Over the past century, the image of women has changed significantly. No more is this apparent as in today’s media portrayal of females. On Fox’s hit animated sitcom Family Guy, Louis Griffin portrays a stay-at-home mom who cares for her three children and cleans up after her husband’s shenanigans. While Louis may not be the ideal representation of a progressive feminine figure in the twenty-first century, she does, nonetheless, frequently show positive feminine traits. A wonderful mom to her children, a loving wife to her husband, and a strong conviction to do what she wants shows a woman who is comfortable with who she is and happy with what she does. Contrary to this, there is one episode in particular where Louis shows the uglier side to her feminism. In the episode “Model Misbehavior” Louis follows her lifelong dream of becoming a super model. After sexually exploiting herself to market a convenience store, and giving into peer and societal pressure thus conforming to a standard of beauty, Louis realizes that the beauty industry is not for her. This episode is of particular interest because it show’s Louis in a darker, albeit feminine, way.
From a young age, Louis wanted to become a model. Even though Louis is only an animated character, her aspiration to become a model from so young can be seen in today’s adolescent girls. As the media becomes more and more integrated into young children’s lives, the societal roles for each gender becomes engrained at an earlier age. Newman supports this idea stating, “Early on, children begin to acquire knowledge about gender through socialization” (54). Society sets a standard of how both genders should act, play, and even what dreams they should have for the future. Young boys are told to play with cop cars, fire engines, and building blocks, reinforcing a stereotype that men should be policemen, firemen, and engineers. Young girls, on the other hand, are told to play dress up and care for their dolls, implying that women should be obsessed with beauty and want a family to take care of. Louis’ lifelong dream to become a supermodel can be viewed as a prime example of how society’s engraining of femininity at a young age truly influences the ambitions and career goals of women.
Louis’ femininity can also be seen when she starts modeling for the local convenience store. Rather than portraying her as a mom in the ads, she is sexually exploited to sell the products. Newman would describe Louis, in this scene, as the “exhibited” woman; “The seductive sex object displayed in beer commercials, magazines, advertisements, video games, prime-time sitcoms, and soap operas” (91). This stereotypical image portrayed by the media, albeit feminine, is a poor representation of who women really are. In today’s world though, as well as in the imaginary one where Louis lives, the flaunting of female sexuality is part of what it means to be a woman.
After realizing that her career has reached a plateau, Louis needs to find an edge to keep her in the fashion industry. Her solution: take diet pills to the point where she looks emaciated. Sadly, according to Naomi Wolf, the diet industry has become a “$33-billion-a-year” industry (124). Part of the uglier side to beauty and femininity is doing whatever it takes to reach the current standard of beauty. More often than not, this standard is not obtainable by any mere woman. Knowing this, the beauty and fitness industries thrive on the notion that women will continue to try to reach it anyway. Wolf reinforces this idea explaining, “[The beauty industries] have arisen from the capital made out of unconscious anxieties, and are in turn able, through their influences on mass culture, to use, stimulate, and reinforce the hallucinations in a rising economic spiral” (124).
Louis also satirically covers the “skinny issue” comparing her ribs to a model friend’s ribs and then telling her friend to play her ribs like a xylophone. Although only a ploy by Family Guy to get a laugh, the main message beneath the joke is disturbing. The competition to stay the skinniest and the acceptance of it are all but too real. Newman supports this notion saying, “The ultra-thin, media-driven standards of beauty continue to be an ideal that many young women are willing to starve themselves to attain” (93). The depressing realization that skinny is becoming a new trait of what it means to be beautiful and thus redefining the feminine image today may cause psychological and medical problems for these women in the future.
Louis’ transformation from house wife to super model is a view at the other side of what it means to be feminine. Rather than the nurturing and caring side to her feminism, an image emerges of a sexually and beauty driven Louis Griffin. Giving into the competition of the beauty industry, Louis portrays a scene all too familiar nowadays. Young teen girls obsessed with beauty to the point where they starve and exploit themselves just to feel attractive and desired. The idea of what it means to be feminine is ingrained in young girls mind’s from the media at earlier and earlier ages these days. It comes as no surprise that one of Louis’ lifelong dreams is to become the ultimate embodiment of what it means to be a beautiful, and feminine woman. There are many ideas of what feminism are, and in this episode, Louis shows another side to her femininity.
“Model Misbehavior.” Family Guy: Volume 2, Season 3. Writ. Steve Callaghan. Dir. Sarah Frost. 20th Century Fox, 2005. DVD.
Newman, David M. "Manufacturing Difference: The Social Construction of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality." Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2007. 30-70. Print.
Newman, David M. “Portraying Difference: Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality in Language and the Media.”Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2007. 71-105. Print.
Wolf, Naomi. “The Beauty Myth.” Women: Images & Realities, a Multicultural Anthology. Eds. Amy Kesselman, Lily D. McNair, and Nancy Schniedewind. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2006. 120- 125. Print.