As "Fox" in the new action film "Wanted," Angelina Jolie lives up to her name. Playing a smart, sexy assassin, Jolie makes a powerful female hero.
But the Oscar-winner's rail-thin frame, featured prominently in the film, has some experts worried about the effect such a powerful figure could have on theatergoers.
"A super-thin, super-cool female action hero undoubtedly influences female moviegoers to emulate her," said Dr. Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist from the Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of California in Los Angeles. "The underlying message is that being thin gives you power over men: physical and psychological."
Jolie's svelt figure is a change from female action heroes of yesteryear. Women like Linda Hamilton in "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" and Carrie-Ann Moss in the "Matrix" films radiated strength and power from their toned physiques.
"There women were represented in a way that displays strength, balance and a healthier body," said Dr. George Pratt, vice chair of psychology at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, Calif. "It seems that our tastes have changed."
But change is natural, particularly when it comes to the female form exaggerated through a movie lens.
In 1931, for example, Greta Garbo cut a dangerous figure as a German spy in "Mata Hari." And Lynda Carter's voluptuous body was accentuated in the red, gold and blue outfit she wore as Wonderwoman in the 1970s television series of the same name.
Sigourney Weaver ushered in a whole new look for a powerful female lead in the "Alien" films during the 1980s -- one who was tough, attractive, smart, and had huge guns, both of metal and muscle.
Too Thin to Fight?
Jolie herself looked slender and fit, both as Lara Croft in the "Tomb Raider" movies and as Jane Smith in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith."
"You can be thin and fit, and it takes a lot of work," said Madelyn Fernstrom, director of the Weight Management Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "While we like to have the mental fantasy, living vicariously, it's not for real. It's not something attainable or achievable by us."
While experts did not think older women will be affected by images of Jolie's thin frame, they agreed that young girls and teens, who define their sexual identity in those formative years, could internalize an unattainable standard of beauty.
"They might still be in the fantasy-equals-reality phase," Fernstrom said.
And trying to achieve the fantasy can be dangerous. According to 2008 data from the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, 8 million Americans suffer from eating disorders, and 95 percent of them are between ages 12 and 25.
"[Icons] have the powerful effect of role modeling," Pratt said. "Teenagers absolutely mimic these role models."
But Fernstrom pointed out that young women may not realize that celebrities like Jolie do not live in a vacuum, even those who are genetically built to be slender. They may have trainers and nutritionists and babysitters to help them stay in shape as well as personal traumas to contend with. Jolie's mother passed away in January 2007, leaving her depressed, which Fernstrom said may have contributed to her weight loss.
"What you see on the surface, you don't see what's behind all of that," Fernstrom said. "There's a little bit of a disconnect."