Jessica Simpson infamously asked in a video clip whether the Chicken of the Sea tuna she was eating was really chicken or fish. She also reportedly indicated she thinks buffalo wings are made from actual buffalo.
“Growing up I was always the blonde that everybody made fun of, and I just played into that, because that was how I got the guys. That’s how I charmed people.” Jessica Simpson
“Being a bimbo is a state of mind, and reflects a person who exaggerates the effort and value put into her physical attractiveness. She is often perceived to be shallowly focusing on her physical appearance and neglecting or even willfully stifling the development of other parts of her personality.” [Wikipedia]
While Jessica Simpson may not qualify for Mensa membership (as her mother once claimed she could), she does appeal to a lot of people (especially us men and boys, perhaps) with her exuberant Barbie sexuality and Texas charm. And her “tuna” video has been re-played many times, even on “legitimate” news programs.
But it is troubling how much media attention – and reported power as role models – women such as Simpson and Paris Hilton get, exploiting a dumb blond persona. This is no longer the era when Marilyn Monroe or Lucille Ball or Judy Holiday (with a reported IQ of 172) could give us pleasure doing that.
As Reese Witherspoon exclaimed in a magazine interview, “I don’t think these women [like Simpson and Hilton] are stupid. I think they’re selling a personality that’s very marketable: ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if we were all gorgeous and didn’t have a care?’
“But creating a cultural icon out of someone who goes, ‘I’m stupid, isn’t it cute?’ makes me want to throw daggers at them! I want to say to them, ‘My grandma did not fight for what she fought for, and my mother did not fight for what she fought for, so you can start telling women it’s fun to be stupid.’
“Saying that to young women, little girls, my daughter? It’s not okay.”
[From Reese Witherspoon: What You Don’t Know About Her “Imperfect” Life, By Hilary De Vries, Marie Claire mag.]
But there are signs that intellect and other positive attributes are valued in role models for girls and women: the success of Witherspoon’s own role as Elle Woods in the Legally Blonde movies, and the intelligent teen sleuth character played by Kristen Bell in “Veronica Mars” and the buzz about Emma Roberts in the upcoming movie “Nancy Drew.”
Elspeth Probyn, professor of gender studies at the University of Sydney, thinks young women are – or at least aspire to be – more self-assured and in control than previous generations. “On the basis of studies we’ve done, it’s clear there is a growing sense of assurance in girls who want to own their intelligence and use it in good ways.” [From The joke’s on them, The Sun-Herald, Sept 5, 2005]
An interviewer of Gillian Anderson (FBI agent Dana Scully in the “X-Files” series) noted, “Scully has become a huge role model. I have a 15-year-old niece and she and all of her friends at school want to be forensic scientists or FBI agents.” Anderson responded, “It’s wonderful that women of all ages find Scully to be a role model. She is honest. She is independent. She is smart.” [From my article Being A Role Model.]
And now there is even Paris Hilton herself: according to news service Reuters, she called Barbara Walters today (June 11 2007) from her Los Angeles jail, saying, “I’m not the same person I was. I used to act dumb. It was an act. I am 26 years old, and that act is no longer cute. It is not who I am, nor do I want to be that person for the young girls who looked up to me.”