Study Guide

Pygmalion

  • Why Should I Care?

    Ideas about how women should look are all around us. Swing by your local American Eagle store, and you'll see lots of slender mannequins with blemish-free skin and cheek bones that you could grate cheese on. Unfortunately, despite the fact that girls and women come in all shapes and sizes, these plastic ladies are pretty good examples of what our society thinks a "perfect" female should look like.

    As it turns out, worshipping unrealistic standards of beauty started long before the J. Crew catalogue existed. In fact, one of the chief instigators was a sculptor from ancient Greece named Pygmalion who, rather than hang out with real ladies, decided to chisel his ideal girlfriend out of ivory. Pygmalion then fell in love with his statue and actually ended up marrying it. Ah, mannequin matrimony.

    When you get down to it, the Pygmalion story is full of thorny ideas about female beauty and clinging to romantic fantasies. This myth is for you if you've ever sworn off the opposite sex, idealized a potential boyfriend/girlfriend, or thought, "What is it about those American Eagle mannequins that makes them so creepy?"

    • Best of the Web

      Pygmalion Resources

      Websites

      A Slideshow That Won't Make You Fall Asleep
      Check out this awesome slideshow about the Pygmalion myth and the pop culture it inspired. From Project Runway to Toddlers and Tiaras, this has it all.

      Movies and TV

      My Fair Lady
      Watch as Eliza Doolittle sets something on fire during her speaking lessons. Oops!

      Pretty Woman
      Julia Roberts is a prostitute with a heart of gold in this modern My Fair Lady adaptation.

      Lars and the Real Girl
      Starring the one and only Ryan Gosling, this surprisingly sweet movie is about a man who falls in love with a life-sized plastic doll.

      Things Get Strange In Mannequin
      As far as zany 80s movie go, you really can't get more absurd than Mannequin, a film about a window dresser who falls in love with a (you guessed it!) plastic mannequin.

      Weird Science, Indeed
      Two nerdy boys use computers and supernatural "science" to create their idea of a perfect woman. She ends up teaching them a thing or two!

      America's Next Top Model Goes Greek
      Cycle 15 featured the models dressed up as "living statues." This is so weird, you kind of have to watch it.

      My Living Doll
      This 1960s TV series about a sexy female android pre-dated I Dream of Jeannie, but it's got some similar subservient themes. Creeptastic!

      Video

      Stick Figure Showdown
      Check out this hilarious animated comparison between the Greek Pygmalion myth and George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion. Stick figures explain it all.

      How Those Photoshopped Images Are Made
      With their ability to craft women into ideal beauties, Photoshoppers are basically modern-day Pygmalions, right? Watch how a Photoshopped image gets made.

      Videogames

      Galatea Takes Charge
      Check-out Galatea, an interactive videogame/story told from the point of view of Pygmalion's statue after she comes to life. That's what we're talking about.

      Audio

      Turn About Is Fair Play
      In "Coin-Operated Boy," the Dresden Dolls flip the Pygmalion myth on its head and have a woman obsess over a plastic man. Sample lyrics: "Can you extract me/from my plastic fantasy?"

      Shredding Guitar, Building Fantasies
      Aerosmith's video for "Hole in My Soul" features a college-aged scientist inventing his perfect woman in a lab.

      Books and Plays

      Edith Wharton Weighs In
      In Wharton's House of Mirth, Lily Bart is referred to as "malleable" and often treated like an object. Hmmm, problematic?

      Pretty Woman's Precursor
      In Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady, Isabel Archer is transformed into a high-class woman when her uncle leavers her a ton of money.

      Before Broadway, Shaw's Play
      Before My Fair Lady, there was Pygmalion. Read George Bernard Shaw's original story of Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle.

      Images

      Puppet Julie Andrews
      Check out the poster from the original 1956 production of My Fair Lady. Lady as a puppet—sound familiar?

      A Sculpture of a Sculpture
      This is cool: Rodin's sculpture of the Pygmalion myth.

      Before and After
      Here's a poster for the play Pygmalion, featuring a before and after shot. Eek!

      A Transformed Woman
      Take a look at Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle after she's been transformed in the movie version of My Fair Lady.