Darryl Roberts directs America the Beautiful, a documentary about America's superficial obsession with physical beauty and how the media-driven image of the female body affects the lives of women. He interviews Gerren Taylor, a 12-year-old who entered the world of adult fashion modeling. He also devotes some time to tackling the issue of toxic ingredients in cosmetic products which the FDA fails to properly regulate and label. Please note that although "FDA" stands for "Food and Drug Administration", a more appropriate and name for them might be be "Federal Death Administration" unless they go through the reforms needed to truly benefit public health. Ask yourself, "Why are food and drugs regulated under the same administration?" Please click here, and here, and here to find out how the FDA significantly fails to regulate and properly label the neurotoxic ingredients present in many foods, drugs and beverages. Darryl Roberts has previously directed two feature films, namely, How U Like Me Now and The Perfect Model, and had worked for two years as an entertainment reporter for NBC News. I had the privilege to interview him along with Miss America 2008, Kirsten Haglund.
First Independent Pictures releases America the Beautiful on August 1st, 2008 at the Cinema Village.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Why did you decide to use documentary as a medium to approach the issue of beauty in America?
DR: Most documentaries by their very nature tackle serious subjects. What the documentarian is doing is doing it to tackle an important issue. For this documentary, it’s not necessarily true because there’s been The Devil Wears Prada, which could have easily been a documentary about Anna Winter, but it was done as a narrative. My background is feature films—I’ve done two romantic comedies. I think I was becoming enamored with documentaries.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What other roles besides a filmmaker did you become while making America the Beautiful?
DR: I worked at NBC News as an entertainment reporter for two years, so sometimes [I felt like] a journalist. Then I felt like a crusader. Midway through it, I actually felt like I was saving women.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Kirsten, how has your meaning of beauty changed throughout your life?
KH: When I was growing up and going through adolescence, I associated beauty as very thin—the ballet body type. That was the only image that I had of perfection and success. I didn’t know myself outside of that. I developed a total fear of gaining weight and that’s when my eating disorder started. Through treatment and recovery, I refocused my passion for music and the arts into something healthier for me as an individual, which ended up being musical theater. I started to change my image of what beauty was and I got to know myself outside of the thin ballet body. The biggest thing for me was getting outside of myself and starting to help other people. I got involved with the Miss America program and chose Eating Disorders Awareness as my platform. The first time that I spoke out about my story and received positive feedback from people, I had girls come up to me and say, “Wow. Thanks for talking about this. This is what I’m struggle with and you’ve helped me just by being candid and open. “ I started to realize that I could use this position of leadership to help other people and that I had a mission inside of myself. That helped me to feel beautiful because I was validated. I suddenly had this feeling of self worth. People were listening to what I had to say and were accepting of me because of who I was first; not in any kind of image. For the first time, I started to feel more like a beautiful person on the inside first, which helps me to feel more confident externally as well. True beauty is something that you’re able to give and to offer to others and help them to feel beautiful about themselves on the inside.
DR: When I was 12-years-old, I saw a movie called Cooley High. There was a way that they shot this woman which brainwashed me into wanting that type of woman specifically. For the next 20 years, all I would date was that kind of woman. The bad thing about it is that, during that time, I had three internally beautiful women who I had a 5-year and an 8-year relationship with, [but] I couldn’t fully appreciate [them]. I had to transform myself and it took a while [to change]. Once you’re exposed to something, it becomes part of your taste. It became very hard to come to the point where I could fully appreciate any average woman. Now that I’m at that point again, I’m fortunate enough to find another woman like the ones that I had. What could have happened was that, for the next 40 years, I could never find another one [with inner beauty].
NYC MOVIE GURU: How should one overcome the feeling of seeing something beautiful?
DR: It’s biologically normal for us to appreciate beauty. When you see something beautiful, you feel this euphoria which makes you feel really good. That’s why people like being around beautiful people. That part is normal and you shouldn’t overcome it. What should be overcome is this engineered perspective of what we find beautiful because we’ve been steered to find certain things as beautiful that we probably wouldn’t find as beautiful if we didn’t have the big advertising machine here in America.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Kirsten, what do you do to focus your attention away from the deceptive image of beauty?
KH: One thing for me that helps me to refocus that is [through] nature and [to realize] its value and how beauty affects you in the right way. We respond to nature in different ways. It cultivates this feeling within you and you appreciate the beauty of nature. Getting into contact with those things that are outside of media and that aren’t 2D and can personally experience, we can know what’s true versus what society is feeding us.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Darryl, how were you able to remain so calm during all the interviews?
DR: I was a reporter for NBC News, so it was pretty easy for me most of the interviews. The only one that was hard was the scientist, Dr. Steven Marquardt. He was out of control, but I just sucked it up and stood there. When he said about that the lady that he tried to make lighter, “How hard could she have had it? She was never a slave.” I remember thinking, “Wow. He didn’t just say that!”
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you feel about the existence of the Golden Ratio?
DR: I was a math major, so I can relate to the Golden Ratio, the number “phi”. All the shapes that we see that look good to us aren’t perfectly symmetrical, but they’re the perfect shape. What Dr. Steven Marquardt did was look at number “phi” and designed a mask, not based on symmetry. You put this face on someone and the closer that the face aligns to the mask, based on the Golden Ratio, the more attractive people all around the world will find them. Mathematically, I looked into it. To me, it’s mathematically sound, so I do believe in it.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What attracts you to math?
DR: One of the things that I like about math is that we apply tangible and scientific things to things that are intangible, such as the way we perceive beauty. That’s really fascinating to me. I believe that there is validity to that, but I have people in my life who are extremely attractive individuals and they’ve because more physically beautiful to me because of the person that I know them to be. If I saw them later not knowing anything about them, I wouldn’t find them as attractive.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What will it take the American public to be comfortable with imperfection?
KH: The more we can talk about imperfections and face the fact that they are real and that it’s okay to be imperfect because everyone is, then people could start to feel more comfortable with that.
DR: The reason why they sell perfection is because the psychologists who developed the advertising know that it’s not possible. As much as we spend to try to get it, we’ll never get there, so there are billions of bucks for them.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How has the FDA responded to your inquiries?
DR: I spoke to a gentleman from the FDA and when I pressed him to tell me why they won’t get involved, he told me to speak to their public relations department, but they never responded. In 1938, there was the Food and Drug Administration Act and when they were coming up with the bill that would regulate food and drugs, the purposefully left cosmetics off of it because they guy who was writing the bill said, “Oh, that’s just something that vain women wear to look pretty.” , so they didn’t worry about it. When a cosmetics company puts cosmetics on the shelf, the FDA has no regulation of it. They can’t get involved unless you can prove 100% that there’s an ingredient in it that causes harm. With everything else, you have to prove that it’s safe.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What can women do to prevent the selling of toxic cosmetic products? DR: Women [should] do something, like Mother Against Drunk Driving, and come together to the cosmetics industry and try to get them to remove the toxins. There was a movement in Europe, so if they can do it, we can do it. [Also], this year, the YWCA is making their advocacy campaign to the cosmetic industry. They represent millions of women all across the country, so they’re going to unveil this in California on August 18th. With millions of women behind them, they’re going to go after the cosmetics industry and demand that they take the toxins out.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What specific actions would you like your audience to take after watching America the Beautiful?
DR: I would like for them to start internalizing their beauty on the spot, write letters to the networks and cosmetic industry, and start supporting the Media Literacy campaign in high schools.
KH: It could also be as simple as walking out of the theater and making the choice to value the inner beauty in other people and to take the time to recognize when people do something that’s beautiful, like random acts of kindness.