Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Being Somebody Doesn't Make You Anybody Anyway

The film Gia documents the life of a supermodel who moves from Philadelphia to New York at a young age and becomes instantly famous. Gia soon becomes caught up in a world where she is a disposable commodity, valued only for her looks and for how much money she can make advertisers. Eventually, she becomes addicted to heroin and contracts AIDS. The film can be seen as a fairy tale in that Gia attains everything a young girl is supposed to want: she is successful because she is beautiful, and because of her beauty and success she is universally admired. Thus, the main character’s lack of fulfillment and the tragedies that befall her become a poignant way to look at what myths about beauty do to women. In addition, the paradoxical nature of Gia’s rise to fame illustrates the concept of hegemony of conflict.

Throughout the movie, we hear the character of Gia narrate fairy tales she wrote as a child. The main character is always a beautiful woman, and the plot is usually the same. The basic idea is that every night people come and cut off a little of her hair to sell, thinking she won’t notice. Eventually the woman looses all her hair and everyone says she was never really beautiful. The fairy tale parallels Gia’s life, because she is valued for her beauty, but comes to realize that she is completely disposable to the people who make money from her. As a young girl in the movie, Gia learns that as a woman all she needs is beauty and her life will be perfect. This is the ideal that many young girls grow up learning from popular culture, since magazines, television, and movies all focus on an ideal of beauty.

The character Gia’s life shows that the reality of being beautiful is not the guarantee of happiness it is supposed to be. Gia soon learns that, as a model, she is expected to be many different things to many people. This is the idea of hegemony of conflict. Diana Crane discusses this concept, saying, “Kellner argues that no single elite group dominates American society and that the media provide a site for conflicts, debates, and negotiations among different interpretations of the dominant culture.” (315) The point is that people want to be able to interpret things their own way and apply what they see to their own life experience and identity. Gia embodies this idea because she was, as the character Linda states, “A different person to everybody.”

This idea of conflicted hegemony can be seen when Gia’s original manager is talking about why she is such a successful model. It is implied that her success stems from her ambiguity as a model, her ability to be, “Tough, vulnerable, old, young, decadent, innocent, male, female.” This reflects the images commonly sent by advertisers to young girls. As Jean Kilbourne states, “[Girls] are expected to be overtly sexy and attractive but essentially passive and virginal.” (259) This conflicted identity is the central point of the film. Gia’s beauty brings her success, but it is an unfulfilling success and she searches for contentment in drugs. The ugliness of her addiction and how destructive it becomes is held in contrast to her beauty and success. If the film is seen as a fairly tale, then Gia got everything a girl could ever want, and all of the addiction and sadness that comes along with it.

Gia’s relationship with her mother Kathleen is revealing in that her mother lives vicariously through her successful and beautiful daughter. Gia is constantly encouraged to live up to certain ideals – Kathleen even comments on how the methadone Gia takes to get off heroin is bad for her posture and weight. The character Kathleen shows how the “happily ever after” fairy tale life of a model is deeply ingrained in women. In the movie, despite knowing what eventually happens to her daughter, she describes Gia’s modeling career as “a fairy tale come true.” Despite the fact that the lifestyle of a model led her daughter to become an addict, Kathleen still views the whole concept of this lifestyle as an abstract sort of ideal.

Seeing Gia as a fairy tale reveals success to have a certain gendered construct. Gia certainly attained success – she was rich and famous thanks to her beauty. However, success for Gia meant pleasing everyone else by embodying the “conflicted hegemony” Diane Krane discusses. Because she is so many things to so many people, it is implied, she does not know what she wants for herself. The “fairy tale” in this case does not have a “happily ever after” ending at all. In fact, almost everyone abandons Gia as she is dying of AIDS, at least in part because she is no longer beautiful. However, this is the only part of the movie where the character seems to be at peace with herself and with her life. This is part of the paradox Gia embodies. The only time she is truly happy is when the admiration and success of her “fairy tale” life are gone and she can merely be herself.


Crane, Diane. “Gender and Hegemony in Fashion Magazines.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 314-331.

Gia. Dir. Michael Cristofer. Perf. Angelina Jolie, Elizabeth Mitchell. 1998. DVD.

Kilbourne, Jean. “The More You Subtract, the More You Add: Cutting Girls Down to Size.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 258-265.