Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Different Strokes For Different Folks...The Varying Views of Models and the Fashion Industry as Seen in the Film "Gia"

Writing Assignment Number Three

Gia Marie Carangi's entrance into the fashion industry in the early 80's is an intriguing and explosive tale. Gia was not your "typical" model, and she did not so much walk into the modeling world as stumble into it. Yet she became a phenomenon almost instantly, partly aided by her character and personality, which made her resent the very industry in which she was working. Gia's story is documented in the self titled film starring Angelina Jolie. The film is fictional, but it relies heavily on Gia's real life. It was inspired by the people who knew Gia and by her own writing. As one watches the film, they can see how very differently the women in Gia's life viewed her, the way she lived her life and worked in her career, and the fashion industry itself. The varying responses of the women around Gia, and of Gia herself, to these things are representations of the greater responses we as a society have to the modeling industry and the women who partake in it.

Gia's mother Kathleen always held a very positive, almost idealistic view of Gia and her job. Even as Gia was spiraling downward in a whirlwind of drugs and sex, her mother insisted that her life was a fairy tale. She told Gia from the very beginning of her life what a beautiful girl she was, and pushed her to make something of herself, yet she left Gia and her family when Gia was still a young girl. This separation may have been one of the most traumatizing things for Gia, as she felt she had no one on whom she could rely for such a long stretch of her short life. Gia's mother was the first to tell her she was gaining weight, the first to push her back into modeling once Gia had left, and the first to not be there when Gia needed her most. Yet Kathleen adored her daughter, and says that she did it all out of love. In her essay "The Body Politic" Abra Chernik defines this problem. She says: "As long as society resists female power, fashion will call healthy women physically flawed. As long as society accepts the physical, sexual, and economic abuse of women, popular culture will prefer women who resemble little girls (133)." Kathleen represents the idealistic and unrealistic light in which we as a society hold the fashion industry. Modeling was one of the main things (although not the only thing) that pushed Gia into a world of drug addiction and sex, yet her mother always thought it was good for her. So many models today, in an unending desire to be skinny, beautiful, and all around perfect, turn to drugs, and in more recent years things like anorexia and bulimia, as an answer, and many go unattended as we, like Kathleen, continue to say how pretty and perfect these girls are. We turn a blind eye to the problem in order to maintain this unrealistic beauty ideal that we have created and continue to perpetuate everyday.

A slightly more rational and realistic voice can be found in Linda, Gia's one true love. Linda and Gia met on Gia's first fashion shoot, where Linda was a makeup artist. There was an immediate attraction between the two, and the self described "very square" Linda fell openly and intimately in love with Gia. Linda later described Gia as a puppy - saying she cried out for love, and Linda gave it to her, right away. Although Linda, as a makeup artist, was also involved in the fashion world, she maintained a separation from it that saved her from the things Gia went through, and that made her a voice of reason in chaos. Linda was terrified of and saddened by Gia's drug use, and begged her on numerous occasions to either give up the drugs or give up her. Although Gia never could at those moments, Linda may have been one of the main factors that finally helped Gia realize she needed saving, and that she was incapable of doing it on her own, and that the answer was not cocaine or heroine. Linda represents the rare but rational voice that may be found in today's fashion industry. Despite her own involvement in the industry, she was able to see the destructive nature of it and not only remain outside of that but partially save Gia from it. She never tried to push on Gia any impractical ideals, and only wanted to help her get better. More people like this are needed not just in the fashion industry but in every girl's life, people to tell them that they have help and are wonderful just the way they are.

The views Gia held of herself and her job make for a very interesting analysis. To some degree Gia, like her mother, also viewed her own life as a fairy tale. She so badly wanted everything to work out like that, but she was also able to recognize that it was just not going to happen. Susan Jane Gilman, in her essay "klaus barbie, and other dolls i'd like to see" says "...little girls want to be everything special, glamorous and wonderful - and believe they can be (72)." This is such a perfect example of Gia's own life view. She wanted this perfection, and she was willing to seek it later on in life, first in the modeling industry, and later in her love affairs and drugs. Gilman goes on in her essay to explain how most girls realize that this is unattainable and unrealistic in today's society, but Gia never quite came to this discovery. For the years and years in which she had the most problems, she relied on the fashion industry's positive appraisal of her, and on the drugs. Her addiction began partly because of the need to fit in to this role, and partly because of her need to escape it all. It was also her way of trying to discover herself. Gia had a wonderful sense of her own sexuality, and was unafraid to love freely the people around her. Yet she came to rely so heavily on these people that she never learned to help herself. Gia represents the destructive results of life in the modeling industry, and on a larger scale the way these things affect all girls, regardless of their career choices.

Although this story takes place 20 years ago, the problems Gia faced are still very real today. It is not just the models who feel they must be beautiful and skinny, but everyday girls. Gia turned to drugs to save her, just as girls today turn to drugs, eating disorders, and other self- destructive behavior to reach an unrealistic goal. We, like Gia's mother Kathleen, choose ignorance over action in this case. We would rather pretend there is no problem than face the destructive situation that society has created for itself. Tizzy Asher's piece in the Feminist News Journal, entitled "Girls, Sexuality, and Pop Culture" clearly defines the problem and the ways each of the women in Gia's life fall into it. She says "In the present day US, sexual empowerment cannot be separated from media literacy, self-defense, self-esteem, and development of healthy and realistic body image. Girls are not immune to popular culture, nor are they willing to hold themselves outside of it (25-26)." Kathleen and the modeling industry are this destructive power that creates unrealistic and unhealthy body image. Linda is an example of a person trying to hold herself outside of it all, yet who is intrinsically involved anyway. Gia also represents someone trying to remain outside, yet she is the very girl this quote is talking about. She is unable to hold herself outside of the lure of the fashion world, and while she tells herself that she sees no problems with her own behavior, she knows in the back of her mind what she is doing to herself and her life.

Gia's story ends sadly, but it teaches us a lesson as well. Gia was searching for something in life that the fashion industry and drugs would never be able to give her, and would actually remove her further from. She needed help, positive influences, and a life outside of the modeling world, which is full of self-esteem destroyers and negative ideals. These positive reinforcements are something all girls need, and something we as a society must make sure we foster and develop.


Abra Fortune Chernik, "The Body Politic," in Women, Images and Reality: A Multicultural Anthology," Third Edition. Amy Kesselman, Lily D. McNair, and Nancy Schniedewind (New York: McGraw Hill, 2003), 133.

Susan Jane Gilman, "klaus barbie and other dolls i'd like to see," in Women, Images and Reality: A Multicultural Anthology," Third Edition. Amy Kesselman, Lily D. McNair, and Nancy Schniedewind (New York: McGraw Hill, 2003), 72.

Tizzy Asher, "Girls, Sexuality, and Pop Culture," "The Feminist News-Journal," May-June 2002, 25-26.

Gia Movie Poster:

Gia On The Cover of Cosmo:

Gia Picture:


Jessie said...

Mary, you've done a really great job with this post and your understanding of the concepts in the readings were cleverly and clearly applied to the many conflicting issues in the film. The interesting part to read, for me, was how the conflicting messages she portrayed were so clearly linked to her own embattled relationship to the industry which she worked for and portrayed them!
Nice job Mary :O) Happy dance!

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