A new video starring Cynthia Nixon narrating a piece of writing from Camille Rainville is going viral. The video, called Be A Lady, has Nixon reading out an endless and contradictory list of messages women and girls are told from pretty much puberty: “Be experienced. Be sexual. Be innocent. Be dirty. Be sexy. Be the cool girl. Don’t be like the other girls.”
It’s a phenomenal video, based on a powerful piece of writing from 2017 called Be A Lady, They Said. Nixon, famous from Sex and The City and more recently from her activism and unsuccessful bid for New York governor, is both the perfect person to narrate this video and sells the absolute hell out of the message.
“Be a lady, they said,” she says, staring down the camera.
“Don’t be too fat. Don’t be too thin. Don’t be too large. Don’t be too small. Eat up. Slim down. Stop eating so much. Don’t eat too fast. Order a salad. Don’t eat carbs. Skip dessert. You need to lose weight. Fit into that dress. Go on a diet. Watch what you eat. Eat celery. Chew gum. Drink lots of water. You have to fit into those jeans. God, you look like a skeleton. Why don’t you just eat?”
The video appears to be promotional material for Girls Girls Girls, a magazine promising to “bring back a time when women in fashion were all about the polish, the luxury and the total fantasy”. Many of the images used in the video are photoshoots from the magazine itself, and somewhat dilute the message. The video is powerful, but it’s not clear how the magazine is working to promote the message from the video. If anything, it looks like it’s working against it.
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The video has been viewed more than two million times, and is clearly working for the magazine – it celebrated achieving more than 100,000 Instagram followers off the back of it. (The mag’s follower count is now sitting at more than 140,000.) The Girls Girls Girls URL goes only to the video, so it’s not clear here if there’s additional messaging outside of it.
There’s no doubt it’s a powerful message – that’s clear from the writing and Nixon’s delivery. The inclusion of well-known figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Donald Trump, as well as iconic characters like Regina George from Mean Girls and Claire Underwood from House of Cards, and real tabloid covers, firmly brings this into 2020 while looking back at messages women have been sold. There’s powerful Tumblr-esque imagery in here, too: breast cancer scars, anal bleaching, pubic hair, young girls in high heels.
But if the message from this video is that women face conflicting messages their entire lives – to be small, but not too small; to be sexual, but not slutty; be beautiful (by white, Western standards), but not by trying too hard – then this video is only adding to the mixed messages. Is it trying to fight against these standards? Or merely upholding them?
Mocking the “be the cool girl, not like the other girls” message is a lot more powerful when you’re not also promoting and profiting off the cool girl image.
Correction: an earlier version of this piece said it was unclear if Rainville had been credited for her words. She has been, and was involved in the project. PTV regrets the error.Image: Girls Girls Girls