Media Monday: Likeness

Christine Hanwick

I’ve had conversations with people who believe the mainstream medias portrayal of women doesn’t have an impact on women’s and young girls self-esteem. I generally pipe in with, “I disagree.” Personally, I do believe that the constant onslaught of images of gaunt, photoshopped, and over-sexualized women has a cumulatively negative effect on the minds of young girls and women (as well as boys and men). And this view is in line with current research which has shown that when women are consistently exposed to images of thin models, disordered eating and body image issues increase (source).


Of course, I also agree that the media is not the sole cause of disordered eating and body image issues. But unfortunately, it seems to be having an unnecessarily negative impact on many young girls and women in our society.


Body image and the media is also the topic of “Likeness,” a new beautifully crafted, disturbing, and eye-opening short film.  Please know, if you choose to watch the film, it contains images that may be disturbing to some. Written by Rodrigo Prieto and his daughter, Ximena, “Likeness” is a “meditation on eating disorders” (source). Starring Elle Fanning as a young woman struggling with body image, this short art house film challenges us — in a way no other film has — to consider the role of the media and society in the way the female body is idealized and objectified, and the implications this may have on young women.


“Likeness” leads the viewer with off-beat techno music through dark and smokey rooms within a dream-like house smattered with (mostly) silent, and strangely posed apathetic men and women (models). These images — just disturbing enough to make the viewer feel a little uncomfortable — were inspired by pages pulled (literally) out of fashion magazines. What we find out shortly — as we are led into a bathroom in front of a mirror — is that we are viewing these rooms and images through a lens on a young woman played by Elle Fanning. As she looks in the mirror to apply mascara, she pauses as her face transforms into what I can only imagine is supposed to look “ugly” through her eyes. A tear falls down her cheek as she attempts to peel the skin off of her face. Obviously disturbed by her own image, she screams at a piercing pitch which we only hear the beginning of, and then it is silenced. When we see her face in the mirror again, she appears as she was when she first entered the bathroom — a beautiful young woman. Then she is shown using eating disorder symptoms. As she exits the bathroom, you come to find the rooms we had just passed through with her are not filled with models, but her peers. And the music no longer macabre, but upbeat. The only dialogue that occurs in this short (besides the scream) comes next. A friend or perhaps acquaintance, played by Ximena Prieto, asks Fanning if she is “ok.” Fanning says yes, but as she walks aways, the mood and music turn dark again and the viewer is left with unease. Prieto said he purposefully ended it in such a way to “reflect his family’s enduring psychological scars” (source).


According to an article in the New York Times, Prieto who has worked with Martin Scorsese Oliver Stone, considers this short film, “as a professional achievement on par with his Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain.” He was inspired to take on this subject because of his daughter Ximena’s struggle with an eating disorder. Prieto said that he broke down into tears while watching Fanning play this role because it was as if he was watching his own daughters struggle through the lens of the camera. And although painful, he said, “it was also therapeutic. That was really the moment it was all about” (source).