear or how pushy that push-up bra is, or how white we've made our teeth after hours of bleaching, or how smooth our skin is after a painful waxing -- we will always look like ourselves. And we can't let the media tell us that how we look isn't good enough, especially when we have so much more to offer than lips and boobs and butts.
It's absolutely wonderful that all it took for Hoffman to change his attitudes on beauty was wearing a little make-up and walking in a woman's shoes. Maybe more men need to do the same to reach this conclusion.