Documentary yields ugly truths about a ‘Beautiful' topic

These are the people who can safely skip the documentary “America the Beautiful”:

Folks who've always been happy with their body image and their partner's and have done nothing to modify either because of peer pressure.

People who are completely unconcerned about what goes into the chemicals they put on and into their bodies.

Citizens who have never paid for or contemplated plastic surgery and don't know anyone else who has.

But you know what? The half-dozen of you who aren't in any of those categories might enjoy it anyway.

Well, “enjoy” is probably the wrong word. “Be alerted by” or “be concerned by” or “be shocked by” would be more appropriate phrases. Most of us have a rough idea of the ways the beauty industry and media manipulate how we feel about ourselves. But this film lays it all on a none-too-pleasant line and makes us ask why.

One-time Johnson C. Smith University student Darryl Roberts was inspired by personal experience to shoot a film about social pressures that make all of us – but especially women – consider conforming to unreasonable standards of beauty. (We'll tell you his story in the Carolina Living section Sunday.)

But the reason the film is being shown nationally, the reason his phone nags him daily to accept another speaking engagement, is that it represents a wake-up call America desperately needs.

At first, it seems to be a profile of Gerren Taylor, a lanky 12-year-old whose experiences on the runways of Los Angeles convince her she could become the world's youngest supermodel. Those dreams start to collapse when the 6-footer realizes high-fashion designers expect her to slim her hips down to an impossible 34 inches. (As one designer explains, the difference between a size 6 and a size 2 saves hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in fabric.)

He uses her absurdly pessimistic view of herself – “I'm obese!” – as a springboard to dive into related topics. Some critics have said the film wanders too much and doesn't cover enough unfamiliar ground. But I thought the wide range showed how many people are complicit in promoting false ideals: magazine editors and illustrators, cosmetics companies that coat U.S. faces with ingredients banned as unhealthy by the European Union, even coroners who refuse to list anorexia as a cause of death and make record-keeping almost impossible for eating disorder support groups.

Many horror stories came out of the plastic surgery section. People have died after supposedly routine work, sometimes from complications with anesthesia. (Olivia Goldsmith, author of “The First Wives Club,” did that.) It was more disturbing to hear that any medical doctor can do plastic surgery after brief training without having to be certified by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Roberts became an activist in making this film and would like you to follow suit, of course. But you'll have heard his message if you simply refuse to sacrifice health on the altar of beauty, and help those around you do the same.