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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015) and the Concept of Virginity in Film

"Sometimes I look in the mirror and I can’t believe what I see.”
Starring: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgard, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Meloni
Written By: Marielle Heller
Based on the graphic novel,  
"The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures"
by Phoebe Gloeckner
Directed By: Marielle Heller
Release Date: August 28, 2015

Stories like this are hard to come by and honestly, that shouldn't be the case during this decade. This coming-of-age tale one is one that's extremely pensive and thought-provoking in its portrayal of sexual inexperience. It's also unapologetically revealing and also quite refreshing as we unravel who our main character, Minne (Bel Powley), is and just how she breaks the mold of your typical, sexually inexperienced female protagonist.
Set in the mid-70s in sunny San Francisco, the film opens with our main character going on about how she's just had sex for the first time. "I had sex today...Holy shit," she says with a smile on her face as she observes the world around her with a brand new perspective. Though this is just the opening of the film, as we follow Minne, we grow to realize that this hankering for sex goes a lot deeper than just the longing for the physical act itself. There's a strange taboo around talking about female sexuality, especially in accordance to teenage girls. The concept of virginity is seen as something of monumental importance, but this is mainly in regards to when they lose it and who they lose it to. In our society, only when those questions are answered can you decipher whether or not your first time was meaningful or done "right"as it's considered a wasted experience if it's taken by the wrong person or if it's taken too soon. 
In Minnie's case, she takes pride in expanding on her sexuality after she's had sex for the first time because she slowly realizes that the feelings that she's been having are not abnormal. When she repeats the film's first lines into her tape recorder diary upon coming home, she's less enthusiastic about that experience and ready for something more. The rest of the movie follows her sexual awakening as she learns to become more comfortable not only with herself and her body, but also with sharing her body with others. The relationship that Minne has with the man who took her virginity (Alexander Skarsgard) is a complicated one as he's her mother's (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend. However, casting the film's obvious pedophilic undertones aside, her experience with him is one that is universal, which is mainly due to the fact that Minnie does not see her mother's boyfriend as some creepy old man. Therefore, because Minnie doesn't view herself as a victim of a crime, neither do we. This is similar to the way Fitch and Stifler's Mom's relationship works in American Pie. Like Minne, Fitch is young and inexperienced and he views having sex with Stifler's Mom as something liberating. He also doesn't see himself as the victim of a crime, so like Minnie, neither do we. In addition, there's not a reason for their romance besides the fact that they find each other attractive. Though teenage girls experience the same sorts of horny feelings and go the same sorts of sexual trials as boys do, they're treated differently in both mainstream media and in life. This is seen in how lot of people will automatically demonize Skarsgard's character and worry about Minnie's sanity, but applaud Fitch and sexualize Stifler's Mom even more. The roles are reversed in this case and it makes people uncomfortable, especially because there's not an exact reason why Minnie chooses him nor does there need to be. Heller doesn't distract from Minnie's experience with a bunch of dull, psychobabble. Skasgard is hot, Minnie is in the heat and they both consent to the act and that's enough for them to begin to bump uglies. 
However, while the film does call out the obvious double standard when it comes to virginity being portrayed on-screen, it doesn't detract from what makes the female experience just that: female. When I saw this film, I was taken back to when I was growing up. When Minnie stands in front of the mirror naked, she's self conscious, just like how much girls are when they're young. She's insecure and thinks that no one will love her because of the way she looks. While the feeling of being wanted is a basic human feeling, when you're female, you constantly feel like that need can be fulfilled through a man's approval. However, it's through Minnie's trials and tribulations that she comes to discover that only she has the power to determine her own self-worth, not anyone else. She learns the beauty of her own body and in that, she grows as a human being. Though experiencing sex and developing intimacy with another person for the first is quite meaningful, it's not as important as some people try to make it seem. After sex happens, it's pretty much over with and that's that. That experience does not define you. What matters is what happens afterwards and how you intend to take that experience with you and learn from it.

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