Thursday, March 1, 2007

"The Girls Next Door" Part 1: An Analysis of Femininity

“The Girls Next Door”- What are the concepts of gender being shown?

“The Girls Next Door” may best be described as a reality show chronicling the lives of Playboy creator Hugh Hefner and the many playmates of the Playboy Mansion. Viewers see extensive footage behind the scenes of Hef’s everyday life as well as an invitation to the many extravagant parties that take place at his home. Although this show is found entertaining to many of its viewers, one must question the content of a reality television program such as this. What messages are being conveyed to its audience and what do these messages say about our pop culture environment today? What ideas does this show demonstrate about sex and gender in today’s society? Through an analysis of an episode titled, “80 Is the New 40” I will attempt to bring these underlying messages to the surface and discover the true significance of this popular reality television series.

One concept of femininity that can be seen throughout this show is the desire to be thin and sacrificing of ones self in order to obtain this goal. Two of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends Kendra and Bridget help to present this concept, each in their own way. While getting ready for Hef’s Casablanca party, Kendra realizes that her dress does not fit her right and that it is way too tight. A few weeks prior to the party Kendra had been sick and after losing a few pounds decided to get her dress taken in. However, after she discovers that her dress is too tight she chooses to squeeze herself into it instead of wearing a different dress. Throughout the party, Kendra complains of being unable to breathe as well as a discomfort and inability to walk while wearing her high heels. Her actions clearly demonstrate her desire to remain thin by forcing herself into a dress that no longer fits her. When discussing the issue of thinness in today’s society author Jean Kilbourne commented, “Even more destructively, they get the message that this is possible, that, with enough effort and self-sacrifice, they can achieve this ideal. Thus many girls spend enormous amounts of time and energy attempting to achieve something that is not only trivial but also completely unattainable.” (Kilbourne, 260)

While Bridget also conveys the desire to be thin, she has a different method of staying skinny. In preparation for Hefner’s party, Bridget prepares a striptease routine to perform for his birthday. In order to remain thin and look good for the performance, she creates a diet for herself to follow. During this episode Bridget is seen eating only carrots for lunch while her parents are eating chicken caesar salad. The radical diet that she uses demonstrates the same concept of femininity presented throughout the show. She is using an unrealistic method to reach an unattainable goal. Demonstrating dieting such as this through the media influences others to diet in a similar fashion and causes viewers to compare themselves to the thin characters that they see. “Before television was available, there was little talk of dieting in Fiji…In 1995 television came to the island. Within three years, the number of teenagers at risk for eating disorders more than doubled, 74 percent of the teens in the study said they felt ‘too big or too fat’ and 62 percent said they had dieted in the past month.” (Kilbourne, 262)

Bridget also presents different concepts of femininity related to sexuality and fashion. While practicing her strip tease she makes a comment that pasties and a g string are practically dressed to her. She also practices her performance in front of her parents, who seem very approving of what she is doing. These ideas demonstrate the over sexualized concept of femininity. Through this concept, the media is sending the message that it is ok for women and girls to wear little clothing and to be over sexualized in today’s society.

One characteristic that seems to be omitted in the portrayal of women and femininity on “The Girls Next Door” is intelligence. None of the girls featured are ever shown reading, or doing anything that would make them appear smart or clever. In fact, Bridget mentioned that her striptease was one of her favorite things to do and jokes that she may want it as a new career goal. This statement does not make her appear any smarter. It also helps to show the over sexualized concept of femininity in that she wants to make a career out of stripping.

These ideas of femininity presented in “The Girls Next Door” can be closely related to Jean Kilbourne’s article “The More You Subtract, the More You Add.” In this article Kilbourne discusses that young adolescent girls are prime targets to market products towards and often follow closely what they see in pop culture. These girls feel the pressure to be thin as well as the desire to look like those they see in the media. By watching television shows such as that of “The Girls Next Door,” young girls will continue to follow and be strongly influenced by these concepts of femininity that are presented by Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends. (Kilbourne)

Kilbourne, Jean. "The More You Subtract, the More You Add". Dines, Gail. Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Sage Publications, Inc. Thousand Oaks, California. 2003.

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