Friday, March 30, 2007

Presenting and Breaking Down Hegemonic Norms

Beauty and the Geek was not intended to be just another reality television show; its creators call it a “social experiment,” implying that its purpose is to do more than merely entertain viewers, who are mostly young adults. Beauties and geeks are paired up and compete in challenges that force them to step outside their respective comfort zones and see how the other half lives. In the end, the winning team is ideally the one whose beauty and geek best learned how to work together, taught each other important life lessons, and transformed each other into more than just beauties and geeks.

The women of Beauty and the Geek supposedly epitomize beauty. In some ways, they embody feminine hegemonic norms, but they also challenge them at the same time. The beauties work hard to make themselves attractive in order to gain the attention of men. They care deeply about appearances and always want to look good. For example, in the final challenge when there were only three teams left, the contestants had to perform farm duties like milking cows and wrestling sheep. When getting dressed before heading to the farm, the girls found several outfits laid out for them to choose from, and two of the girls decided they would rather look cute and wear the skimpy clothes with high-heeled cowboy boots than dress appropriately for the upcoming farm work. This particular situation might be a bit over-the-top, but it essentially reinforces the feminine ideal of always looking beautiful in hopes of attracting a man. Similarly, some of the women, especially Cecille, talked about how they wanted to marry handsome, rich men and never have to work, which highlights the hegemonic norm that men are the breadwinners and are expected to provide comfortable lives for their wives.

Though these and comparable ideals are shown throughout each episode, the show presents them in such a way that makes them seem ridiculous and unappealing. Obviously, the women of Beauty and the Geek are not representative of all females, but they characterize society’s and popular culture’s idea of beauty. Seeing the women put so much emphasis on looks and material things is supposed to make viewers stop and think about what we really value as a society and how we can (and should) change some of our ideals. As James Lull writes, “Hegemony fails when dominant ideology is weaker than social resistance,” (65) meaning people have the power to transform dominant values and standards when they choose to recognize problems and implement change. Beauty and the Geek, as part of popular culture, presents hegemonic norms in a somewhat negative light, thus attempting to break down the ideals that are perpetuated by popular culture and society as a whole.


Lull, James. "Hegemony." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 61-66.


The Cosmo Girls of Beauty and the Geek

This collage represents the feminine beauty ideals and stereotypes shown in Beauty and the Geek. It is based on Laurie Ouellette's piece about the founding of Cosmopolitan magazine and its impact on American women, "Inventing the Cosmo Girl: Class Identity and Girl-Style American Dreams." Ouellette discusses the personal life of Helen Gurley Brown, Cosmopolitan's creator, and the ideologies and beliefs that led her to start a magazine promoting femininity and sexuality. She writes, "Brown's reworking of American Dream mythology involved the construction and reconstruction of a desirable self, the presentation of identity as self-made, the valorization of femininity as a creative production, the partial subversion of natural class distinctions, the refusal of Victorian sexual norms, and the expression of multiple hardships and frustrations" (125). This description of the invention of the Cosmo Girl portrays Cosmo Girls as feminine, sensual/sexual, and wanting to be desired. The beauties of Beauty and the Geek fit these categories as well. They use cosmetics and hair products to make them look as "beautiful" as possible. They are not afraid to show off their bodies, walking around in their bikinis, miniskirts, and skimpy tops. They place much importance on looks and outward appearances of both themselves and others. This collage depicts the portrayal of the beauties that viewers see: affinity for beauty products, fit bodies, skimpy clothes, and overall superficiality.


Ouellette, Laurie. "Inventing the Cosmo Girl: Class Identity and Girl-Style American Dreams." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 116-127.

Photo Credits for Collage:
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