UNST 254 Pop-Culture
March 8, 2015
The stereotype of a “California girl” is represented in music, TV, movies, and the thriving Hollywood celebrity culture. I myself am a Californian woman, growing up in San Diego until the age of 17. Pop-culture has played into the stereotype of California girls being pictured as blonde, tan, thin, flirty, and living in a bathing suit year round. The California girl stereotype also suggest having an uptalk dialect, a high-pitched voice that carry out the last syllable of every word. Upon moving to Oregon in 2011, I realized that this satirical representation was exactly how the rest of the country actually perceived California women to be. I began to see that in telling someone where I was born and raised, the stereotype of what I was suppose to look like and act like was imposed on me. I began to wonder how these misconceptions of what California girls look like and act like became so common throughout society. The answers are found in pop-culture.
The media has worked to represent Californian women in an physically idealized way. This can have an extremely negative impact on girls growing up in California’s culture, making them question the way they view their body in trying to live up to unrealistic beauty standards. In this essay, I am going to focus on how media’s representation of California girls idealizes their bodies, depicts them as being wanton, and uses an exaggerated dialect to portray them as naive. In looking at specific pieces of pop-culture that suggest these stereotypes, I will discuss how this is a misrepresentation, and how this stereotype can have a negative impact on girl’s self-esteem growing up in California’s culture.
In 2010, Katy Perry released one her biggest singles, “California Gurls,” making her a household name. Perry’s song title evokes similarities to another classic hit summer song, the 1965 Beach Boys’ hit “California Girls.” Both Perry and The Beach Boys are iconic figures in pop-culture who contribute to how society stereotypes Californian women. Both of these songs give ode to the state and all the women living in it, sharing a common thread of placing these women on a pedestal.
In a music review by Adam R. Holz, he explains that the biggest differences between Perry rendition and Beach Boys classic is “unlike Brian Wilson’s version, which stops at ‘just’ ogling ladies in ‘French bikinis,’ Katy’s details what happens after said swimwear is summarily shed” (pluggedin.com). Perry’s lyrics and video focus on the women’s bodies and sexualizes the flirtatious behaviors of these California girls. Perry’s lyrics read, “Daisy dukes, bikinis on top/Sun-kissed skin, so hot/We’ll melt your popsicle.” This chorus uses imagery of barely dressed women barely to suggest that these women will be tantalizing to men. The sexualizing continues as Perry sings, “Sex on the beach/We don’t mind sand in our stilettos/We freak in my Jeep.” These lyrics reinforce the depictions of flirtatious or promiscuous sexual behavior. Perry makes sure to use the plural pronoun “we” to group all Californian women together in making her generalization that all California girls like to have sex on the beach or public spaces and that we don’t care if it gets “sand in our stilettos.”
In Perry’s music video, California is not as a warm and beachy paradise, but rather the a fictional landscape called “Candyfornia.” The representation of California is created completely from candy, including Perry’s (now) iconic cupcake brassiere. The implication of “Candyfornia” is that it works toward representing California as sweet, indulgent, and desirable. The scandalous lyrics and video work to represent these women as desirable and indulgent, just like “Candyfornia.” The issue with this song is that it is aimed at the younger generation of girls. The lyrics and video focus on women’s body, sexualizes them and sets a narrow beauty standard. When girls do not fit into this stereotype, they are essentially failing to be what media tells them they should be. Allowing media to set expectations of what a “California girl” looks like or behaves like can be damaging to young girl’s self esteem.
Another piece of culture that perpetuates the California girl stereotype is the 1995 hit movie Clueless. This movie is intended as satirical portrayal of a Beverly Hill high school. The main character is queen bee Cher (Alicia Silverstone). Cher is represented as a wealthy, extroverted, desirable superficial, and “clueless” Beverly Hills girl. This movies has an impact on what society’s common misconceptions about how California girls behave because of its wide popularity. This movie constantly has Cher doing ignorant things for the sake of humor: She can’t parallel park a car, gives an idiotic debate on immigration reforms, and believes she can negotiate her way out of bad grades. The character of Cher misrepresents Californian girls because it projects Cher’s lack of intelligence and inabilities as all California girls. Cher’s body language and dialect goes hand in hand with her “clueless” nature. This movie has coined the uptalk dialect of California women, giving Cher an exaggerated high-pitch voice. Some of the most popular phrases of today from this movie are “as if” and “whateverrrrr.” In an AirTalk article by Robert Dowhy titled “How does your voice affect the way you are perceived?”, Dowhy notes that people from California are perceived as having an this “uptalk” and states that people with this tone of voice “are often stereotyped as young, or inexperienced.” Dowhy also notes that people with who are considered to have an annoying voice (i.e Cher’s uptalk) are more likely to have confrontation at work and social settings because of their voice. This article highlights how ones voice has a large influence on how they are perceived by society. The up-talk dialect is one of the biggest misconceptions of California women. Amy Heckerling, the director of Clueless, likely didn’t realize that the exaggerated dialect of Cher would— 10 years later—help mold California girl stereotype. This movie poorly represents Californian women, and because of its popularity it has been able to affect the way generations perceive Californians.
Another large contributor to the misconception of California women are reality TV shows like Laguna Beach, The Bad Girls Club, The Hills, and Keeping Up with the Kardashians. When I was in highschool I used to watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians. I was drawn into their lavish lifestyles, impeccable clothing, and the bodies and beauty these women possessed. This show takes place in Calabasas, a small wealthy city near Los Angeles. The Kardashians portrayal of “reality” places an impossible beauty standard on California women. The show uses the family’s good looks and expensive fashion to idealize these women, making them inspirational for young girl. According to celebrity website “The Gawker” in 2009 Kourtney Kardashian is the only sister to have openly talk about getting a boob job while in college, while the rest of the family denies having any work done, but in looking at pictures most people would easily disagree with this families denial. Kim Kardashian face is noticeable botoxed and can’t give facial expressions in interviews, while Kylie Jenner, the youngest of the sister clan at 17 years old, has had noticeable has lip injections. Being as beautiful as one of the Kardashians is practically unattainable for most girls because of their expensive clothes, and plastic surgery that has created their impeccable beauty. The misconception that California women look this flawless in “reality” is enforced through the superficial celebrity culture that thrives in California.
The impact of media putting this stereotype on girls growing up and living in California is negative. In a journal from the American Psychology Association discussing the impact of sexualization of girls, contributor Jeanne Russell explains how healthy sexuality can turn into sexulization in media. She states this happens when “a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics; a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy”( Russell, 1995). Girls are getting suffocated in expectations and the beauty standards are becoming increasingly narrow. Music, TV, and movies aimed at a younger generation of girl are perpetuating the standards set in the California girl stereotype. These forms of media are presenting unrealistic and narrow beauty standard and the influence on young girls can be detrimental. In the example of Keeping Up with the Kardashian, Kylie is only 17 years old and has undergone plastic surgery. The message that is delivered to young girls is that physically altering oneself to meet these high beauty standard is acceptable and normal. Katy Perry’s sexually suggestive song will hit the ears of young girls all over California who look for a sense of identity in their states anthem. Russell explain how the “frequent exposure to narrow ideals of attractiveness is associated with unrealistic and/or negative expectations concerning sexuality.” Growing up in California, I felt these unrealistic expectations pressed on me; being a high-school girl and believing I needed a “bathing-suit body” year round is simply unrealistic. These high standards set young girls up for failure.
Through the different facets of media, “we” California girls have been harshly misrepresented and have had unrealistic beauty standard have been placed on us. I know that many women in California and myself do not live a scandalous life and getting dirty with boys in the sand. We do not all have “perfectly” tan skin, beach blonde hair, or have a “perfectly” constructed face. Unfortunately, media has made the California girl stereotype one that idealizes the body and beauty of women. I ask for people to seek out a representation of real women of California and media to represent us properly. We should all be proud of the where we come from and not allow pop-culture to create and enforce beauty standard on us based off where we live.
Beckmann, Leah. “A Guide to the Kardashian’s Plastic Surgeries.” Gawker. Gawker, 10 Sept. 2011. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.
Dowhy, Robert. “How Does Your Voice Affect the Way You Are Perceived?” Southern California Public Radio. AirTalk, 30 Apr. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.
Holz, Adam R. “Katy Perry | California Gurls | Track Review | Plugged In.”California Gurls | Track Review. PluggedIn, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.
Maslin, Janet. “Clueless (1995) FILM REVIEW; A Teen-Ager Who’s Clear on Her Priorities.” The New York Times/ Film Review/ Clueless. The New York Times, 19 July 1995. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.
Perry, Katy. “Katy Perry – California Gurls Ft. Snoop Dogg.” YouTube. YouTube, 14 June 2010. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.
Rudin. S (Producer), & Heckerling. A (Director) . (1995) Clueless [Motion Picture] . United States: Paramount Pictures.
Russell, Jeanne. “Executive Summary.” Academy of Management Executive 9.1 (1995): 54. APA.org. American Physiological Association, 2007. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.