It's inspired some of the world's greatest poems and books. Men have gone to war over it. Our economy likely could not exist without it. So it's doubtful that America the Beautiful, Roberts' look at America's obsession with beauty, is going to change things. It's certainly a fascinating, loopy look at the lengths people will go to to feel good about themselves (designer vaginas; tummy tucks for dogs; beautifulpeople.net, a site for the truly vain that Roberts tries unsuccessfully to join), but unfortunately has a scattershot feel. Roberts simply covers too much ground, and should have eschewed more familiar territory (bulimia, the dangers of plastic surgery and makeup) in favor of some truly compelling material.
For instance: The reason the fashion industry requires models to be so skinny could have everything to do with economics. A fashion producer matter-of-factly explains that if a designer creates Size 4s and doesn't sell anything, they will lose less money than if they manufacture Size 10s. Yet Roberts never looks below the surface of such claims.
Roberts opts instead to focus the majority of his film on the odyssey of Gerren Taylor, who became a modeling sensation at the age of 12, but who, now 15 and still stick-thin, is told she's "obese." Ultimately her story is too meandering to have much impact, and given what this country already knows about the modeling industry, few surprises await.
What will likely surprise you is a sequence featuring Dr. Stephen Marquardt, a "world-renowned expert on the science of beauty" who not only subscribes to the theory that the blacker a person's skin is, the less attractive people think they are, but even offers his opinion as to why—"it's easier to tell a disease from a distance" with lighter-skinned people. Even more unbelievably, he tries putting makeup on a black actress to make her skin lighter, and when she storms off, he launches into a tirade, calling her "a loser," having "very little education" and knowing nothing about "human attractiveness."
That Roberts just lets his camera roll, letting this "expert" dig his own grave by spewing the bile that makes women feel like shit in the first place? Now that's beautiful.