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February 19, 1999

Camille Cooper Presents "What Price Beauty?" at Middlebury College on March 3 -- Noted Actor to Speak on Hollywood's Fascination with Thinness

"We retouch every photograph of any girl over the age of fourteen." --Ray the Retoucher, a Los Angeles-based retouching lab

"More and more girls are getting anorexia at an early age (10 or 11) because they know they are expected to be thin." --National Institute of Mental Health

On Wednesday, March 3 at 8 p.m. at Middlebury College, actor Camille Cooper will offer a look at Hollywood's perspective on women's beauty. In "What Price Beauty?," a multi-media presentation described as dynamic and empowering, Camille Cooper delivers a unique, humorous, and insightful look at a media industry obsessed with thinness and stereotypically defined beauty. Free and open to the public, the event will take place in the McCullough Student Center on Old Stone Row, off Route 30.

At the age of 17, film and television star Camille Cooper's first acting role--with Dudley Moore and Kirk Cameron in "Like Father, Like Son"--brought her into contact with Rod Daniel, the film's director. His first words to her were, "Lose the baby fat." Embarrassed and ashamed, Cooper, then a five-and-a-half foot, 125-pound teenager, shed 15 more pounds and ended up in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer.

In her presentation, "What Price Beauty?," Cooper explores the national preoccupation with Hollywood's bone-thin starlets. She observes that although many letters to magazines such as Elle and Glamour question the desirability of presenting skeletal young women as the ideal, that particular image prevails as a pinnacle of American female beauty.

"What Price Beauty" uses multi-media imagery to describe how women are conditioned at a very young age to believe that only certain roles are socially acceptable for them, and how the majority of that conditioning focuses on women's physical appearance, thereby influencing them from pre-puberty to post-menopause to equate their achievement--or non-achievement--of fashionable beauty with their validity as human beings in our society. Cooper's presentation suggests that such pressure contributes to women's systemic struggle with low self-esteem, depression, eating disorders, and ill health. She points out that psychiatrists diagnose anorexia nervosa when a patient weighs at least 15% less than what is considered healthy, and that female actors and models typically weigh 23% less than the average healthy woman. By using before-and-after slides to demonstrate how retouching, lighting, and camera filters routinely distort a woman's actual looks, Cooper lifts the veil of illusion to discover the truth about the media's standard of beauty--it is a fabrication, a parlor trick impossible to convert from the printed page or video image to actual life.

Offering supportive information to help people withstand the onslaught of the media's beauty hype, "What Price Beauty?" has been described by students and educators as "shocking," "uplifting," and "a relief."

Camille Cooper is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Nikki Langon on "General Hospital." She has worked professionally in film and television for the past ten years, starring in five motion pictures and more than ten other television series, including "Knots Landing." Since 1994 she has been active in Women in Film, co-chairing that organization's Committee for the Empowerment of Young Women. Dedicated to forging strong bonds between women and girls to help meet challenges and overcome obstacles created by the damaging preoccupation with physical beauty, committee members share the realities of their lives as professional women in the film and television industry.

"I'm really looking forward to Ms. Cooper's presentation," said Mary Duffy, women's studies administrator at Middlebury College. "It is important for all of us to recognize this issue, and we hope that a good mix of men and women will attend--especially parents and their daughters. It's great that the show will also be at UVM on March 1, before coming to Middlebury on March 3. That will give the community a couple of chances to gain Ms. Cooper's first-hand perspective."

For more information contact Mary Duffy, Middlebury College's women's studies administrator, at 802-443-5937.