The Friday Five: ANTM Contestants

Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I’m a reality TV junkie. I could justify my viewership by saying that I watch the shows for the social commentary, but that wouldn’t be entirely true — as much as I love a good discussion about the underlying themes of reality television, I also love indulging in the guilty pleasure of watching something completely mindless and ridiculous and fun. For example, I’m not exactly an aspiring model, but I have certainly wasted weekends watching America’s Next Top Model marathons.

After years of careful viewing, of course, I’ve started to group the contestants into categories. These categories are even more apparent in this season’s all-star cycle, in which Tyra Banks brings back contestants from past cycles to compete for some epic challenge that escapes my memory. This week, I will report my Top Model findings, which I’ve gotten down to a science. (Feel free to add your own in the comments section below!)

The Friday Five: ANTM Contestants

1. The Girl Who Rests on “Pretty.”
While most of the other contestants have particularly unusual bone structure, this girl is generally the prom queen all grown up, the girl whose looks most viewers would kill for. No matter how proficient she is in modeling, however, she is usually criticized for being “too commercial” and being appropriate only for catalog. This girl may progress somewhat throughout the competition, but she never wins; Tyra & Co. will be sure to dismiss her because of her traditional beauty, but they will claim to do so because they find her too complacent and unadventurous in her film.

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2. The Real Girl.
(Not to be confused with this kind of Real Girl.) The drama in the house usually originates with this girl. The Real Girl tells it like it is, and while some people find her funny and candid, others butt heads with her early on. As the ANTM-equivalent of The Situation, the Real Girl drives the show’s ratings because of the catty arguments she gets into and the occasional hair-pulling that ultimately ensues. She usually dismisses other members of the house as “fake” and declares herself to be one of the few “real” (if not the only) contestants left.

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3. The Sweet Southern Girl.
In contrast to the Real Girl, the Sweet Southern Girl means no harm. There’s a fight in the house? She’ll climb up to the top bunk and watch quietly from afar, thank you very much. This girl generally has no enemies and gains a lot of fan favoritism, but her drama-free demeanor usually keeps her from the prize.

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4. The Quirky Girl.
The Quirky Girl can come in all shapes and sizes, but modeling isn’t usually her first choice of career. Almost always, she has worked behind the camera before, but she usually has a variety of other interests that will completely creep out the other contestants. (Just think of Broken Baby Doll Allison and her hobby of painting people with nosebleeds!) Nevertheless, this girl usually manages to avoid a lot of the drama in the house as well and usually captures our interest for at least a few episodes. A subcategory of Quirky Girl is Androgynous Girl, a trait that Tyra constantly claims to value but usually doesn’t keep around in the competition for long.

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5. The Girl With A Platform.
The Girl With A Platform may come into the competition wanting to become a high fashion model and build her portfolio, but she has another goal in mind as well — raise awareness of a social or health issue so that viewers will notice. Sometimes the girls are edited this way, but Tyra is a sucker for a Girl With A Platform and will keep her around for as long as possible (regardless of total performance in the competition). Whether this girl differentiates herself by her weight, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status or other trait she believes defines her, viewers will constantly see her in the confessionals talking about how much the trait impacts her life.

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What categories of contestants do you often notice on America’s Next Top Model?

Our Struggles With Either/Or

“Who says you have to be either smart or pretty, or into girly stuff or sports? Life shouldn’t be about the either/or. We’re capable of more than that, you know?” – Sarah Dessen, Along For The Ride

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In the middle of my 50 Book Challenge (which admittedly has not been as productive as I would like it to be), I found myself returning to a young adult novelist I used to love — Sarah Dessen. Although I wasn’t incredibly impressed with Lock and Key, the last book of hers that I had read, I decided it might be fun to breeze through one of her more recent novels, Along For The Ride, and thus far have been pleasantly surprised.

In this story, the stoic and studious Auden finds herself forming unlikely friendships with the girliest of girly-girls, as well as an intriguing but elusive insomniac bike rider. Just skimming the book summary, I immediately thought to myself, I’ve read this book. After all, because I read all of Sarah Dessen’s other books in middle school and early high school, I was confident that I’d nailed the formula — a quiet, introspective girl befriends a more outspoken slew of characters, and falls for a mysterious boy who seems to understand the world better than anyone else. Of course, Along For The Ride seems to feature all of this, but the book is more complex than that.

My first impression of Dessen’s recent work actually mirrors Auden’s early perceptions of the other girls at her workplace — I had judged the book by its cover. When Auden goes to work for her stepmother’s clothing shop that summer, she perceives her three female coworkers as obnoxious and vapid, only interested in material things. Little does she know that Maggie, one of the more bubbly characters, is not only a pro when it comes to finding the perfect pair of jeans, but she is also a genius in school (especially English), finances and bike-riding with the boys. Maggie claims that things aren’t always “either/or” and that it is completely possible to have traits that are seemingly contradictory.

Maggie’s quote (in bold above) reminds me a lot of the themes explored in John Green’s novel Paper Towns. I’ve blogged before about our tendency to transform the people we meet into one-dimensional versions of themselves — I even named my old blog after this concept! — but the idea of paper people never gets old for me. First impressions are important, but they don’t tell us the whole story. For example, in high school, each clique I associated with saw me as someone different than the last; I was the cheerleader, the writer, the yearbook editor, the nice girl, the mega nerd, and at one point, a possible candidate for Prom Queen (don’t ask me how… I had very nice friends). Several of these descriptions seemed to sort of conflict, and yet, here I was, a real person. So what if my life didn’t fit in a neat little box? Neither did anyone else’s.

We have to be willing to give our acquaintances and even our friends a deeper look; instead of pigeon-holing everyone into distinct categories, let’s remind ourselves that certain traits don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In other words, we don’t have to be “either/or” versions of ourselves. We can express ourselves and live up to our potential without identifying with a specific label, and we can accept others for who they are without relying on specific stereotypes.

“It’s me and the moon,” she says…

For the past few days, I’ve been listening to a lot of Something Corporate in honor of their upcoming concert in Orlando (tomorrow!) that I will be unable to attend. As I mentioned in a previous post, Something Corporate was a staple of my life from about eighth grade to my early high school years, when I felt I had completely over-exhausted their North album. Anyway, I’ve been a SoCo enthusiast for years, but most recently while listening to their song Me and the Moon, one line really caught my attention.

You marry a role and you give up your soul till you break down.

The line really brings me back to the whole idea of a paper girl and the paper town where she takes form. For those unfamiliar with the song’s lyrics, Me and the Moon tells the story of a suburban housewife who kills her husband as an escape from the unfulfilled life she’s been living. Morbid, yes, but the song dives kind of deep into the woman’s innermost thoughts, and some of them are eerily relatable.

The way I see it, the woman becomes so invested in this one persona because that is exactly what is expected of her. And in turn, each of us has a role to fill — the star basketball player, the dedicated student, the wild child, the pageant queen — to the point at which people expect us to be those same two-dimensional paper versions of ourselves. With each role comes the pressure to embody a specific image of that role, and society will only pay attention to those labels and expectations. When we follow our hearts and the process leads us slightly astray of the the roads expected of us, other people don’t know how to react. It scares them.

But when we don’t follow our hearts because we’ve married a role, what do we have to lose? According to Something Corporate — everything. Become too focused on perfectly portraying that one impossible image, and in the process you will risk losing the essence of who you really are. The pressure can become too much to bear, and while hopefully you won’t do anything as extreme as the woman in the song, there is the chance that you will sabotage yourself.

In the end, the most important thing is to not become eclipsed by an image and revert to a mere shadow of your true self. Listen to what your mind is telling you, regardless of how consistent it is with what others think of you, and base your decisions on what is going to make you happy. In turn, please try not to judge a book by its cover. Others are just as complicated, multi-faceted, unique, intricate, and worthwhile as you… and no one deserves to be placed in a box.

The Jersey Shore Misconception

Just last week, the second season of Jersey Shore premiered on MTV to over 5 million viewers. While many people (sadly including myself) tuned in to witness the train wrecks that are The Situation, Snooki, Sammi, DJ Pauly D, Ronnie, Vinny, JWoww and Angelina, I’m sure that many others flipped the channel in disgust. And who can blame them? The cast members have become caricatures of themselves at this point, with their lives revolving around sex, alcohol, hair gel and the now-famous concept of GTL (Gym, Tan, Laundry). Does anyone really take them seriously anymore?

Of course, there are plenty of Italian-American organizations out there who are urging people not to watch the show. Such groups are so offended by the “Guido” stereotypes perpetuated by the Jersey Shore cast that they have even begged MTV to drop the show completely. And from an outsider’s perspective, I can see why these groups might take offense — none of the cast members have much to offer (with the slight exception of Pauly D, because at least he’s a decent DJ) besides the ability to cause a scene and get arrested. Pair that together with the fact that they are constantly trying to represent the young Italian-American community, and it’s obvious that no reasonable person of the same ethnicity would want to be associated with them.

However, what critics fail to recognize is that the Jersey Shore cast doesn’t so much speak negatively about Italian-Americans, but rather about our society as a whole. On the show, Italians and non-Italians display completely trashy behavior that no one who has to live a grown-up life could ever abide by. The cast itself is not even entirely composed of Italians, even though they do try to represent their self-proclaimed “Guido” lifestyles nonetheless. In each episode they interact with a number of people — the girls they bring home for one-night-stands, the guys heckling them at the bars, and various others — to the point where it’s not about poorly representing Italian-Americans anymore. It really just reveals what’s wrong with our young culture in its entirety.

I’m no Puritan, but I can honestly say that the emphasis on drinking and sex is so excessive that it makes me wonder if that’s really all our generation wants to hold onto. How empty must people be for the GTL lifestyle (which, let’s face it, is not even remotely limited to the show) has become their own? When did we stop meeting socially for fun and conversation, and start hooking up with the first person drunk enough to accept us?

Jersey Shore and reality television definitely emphasize a wild lifestyle — perhaps even wilder than our own — but we still seem to be headed in that direction. I’m not saying there’s anything bad about going out and having a good time, but it’s important to remember moderation and to know about more than just how to hold your liquor.

After all, you have a lot more to offer than that. : )

Return of the Paper Girl

“And all at once I knew how Margo Roth Spiegelman felt when she wasn’t being Margo Roth Spiegelman: she felt empty. She felt the unscaleable wall surrounding her. I thought of her asleep on the carpet with only that jagged sliver of sky above her. Maybe Margo felt comfortable there because Margo the person lived like that all the time: in an abandoned room with blocked-out windows, the only light pouring in through holes in the roof. Yes. The fundamental mistake I had always made–and that she had, in fairness, always led me to make–was this: Margo was not a miracle. She was not an adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl.”– Paper Towns, by John Green

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Those of you who have been keeping up with my blog for a while or who have browsed my page a little may have noticed that the theme of a “Paper Girl” in my own life and writing spans far past today’s entry. In fact, my previous blog on Blogger was entitled A Paper Town for a Paper Girl, a name that I never explained to my readers. The title comes from a quote in the novel Paper Towns by John Green (in my opinion, one of the best young adult writers of our time… but I digress). Paper Towns, narrated by Quentin (a self-proclaimed “band geek” without any actual musical talent), explores the intricacies of perception versus reality — in other words, can you really know a person based on a few memories and the way they act in public?

Quentin has loved Margo Roth Spiegelman, the beautiful girl next door, ever since he can remember. When their paths cross on a bizarre ninja quest, Q gains a deeper insight into Margo’s world — but when he looks for her in school the next day, she is gone, leaving only a few clues behind. Q and his friends mingle with the upper cliques as they embark on a journey not only to find Margo, but to find out who she really is.

Along the way, they learn about the concept of a paper town and how it relates, most figuratively, to their own lives. Not to give too much away, a paper town is something that is used in cartography — when mapmakers are mapmaking, they sometimes include a fake town here and there just for copyright purposes (that way, if they see the paper town resurface on another map, they know that it was directly copied from their own). Therefore, a paper town is a place that only exists on paper and never in real life. Stemming off of that definition, Margo describes herself as a paper girl, recognized for a certain persona that isn’t entirely real.

It took me a while to realize that I too was made of paper — in fact, we all are. People observe us in various social situations and then characterize us based on the pieces that they see.Tweet this!

While public perceptions of us may be somewhat accurate (after all, they are often shaped by the images that we ourselves put out), they seldom tell the whole story of who we are and who we want to be. But because we are so aware of these caricatures of ourselves, we often model ourselves after what others perceive in us, even if that may differ depending on the situation. For example, my personality is always a lot more vibrant among some people than others, not just because of my selective shyness, but because of subconscious expectations that I will act, move, and speak in a particular way. It makes me laugh when I hear all the adjectives people have used to describe me, because some deviate so far from the person I have always considered myself to be.

So maybe the true danger in all of this isn’t just the fact that we form ideas about people without really scratching the surface. Maybe our biggest problem is that we allow ourselves to be placed in that box. Does this make us fake, or take away from who we are in any way? No. Stereotyping and categorizing is perfectly natural and to be expected, to some extent. However, as time goes on, we should try our best not to let the paper versions of ourselves overcome the people we are inside.