America the Beautiful is examining the typical standards of beauty in United States by talking in casual settings with typical Americans, "normal" people, for lack of a better word. From what men look for in women, to what women and young girls think of themselves, we hear a myriad of responses regarding what makes a person beautiful, and therefore desirable.
If modern standards of beauty, and the way the media saturates us with them, is the cause, then low self esteem in women and girls across the country is the effect; at least if we are to believe the point of view championed by several people interviewed throughout the movie. Although not everyone involved with the film tends to agree, this documentary takes a hard position behind the harm caused by industries like fashion and entertainment that stand to gain from what is often called "the beauty myth."
The personal and professional story of former model Gerren Taylor (who later went on to appear in a short lived cable television reality show) and her experience as a runway model from age 12 to roughly 15 years of age, is intertwined with the themes, statistics, and sort of anti fashion and modeling industry stance presented by several people being interviewed in the film, including Gerren's middle school principal.
Against this backdrop, America the Beautiful also presents audiences with industry insiders including representatives from high profile agencies like Storm and LA Models, as well as designers including Marc Jacobs. We're given a chance to see things from the full spectrum if we know where and how to look, and there are plenty of subtleties to be left up to interpretation by the viewer.
Health hazards in beauty products due to chemicals called phthalates that would never be allowed to be used in similar products in the UK, are a part of the argument about beauty standards and media exposure that aren't often addressed, and this film does something relevant and fresh by discussing this. It finds another way to do something by speaking to an expert on the culture of Fiji about the effect of American television on Fiji youth and general society over a three year span.
America the Beautiful presents Garren Taylor's story as a classic rise and fall, while managing to use it to get several messages across and correlate specific moment of her life to general negative associations with modeling and pressures to be physically perfect.
The film is an interesting one despite its' apparent bias. You'll find yourself marveling at what aspects of the film do and do not make you feel uncomfortable, and wondering what these things means about the affect of the beauty myth and the media on you.