Flip through the magazines in your doctor's office or click through the talk shows on television and you're destined to find the phenomenon called "Snooki" variously lampooned, mocked and ridiculed. Comedian/actor Zach Galifianakis walks onto the set of "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" covered with lipstick kisses and declares that he "ran into Snorkie backstage" and "she had a stepladder and kissed me everywhere." In a recent People magazine we see how "Snooki tries the trends" and gets attention "for the wrong reasons."
The woman in question is actually named Nicole Polizzi and if search engine hits are any measure of public interest, she's one of the most popular public figures of the moment, a woman so widely exploited that both President Obama and Senator John McCain have joked about her on television. All the attention flows from her antics on a so-called reality program called "Jersey Shore" where, as her detractors would say, she looks and behaves like a promiscuous clown. On closer examination, I would say that Snooki is more like a walking, talking example of someone who is trying hard to be America's ideal woman, and all the snarking directed at her is the product of our discomfort over what her very being tells us about ourselves.
Consider, first, Snooki's approach to fashion, which is where she comes in for lots of criticism. On an individual basis, her choices are always on trend and consistent with the advice we get from our gurus of appearance. Her very high heels not only make her rear-end more attractive but add height to her four foot nine inch frame. Her sky high, teased bumpit-looking hair, also increases her stature while it gives her the look of someone with a much thicker, and therefore more appealing, mane. Then there are her wardrobe choices which, one-by-one, match all the instructions we're getting from the fall issues of women's magazines.
Animal prints? Check.
Biker jacket? Check.
Sparkly mini-dress? Check.
High-cut boots? Check.
Giant earrings? Check.
Open up any fashion mag and you'll see that we're all being urged to adopt a mind-bogglingly varied number of styles from utilitarian chic jackets with big rivets and studs to vests and footwear made out of such densely shaggy fur they look like the coat of a wookie. What is in this season covers such a wide range of colors, fabrics and styles that you'd almost think that the people who design, manufacture and sell clothing are trying to make us look mentally ill and available for purchase. Hmmm.
Nicole Polizzi hews to the dictates of the trendsetters by trying just about every look available. She gets in trouble because she goes just a little too far. Her spray tan is too dark. Her zebra print dress is too tight. Her cleavage is too extreme. The same is true when it comes to her behavior. Snooki is just a little too emotional, a little too loud, and a little too openly seductive. But before you nod your head in agreement with the bloggers and critics who sit in judgment consider what Snooki's supposed failures tell us about the culture we all inhabit.
As Snooki crosses the invisible line between fashionista and faux-pas, she provokes a there-but-for-the-grace response in the rest of us. All women live with the confusion of conflicting trends and must weigh very carefully the choices we make with our clothes, make-up and accessories. It's a fine line that separates someone who draws our attention for her dazzling look and someone who appears to deserve our pity. The same is true when it comes to behavior. A young woman who studies the movies, television and magazines is led to believe that to be attractive a woman must be bold, flirtatious, exuberant, emotive, and above all dramatic. In short (sorry for the pun, Snook) the perfect woman is extreme.
Few of us are fully conscious of how the fashion and entertainment industries shape our choices. Suddenly, this season, we're compelled towards olive green military jackets or leopard print leggings not quite knowing why they are "right." for us. Then, we smile with our mouths wide open, like we're laughing hysterically, because that's how happy people look in the media. We know that we must try our best to hit a certain sweet spot when it comes to the markers of femininity. Whether we give up the game completely, or veer out of bounds like Snooki, we'll be regarded as equally pathetic. It's that mysterious middle zone that we have to find, each morning, with nary a bad hair day or wardrobe malfunction. You don't want to be a Glamour "Don't," do you?
Viewed with a little empathy, Snooki comes to represent all the time, energy, and money, we women anxiously invest in the desperate pursuit of victory in a game that no one can win. Her image bothers us because deep inside, we are all little bit Snooki and we fear being found-out. But in rejecting her, we are also rejecting ourselves and that is why we feel a little guilty when we laugh along with Zack Galifianakis or gawk at the pictures of her in magazines. Instead, why don't we all recognize the impossible standards set for modern women and give ourselves, and Snooki, a break.