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Megan Fox, The Self-Aware Sex Symbol | Screen Icons

Megan Fox was a sex symbol in an era that turned against the sex symbol. Rising to superstardom after 2007’s Transformers, Fox embodied the feminine ideals of the 2000s and early 2010s through her arresting beauty, svelte figure, and unfiltered “badass” persona. In the wake of the MeToo movement, our culture at large has given Fox a second look, as cringe-worthy past interviews and thought pieces showed little concern with her discomfort with being treated purely as a sexual object from adolescence on. Here’s our Take on Megan Fox, a modern-day deconstruction of a sex symbol, and how she reflects our views of female sexuality back at us.

TRANSCRIPT

Megan Fox was a sex symbol in an era that turned against the sex symbol. Rising to superstardom after 2007’s Transformers, Fox embodied the feminine ideals of the 2000’s and early 2010’s through her arresting beauty, svelte figure, and unfiltered “badass” persona. Looking back, Fox was strikingly self-aware, even a little meta, about her sex symbol-ness. She intentionally channeled bombshells past, played characters who dissected the sex symbol myth and actively called out the semi-absurdity of the way Hollywood and the media treated her.

In response to her honesty and humor, she was vilified and diminished as a human being and chastised for expressing anything other than meek “gratitude” for the attention she received. In the wake of the MeToo movement, our culture at large has given Fox a second look, as cringe-worthy past interviews and thought pieces showed little concern with her discomfort with being consistently treated purely as a sexual object from adolescence on.

Megan Fox: “She’s 15 so you can’t sit her at the bar and she can’t have a drink in her hand. So his solution to that problem was to then have me dancing underneath a waterfall getting soaking wet.” - ABC Interview

Articles like, “We Owe Megan Fox a Serious Apology” grapple with a kind of collective shock over how Fox’s concerns were so wholly dismissed when she bravely spoke out over a decade ago.

Here’s our take on Megan Fox, a modern-day deconstruction of a sex symbol, and how she reflects our views of female sexuality back at us.

A Megan Fox Character Is…

The sex symbol identity defined Megan Fox’s persona from the start of her fame, both in extensive press coverage and in her onscreen roles which framed her as an embodiment of pure sex appeal. Fox was typecast to a degree that a certain formula developed for a Megan Fox role.

A typical Megan Fox character is sexy— no matter whether she plays a demon, mechanic, or a shop assistant. In plenty of other stories, characters are played by extremely attractive actors or actresses but are still treated within the story-world like they’re not especially hot. But from Fox’s role as a bikini-clad extra in Bad Boys II as a teenager to appearances where she played herself, sex appeal is written into her characters. It’s a plot point and a key factor in how other characters respond to her

Sam Witwicky: “Double pump?”

Mikaela Banes: “It squirts the fuel in so you can go faster.”

Sam Witwicky: “Oh. I like to go faster.” - Transformers (2007)

Even when she plays talented journalist April O’Neil in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, her master plans for defeating the bad guys revolve around her sexuality. Most iconically in Transformers, Fox frequently embodies the “cool girl”, the male fantasy of a hot girl who loves stereotypically male interests.

The Fox “cool girl” has the hallmarks of what’s seen as a traditionally male emotional makeup: she’s casual about sexuality, emotionally detached and not looking for a relationship, unselfconscious about what she eats, and doesn’t have a lot of female friends. Even when she’s not exactly a “cool girl,” a Fox character is still sexually liberated and used to embody the sexual fantasies of both male and female characters. She’s been repeatedly cast in roles as bisexual.

Jennifer Check: “I go both ways.” - Jennifer’s Body (2009)

And though Fox says she is bisexual, often these parts don’t explore bisexuality in earnestness, but mainly present it as another element of her hotness.

A Fox character is strong, a little mean, and kind of a badass. In New Girl, Megan Fox’s character Reagan is set up to be an extra-confident, sexually liberated antithesis to Jess’s awkward, dorky personality. And seeing the two in frame together accentuates how different these two are in the feminine ideals they represent. Jess is portrayed as adorably innocent, emotionally nurturing, and sexually chaste, with hyperfeminine interests like knitting and teaching children.

Jess Day: “I brake for birds. I rock a lot of polka dots. I have touched glitter in the last 24 hours. I spend my entire day talking to children.” - New Girl 1x1 (2011)

Reagan is boldly confident, emotionally distant, confident in her sexuality, with more traditionally masculine interests and behaviors. New Girl has fun exploring both of these feminine ideals, and both women are accepted by the story’s central friend group. But in the end, Regan is more or less an obstacle on the way to the happy final union of the central will-they-or-won’t-they couple, Nick and Jess.

Though Fox has been cast as the romantic lead in movies like the Transformers franchise, many of her major supporting roles have been as the alternative love interest— the girl a male character doesn’t end up with because she embodies the allure of just sex rather than a deeper emotional connection. That’s when she’s not a shallow sex object, or scheming to get a man.

Brianna: “I get what I want, and this winter break, I want Jordan.” - Holiday in the Sun (2001)

This ties into our culture’s long standing Madonna-Whore complex, where women can either be seen as deserving of love and respect, or sexually appealing. Fox is even used as part of the definition for the Madonna-Whore paradigm on AskMen, quote: “The Whore identity is pretty self-explanatory… Think Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, Megan Fox in, well, anything.”

Perhaps most saliently, the typical Fox role is knowing and self-aware, adding layers of self-consciousness, irony, or commentary to her sex symbol-ness. Roles like Reagan in New Girl arguably make Fox into a post-modern version of the sex symbol— dissecting how each element of her personality adds up to our collective idea of what hotness is.

Yet using Fox to convey this conversation about sexuality doesn’t always add up to that much depth for her characters. In many of her roles, the audience is invited to see her as an object because, as the script tells us, that’s what she’s there for.

Whether they treat her with envy or objectification, other characters’ awkwardness with the Fox character mirror a society that’s fundamentally uncomfortable with overt female sexuality. And this can be seen most prominently in the way that, throughout the peak of her rise in the late 2000s and early 2010s, media questions fixated only on her sexiness, aggressively took her words out of context, and wrote articles attacking her personality.

Rolling Stone described her as “Hollywood’s hottest starlet”, and simultaneously, “a violent-tempered, insecure control freak.” In 2008, she was crowned the world’s sexiest woman by FHM’s reader poll, while Hortense Smith wrote in Jezebel, “Women don’t hate Megan Fox, they hate the Megan Fox archetype: porn-star poses, slow motion boob shots, and references to lesbianism and bisexuality as kinks.

In the same article, though, Smith admitted, almost apologetically, “I’m actually starting to like Megan Fox quite a bit,” because Fox was, “through her wacky interviews, attempting, in a way, to take down the very thing she represents from the inside, constantly using any platform given to her to remind us all that she’s not exactly what the press makes her out to be…”

Navigating Hollywood as a ‘Sex Symbol’:

Sexual icons have been a key part of cinema since its inception, and Jean Harlow embodied the “blonde bombshell” from the 30s on, but the term “sex symbol” is perhaps most strongly associated with Marilyn Monroe and the post-World War II era.

The Monroe-esque blonde bombshell sex symbol, which might overlap with the dumb blonde or the sex kitten, typically has a childlike naivete and a classic hourglass physique well-showcased by her costumes, and this model still informs today’s ideas of what is considered sexy.

But iterations of the “sex symbol” have changed over the decades, embodying different values and eras. Alongside the “blonde bombshell” was a brunette bombshell— embodied most distinctly by Elizabeth Taylor or Sophia Loren— who often played a strong, savvy woman,

Cleopatra: “I do not intend to join that long list of queens who have quivered happily at being summoned by Lord Antony.” - Cleopatra (1963)

and embodied an ideal of glamour.

Meanwhile, we can also trace the evolution of a badass bombshell—often a hypersexy femme fatale like Ava Gardner in The Killers or Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, or a smart, strong sex symbol like Princess Leia or The Bride from Kill Bill.

Megan Fox’s version of the sex symbol was an amalgamation of these strands. She incorporated the ditzy naivety of the Marilyn, the dark-haired glamour of the Liz Taylor, and the devil-may-care badassery of the Ava Gardner.

From her rise, it was striking that Megan Fox had cultivated this identity— a 2009 New York Times article was titled “The Self-Manufacture of Megan Fox” and Esquire’s Stephen Marche wrote, “Self-awareness is her most attractive feature.” Even her notorious propensity for saying “shocking” things that the press delighted in quoting out of context had an intentionality to it, and Fox wore a tattoo of Monroe on her arm.

From the start, though, she expressed ambivalence about Monroe as a role model

Megan Fox: “She’s not someone that I would ever want to emulate, I would say, but you know I think she’s iconic.” - CBS Interview

and eventually removed the tattoo, citing concerns about following in Monroe’s footsteps of losing control and meeting a tragic end.

She told Esquire she preferred to emulate Ava Gardner, who, “Had power. She was a broad. She got what she wanted and said what she needed.” This story of the tattoo mirrors Fox’s broader relationship to her sex symbol identity: she was highly conscious and aware of constructing it as a career move, and matter-of-fact about her place in the Hollywood machine, but she was also clearly uncomfortable as her sex symbol-ness took on a life of its own and became an excuse to treat her without humanity or respect.

Being a sex symbol can take a toll; it comes with pressures not to age and to compete with a never-ending supply of younger, slimmer actresses to play “sexy” roles.

Megan Fox: “The shoe’s gonna drop at some point and then what am I valued for? I’m valued for this thing which is a farce.” - Entertainment Tonight (2019)

Fox has said she felt constant insecurity; quote: “I didn’t look perfect, I was too fat, I was too thin, I was stupid, I was offensive, I was a waste of space.” And she’s revealed she had a quote “psychological breakdown” due to the pressure.

As Smith wrote for Jezebel as this was happening in 2009, “There are only two roads for sex symbols in America: they can transition into serious actress mode a la Angelina Jolie, or they can spiral out of control, like Lindsay Lohan or Marilyn Monroe.”

A striking recurring theme from Fox’s many interviews from that era is that she repeatedly mentions wanting to cultivate her skills and become a good actress, yet these admirable intentions were mostly ignored or ridiculed. After she opened up about Michael Bay directing her on the Transformers to “just be sexy,” anonymous crew members even posted an open letter, describing her as “dumb-as-a-rock” and “trailer trash”, and suggesting she should be a porn star.

To quote Smith in 2009 again: “Often enough we end up posting stories on how we shouldn’t kick the fallen ones when they’re down, but I’ve realized that perhaps we should also consider not kicking the Megan Foxes of the world on their way up— instead, we should root for them to subvert the roles they’re positioned to fill, and to find a way to break out of the boxes that Hollywood always tends to place women in.”

Megan Fox and #MeToo

While Fox has clarified that she was never preyed on in a sexual manner on set, she felt she was oversexualised ever since her onscreen debut at the age of 15.

Jordan: “Brianna, I really should get back to work.”

Brianna: “Is it important?” - Holiday in the Sun (2001)

She was also photographed without her consent, and told Variety she felt over-exposed and even “hunted”. She recently described Hollywood as a ruthlessly misogynistic industry, and expressed gratitude for those who were supporting her. However, she hasn’t always felt supported by the feminist movement.

According to Megan, the world wasn’t ready to hear her stories when she spoke out about her time on Transformers. And it wasn’t just men who seemed uninterested in what she had to say about sexism in Hollywood, but also women who leveled some of the worst vitriol at her— like the supposedly feminist

site Zelda Lily that called her “an ungrateful bitch”. When the #MeToo movement blew up, Fox chose not to participate, saying, “I just didn’t think based on how I’d been received by people, and by feminists, that I would be a sympathetic victim.”

And even after MeToo took off, Fox didn’t necessarily see big changes in how she was treated right away.

Megan Fox: “There was no sort of respect that had come from the MeToo movement and this whole idea of like we should respect women and not focus so much on how they look.” - Entertainment Tonight (2019)

Fox was not alone in the vitriol she received mainly for being a pretty, famous young woman in the 2000s and early to mid 2010s. Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Janet Jackson, among others, faced hostile and abusive media coverage with a pronounced “slut-shaming” aspect to it. At the center of this culture, Megan Fox was calling it out before mainstream society was ready to listen.

The shifting conversation around Fox reveals how much has changed in a few short years. It’s impossible to deny that we’re seeing a sea change in how most deem it acceptable to publicly treat and talk about women. Margot Robbie, arguably the ascendant sex symbol of the mid- to late 2010s, managed to leverage that status into prestigious award nominations, a starring role in a franchise, and her own production company.

And Fox herself, at thirty-four, notably past the age when she worried her career as a pinup could be over, she’s at last being treated as what she always aspired to be: a bonafide actress. MJ Bassett, the director of her most recent film, Rogue, told Refinery 29, “I wanted to make Megan credible, rather than this sex object that’s she so frequently used for by male filmmakers,”

It’s time to listen to what Megan Fox has to say, and to give every actress the opportunity to be treated as more than just sexy.

Jennifer Check: “You know, I tell it like it is.” - Jennifer’s Body (2009)


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