Sophia Loren: “Why change your body and be somebody else if you are happy inside?”

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Sophia Loren is one of the most iconic and popular film stars of the Golden Hollywood era, starring in over 50 films. In 1961, her performance in Two Women made history, it was the first time a performer won an academy award for a foreign-language film. Alongside Loren’s film accomplishments, she is also considered to be one of the most glamorous and beautiful women in the world. However, Loren is much more than just her looks, as she sought to rock the boat by challenging 1950’s beauty standards and always asserted that she was a feminist in a male-dominated industry. 

The Italian actress was born in 1934, raised in Pozzuoli, one of the poorest regions in Italy. Italy had been destroyed by the war, opportunities were scarce, and poverty was prevalent. Her father abandoned her family and refused to offer any support. As her mother was unmarried in a Catholic country, her family was subject to ridicule and extreme poverty. Her family’s poverty meant she suffered severe undernourishment and consequently nicknamed “toothpick”. At 15, Loren entered a beauty contest, and was encouraged to start acting and by 16 she landed various small roles. She was eventually established as a renowned international star after signing a contract with Paramount.  

In 1950’s Hollywood, stars of the screen, such as Audrey Hepburn, were the epitome of ideal beauty. They were petite, dainty and ladylike. These examples of beauty influenced alterations in appearance, even as drastic as plastic surgery which has been a part of Hollywood from as early as the 1920s. Women would change themselves to fit this ideal if they wanted to be successful within the industry. It must be noted, these ideals were and are, extremely Eurocentric, for example Rita Hayworth, ‘was made to have painful electrolysis to raise her hairline so that she would look “less Latina”’. A big part of these beauty standards was also being thin, as “weight gain was forbidden in many contracts”. Women were required to look a certain way if they were to succeed in becoming actresses and have commercial success.

As a result, cameramen declared that Loren was “impossible to photograph,” noting, “Her face is too short, her mouth is too big and her nose is too long”. She was recommended a nose job to improve her chances at landing roles, these changes aimed to mould her into the idealised stereotype. It seems bizarre to think that Sophia Loren, who is now known as one of the most glamorous and beautiful women in the world, was first regarded to be too unattractive and unconventional to photograph. This just proves that often men behind the camera or men sitting on a director’s chair can dictate what is viewed as beautiful.

Loren refused to listen and continuously stood her ground, rejecting any ‘advice’ to change her appearance. Her responses to these critiques were “if you’re suggesting that in order to make movies I’m going to have to slice off a piece of my nose, well then I’m going back to Pozzuoli”. Loren refused to be moulded and she argued “whether I won or lost, it was going to be in the original version”. This confidence she carried all throughout her career, and her ability to stay true to herself is extremely admirable, and demonstrates how important it is for women to also have confidence in the same way.

Consequently, Loren’s determination and confidence led to the 1960’s beauty standards broadening, notably it became more popular to be busty and curvaceous. Whilst Loren must be credited with challenging beauty stereotypes, Loren then by doing so became the Hollywood ideal, which just demonstrates how certain features and body shapes go in and out of fashion, and again demonstrate how much influence Hollywood has over beauty standards. Loren’s refusal to change her appearance should be a reminder to women everywhere that they are already beautiful and worthy exactly how they are. Instead, women should reject these ideas and rather women should always continue to believe in themselves, their craft, work or whatever brings them joy. 

Loren is also determined to diversify the film industry, stating that she prefers working with female directors as “They don’t yell, they don’t command. They suggest, they inspire”. She has encouraged more women to go into a male dominated field and has been an advocate for women to be involved with directing and acting. In a recent BBC interview she was quoted as saying:

The dream would be for people to be judged only on their skill and talent and not their gender – but for that to happen you have to level the playing field and create an environment where women get the time and the ability to practise their craft. That is why it is crucial to promote women and give them the opportunities in directing, writing and shooting films, all fields where men are and remain the predominant choice. But once we break that pattern and the playing field has been levelled, then may the best person win!”.  – Sophia Loren, 2020, ‘Female directors don’t yell’ interview for BBC news

Loren’s acting achievements are still recognised and she has recently starred in “The Life Ahead,” a Netflix drama directed by her son. And so, I adore Loren for being an inspiration to all women and she has continued to advocate for women in cinema and should be praised for her determination to break societal norms.

“Why change your body and be somebody else if you are happy inside?” – Sophia Loren

Sources quoted:

  1. How Old Hollywood Manufactured Its Beauty – Racked
  2. Sophia Loren style file: How the unconventional beauty became one of Hollywood’s most famous faces | London Evening Standard | Evening Standard
  3. The Untold Truth Of Sophia Loren (grunge.com)
  4. Sophia Loren style file: How the unconventional beauty became one of Hollywood’s most famous faces | London Evening Standard | Evening Standard
  5. Sophia Loren: ‘Female directors don’t yell’ – BBC News

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