The Problem With Pretty Woman

This is the story of a young girl, now grown woman, who looks back on a movie she absolutely loved and watched multiple times throughout her formative teenage and young adult years. It’s about a dramatically changed opinion. It’s about a call to awareness, a call to seek out Truth. And it all starts by giving another look at the seemingly classic romantic comedy called:

Pretty Woman


Looking back, I find it interesting that neither I, nor anyone I know that I watched this movie with when I was younger ever questioned what was going on.

At a fundamental level, Pretty Woman romanticizes prostitution, and creates the fantasy that true, meaningful, lasting love (well, we don’t really know if they last… the final scene in the movie is a grande romantic gesture, not a glimpse into their life together years down the road), can come from a beginning in exploitation and lust.

To start, I know Julia Robert’s character in the movie doesn’t have a pimp, which removes a hair of the horrors she would have faced, but she is remarkably unscathed for someone who has been selling her body for a while. She bears none of the apparent effects of trauma from rape, or abuse that women who actually are sold or sell themselves face on a regular basis. But none of that is romantic. Or comedic. So… obviously they had to make her seem normal- healthy even. Like a cool girlfriend you’d like to have, except she just sells her body on the streets each night without any side effects. No biggie.

Reality check. For the past 2 years I have been part of a ministry where I have the honor each month to spend time with and love on young women that are exploited, and let me tell you, none of it is romantic, or healthy. And I mean healthy in the sense of “this is an ok thing that should regularly be happening and is good for the people involved.” There are a lot of myths associated with how people perceive how women “choose” to enter the sex industry, which could be another article in itself. But, suffice it to say, it is very rarely a “choice,” in the sense of a woman, who has had a normal and healthy upbringing, with no abuse or trauma, and just wants to make some extra good money, decides to enter the sex industry of her own free will and with no coersion then, or thereafter. And that woman, with plenty of other options, is free to choose to leave whenever she is ready to be done. Sure. Maybe. Sometimes. I may have met one or two such women during my time in this ministry. But the dozens of other women I’ve met tell the story that the above scenario is most certainly the exception, and not even close to the rule.

But it’s just a fun movie, some might say. You’re taking it wayyy to seriously… Well… that’s a nice thought, but I don’t think I am taking it too seriously. Because I know what the message this movie sent to pre-teen/teen me was. It’s the same message the cover of Cosmo sent to me, and Redbook, and commercials, and a host of other things. And when a young girl is exposed to enough of that message, at least part of it gets internalized. At least part of that message let me know that, when all else fails, a woman can and should use her body as leverage. It let me know that some significant part of my purpose and worth had to do with my sexual appeal to men.

I could go further into detail about my own personal story, but thank God, I have since learned the twisted nature of those lies I was fed. I’m at a point now where my own personal convictions about where Truth resides are solid. I don’t even care what the magazines and the media and whatever else tell me my worth is. I no longer buy the magazines that perpetuate those messages. I no longer go to those websites. I question every source other than my Creator that tries to tell me who or what I am and what I am good for.

But what I do care about, is the many impressionable young and grown minds that don’t view these messages through any sort of filter. I do care about a Men’s Health magazine, with a provocatively dressed and posed woman on the cover, placed on a low shelf, cover out, at eye-level perfect for my daughter and son to see as we check out at Barnes and Noble. I know that the line I’ve been using when I catch Felicity looking at such a cover that “Oops, looks like that lady forgot to finish putting her clothes on! How silly!” isn’t going to work for much longer, and we are going to have to begin having a much broader, much more serious discussion. And, finally, I do care about the women I see each month who so need to know their value, and are constantly fed lies about their worth by the world around them and the men and women who exploit them.

Full disclosure. I more than just “don’t like” Pretty Woman anymore. I’m mad about it it. Maybe not so much the movie itself, but the culture that made it a hit, and the full on lies we women are buying into all too often.

Anything that glamourizes and romanticizes lust and exploitation is something that is a significant concern. And the reason isn’t just because messages like the one Pretty Woman send out into the world messed up my young self a bit. It’s because those messages undercut the absolute, no-hold-barred Truth about the value of women.

Saint John Paul II wrote extensively on the value and dignity of women, and it is the Church that fully reflects how God intended the dignity of women to be seen, and appreciated, and valued. One of my favorite quotes by him is as follows:

“There is no dignity when the human dimension is eliminated from the person. In short, the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.”

Pornography and all forms of exploitation show a ton of skin, but nothing of the humanity of the person beneath it. And that is the root of the problem. When a human… becomes an object. And not only an object, and object meant for the consumption of another. The woman on that Men’s Health cover is not just an attractive body, but a soul-filled person with an inherit dignity. Removing the person to lust after the body strips her of her dignity. And we, simply, have no right to strip anyone of that.

One of the greatest gifts and encouragements to me on my own journey to understanding my value has been the Church, who, in the midst of the culture described above, reveals a completely different narrative about women, and their worth. It is my hope and prayer that my daughters, the women I have the pleasure to know in all facets of my life, and many others will start to or continue to question the narrative of the world at large about our worth, and instead seek the Truth of our value given to us by God. Like with food, we internalize what we consume. We internalize what we see with our eyes and hear with our ears. Let us turn off the noise and turn up the Truth. Let us question all that we are fed by this culture about our bodies and our sexuality. Let us be brave enough to speak louder than the world to our daughters, so they believe it. Let us stop spending money on movies, magazines, and other media that break down and manipulate the truth that we are a body/soul composite with inherent dignity.

Let us refuse to be seen as anything less than we truly are.


P.S. For more information, check out Saint John Paul II’s On the Dignity and Vocation of Women. Tis a good place to start. 🙂

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