When I was 17 and had a much more hopeful outlook on the world, I outwardly hated the Spice Girls, but secretly I loved them. The problem with being a teen tastemaker is that you’re willing to pigeonhole yourself into a specific genre that personifies your taste. The Spice Girls did not fit that image. However, they did speak to me in a way that lots of other artists could not. The five women who came together to unify as the Spice Girls were fun, they took no sh*t, and they believed in each other and women in general. Something I can always get behind. And like everyone else in my age group, I ended up seeing Spice World because it was a global phenomenon. Plus my friends were going to see it. What rang true 20 years ago holds today. Spice World is not high art, but it’s profoundly more socially relevant than I remember.
Spice World follows the Spice Girls as they gear up for a gig at Royal Albert Hall in London. Along the way, they complain about being overworked and underappreciated by the men who control them. Their manager consistently blocks them from spending time with their pregnant friend, Nicola, and from having fun. But it’s impossible to stop them from being themselves, which is to say, being fun. So most of the films is a series of thinly structured sketches that highlight the Spice Girls’ personalities. There are photo shoots, montages, and many, many musical breaks. But still, it’s all too much for the girls who just want to chill out with their friends and enjoy some downtime. So they abandon their band and each other to do what today we’d call “self-care”. Of course, while they’re off on their own something inside of them won’t let them ditch the show at Royal Albert Hall and the ladies make a mad dash in a flying tour bus (emblazoned with their world famous Union Jack logo) in order to make it to the show on time. All while delivering Nicola’s baby because girls are there for each other.
Honestly, if this isn’t the time to revisit the roots of the Fourth-Wave feminism and the soul of the “girl power” movement there may never be one. The Spice Girls were clear representatives of a change being felt on a global level. Women didn’t want to be objects for men. They wanted to embody who they were naturally while having fun with their friends. Unfortunately, being objects was the most natural way for the group to attain the sort of fame that they did. And, in owning this objectivity, the Spice Girls were able to take back the power most women lose by being objects, which is a theme that is revisited throughout Spice World.
If we’re being honest, self-exploitation is about the only way a movie like this gets made. However, having the Spice Girls understand this sort of power that they have through their sexuality, helped them be in on the joke. Everything from their horrible acting to the fact that the film has a thinly developed plot that mirrors The Beatles’ Hard Days Night should have made this film a flop, but instead, it did the opposite. What made Spice World and really, the Spice Girls great, was their ability to capitalize on the fact that men need women to fit inside an archetype. They were the archetypes but also, they were so much more.
Thanks to the evolving world we live in, we are allowed to take a topic that weaves together the plot of Spice World – men working to prevent women from doing what they want – and watch women in real time put an end to this. In Spice World, these men ranged from weirdo paparazzi to a nefarious machiavellian crime boss dude. Anytime the girls are about to do something for themselves these male characters show up to remind them that they’re tied to their image and must perform as this archetype as not to disappoint anyone. This is so relatable. Every day women are asked to look past things like being underpaid or viewed only as sex objects, and are asked to go through this while seeming pleasant. When you compare the themes of the film to the issues of today, thing like the #metoo movement, examining men’s roles in the ongoing oppression of women and the growing normalcy of fourth-wave feminism, Spice World and its take on women’s individuality and “Girl Power” almost seems like it was ahead of its time.
Although the film leans on the idea of women-helping-women, it is relatively sexist in a myriad of ways. Because, of course, twenty years ago, the norm was to make Baby, Ginger, Scary, Sporty and Posh, and their looks, the butt of most of the jokes. However, the overall message of women standing united to come together for the greater good, is really the apex of what would become one of the hottest optics of 2018.
However, what I learned from rewatching Spice World isn’t just about feminism and women doing what they want. It’s actually that society used to allow women to look and age naturally. The girls were fun and beautiful, but they were flawed. During Spice World, when Baby Spice frowns, when Scary Spice snarls, and when Victoria Beckham realizes she really is Posh, you can see it in their faces. Things like filler didn’t popularize until the late 2000s thanks to the normalization of plastic surgery because of reality TV, but also because most Hollywood stars have chosen to freeze their face in time with the hopes of stalling the aging process. If there is any big takeaway from seeing this so plainly it’s that we put so much pressure on women and how they look, they’re willing to stop being able to express emotions with their face. And that’s just weird.
Oh, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want, because it became clear to me while watching Spice World. I want to live in a society where women aren’t urged to change who they are to lean into an unattainable idea of beauty. I want to live in a society where allowing my human vessel to age naturally doesn’t diminish my worth. But most of all, I want to live in a world where groups like the Spice Girls are taken seriously as artists, so that women everywhere can confidently express who they actually are.
Sabrina Cognata is an award-winning writer, producer and storyteller. During a decade long meltdown, she burned her life to the ground and revamped it as often as Madonna. Sabrina has written or produced for HuffPost Live, CBS Radio, TMZ and XO Jane, and she’s currently producing a syndicated news show for FOX television while tirelessly fighting the patriarchy Every. Damn. Day.