Elizabeth Taylor Was More Than A Woman — She Was A Body

Illustration for article titled Elizabeth Taylor Was More Than A Woman — She Was A Body

One writer feels with Elizabeth Taylor dies the end of, not just an era, but the phenomenon of stars who owned their bodies — and worked it.

Writes Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe of the frank sexuality of Taylor's portrayals and that of her bombshell contenporaries,

The gaze only made them stronger, which is what some exotic entertainers mention when talking about the thrill of their work. Taylor, of course, took a different approach: She made her body part of the drama. If we didn't already know why Brick won't give Maggie a baby in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,'' that untouched negligee that clings to Taylor more or less outs him. Taylor wasn't simply being with her body. She was acting with it.


I'm frankly ambivalent about this piece. I think it raises interesting points while falling into the same tautology it disparages. After all, we're still frankly objectifying, still reducing women to bodies, and explicitly condemning certain body types. It's basically breaking out the the hoary old "real women" saw in different words. And incidentally projecting arbitrary value judgments onto body types; maternal; sexual; "vestal."

But time has shown that the Taylor model has been unsustainable. It's Audrey Hepburn's physical slightness that has endured, as well as the vestal restraint it promoted. Just looking at what makes its way down the red carpet now, flesh has given way to bone, sin has given way to purity. Increasingly, we are no longer watching women at the movies. We're watching weight. The goal of many careers now appears to be the promotion of fitness as a sort of talent.

It's dangerous to idealize any era. It's also disingenuous to pretend that Taylor's objectification was wholly on its own terms — or that as an ideal it was any more attainable or less damaging than any other. But there is a distinction made here that I do find interesting: that of using the body rather than being used as one. Naturally, the author evokes Christina Hendricks as the great white hope of the form, 2.0. And he's not wrong — she works her body in a way that's genuinely in her control. But "white's" a key word here too — this piece seems to display some of the myopia we're all too used to. While the author mourns the death of such bodies and such body-confidence, he's talking about white actresses (with the exception of Jennifer Lopez, whom he cites as a one-time pretender to the Taylor throne.) Halle Berry, Angela Bassett — and certainly performers like Nicki Minaj and Rihanna — are all "acting with their bodies" in exactly the way the author pines for, and have been for a long time. Sadly, though, maybe the author's emblematic of what we mean when we talk about "society's gaze." Certainly if this is any indication.

The Taylor Model No Longer Can Be Read In The Stars [Boston Globe]

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"...sin has given way to purity..."

That, to me, is at the heart of the issue. Because Elizabeth Taylor played characters that were not just sexy - they were frankly sexual in a way that third-wave feminism has tried, but failed, to recapture. And he's right, it wasn't just her. It was Jane Russell, in that tight black outfit in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, proclaiming that she was there for love and then asking all the gym-obsessed athletes around her "Doubles Anyone? Court's free...best two out of three?" She was *not* talking about tennis, either. It was Marilyn Monroe on top of Tony Curtis in Some Like it Hot. Yes, I know those movies all had their feminist problems, but being sex-positive wasn't one of them.

And now? Well, now, we idolize a teenage girl who waits to have sex until she gets married. At 18. To her vampire boyfriend. It's not exactly progress.

(edited for spelling)