Saturday, January 3, 2015

From Mean Cheerleader to Mother Teresa: Thoughts on Female Sexuality in the novel SIA


Sia
by Josh Grayson
Published: November 20, 2013

Sia is a novel in which a snobby high school cheerleader experiences amnesia and suddenly forgets who she is and where she comes from. After a week of homelessness, Sia is found by her family, which is wealthy. Returning to school, Sia realizes that her old reputation involved being mean to less popular students--an old self that she cannot identify with at all. She works on reforming her old reputation by working on charity fundraisers and befriending her less "popular" classmates . However, her new friends worry that she will return to her old habits when her memory comes back...

Using amnesia as a device to force Sia to change provides the story with an interesting introduction, but it also robs Sia of a more painful and convincing transition. Like a light switch, she transforms from a stereotypical, bitchy high school cheerleader into this Mother Teresa-like figure who dresses herself with modest clothes instead of tight clothing.

With the sudden change in clothing choices, this novel runs into the danger of idealizing certain lifestyle choices while villainizing others due to its simplistic way of presenting the contrast between Sia's old self and her new self. It creates a binary between her old self and its attributes (tight, sexy clothing, big and bulky boyfriend, eating salads for meals instead of higher-calorie hamburgers) and her new self (modest clothing, dorky boyfriend, eating humble burgers).

Using Sexuality to Promote a Good Cause vs. to Promote Oneself

The novel addresses this binary between Old Sia and New Sia later on when Sia undergoes an inner conflict between her new, Mother Teresa-like personality and her enjoyment of glamorous things, such as getting dolled up for a charity event. During her fundraising runs, she meets Alyz, a model who is skilled at using her sexuality in order to get donations.

Sia is apprehensive at first about showing off her sexy charm, but at the party she soon warms up to the idea of flaunting her sexuality (which includes her physical beauty and charm) at drunk Hollywood people in order to get donations.

Moral of the story: A woman flaunting her beauty and sexuality for her own purposes is shallow, but a woman using her beauty and sexuality "for a good cause" is selfless and ideal. It's okay to show off your sexy bits if it's for a good cause.

Too Easy of a Transformation?

This binary between old-bad-sexy and new-good-chaste would be the novel's biggest weakness. Sia seems more like an archetype than a person, an image of the idealized rich girl: popular, beautiful, incredibly wealthy and well-connected, yet kind and selfless.

Her post-amnesia self is kind, and, even when feeling conflicted about glamorous fundraisers, continues to exhibit good intentions for others. Her new self is completely selfless and the reverting back to her old habits never becomes an issue.

In other words, her transformation is seamless. It is too perfect. In the end, even though she appalls her family and cheerleader friends at first, she ultimately gets to keep her relationships with everyone. She doesn't lose anything in her transformation, at least, not permanently. There is no sacrifice with her change as a person, which happened due to an external circumstance instead of a personal decision.

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