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a critique on modern media and beauty
(or whatever that is)
Introduction A Brief History of Beauty
4 6 10 14
Photoshopped The Disney Effect
A wise man once said:
“Beauty is how you feel inside, and it reflects in your eyes. It is not something physical.”
Oh, what a nice thought. What a quaint sentimentality. Well, actually, it was a woman who said this. And she wasn’t so wise. What would she know about the plight nonphysical beauty? I mean, look at her!:
ers and advertisements, magazines and fashion spreads, studies and blogs, works of art and erotica. The list goes on and on. Open an issue of Vogue and you’ll learn one hundred and one ways that you could look younger (because you’re never youthful enough), open an issue of J-14 and you’ll get tips on how to look older (because you’re never legal enough), and open an issue of Shape and you’ll be told at least fifteen ways to get rid of the fat that until then, you didn’t realize was an issue. After all that struggle and worrying FINALLY come to terms with the fact that overall, you are never going to be good enough. But why all the effort? Why all the attention? Why must we curse ourselves to the Sisyphean task of gaining physical perfection?!?! Well, some of the answers to that are a little obvious. Humans place high value in looks, and although there are a lot of studies explaining why on a more scientific level (we’ll touch on that later), there are a lot of things we do with beauty that don’t carry any weight evolutionarily, biological, OR rationally.
Now, it’s not only the old ways of attaining beauty that’re disturbing (though, have you READ about that lead sulfide eyeliner from Ancient Egypt? I hear it’s to die for.). We have plenty of wacked-out beauty “improvement” methods still nowadays. Want to be more ‘horny’? Surgically insert horns into your forehead. Want taunt abs? Have a try at abdominal etching. Not interested in anything on that list? No fear! In today’s world, there’re plenty of things we can find wrong with your body.
Cinderella because she was the fairest in the land. But what exactly makes someone attractive? Biologically, we know that symmetry is a universal feature that deems someone attractive. We also know that clear skin is found attractive, world wide. Many scientists think this is because they are clear, visible signs of health, vitality, and overall reproductive ability. But beyond those two traits, everything else depends on whom you are talking to, and when. Some cultures admire small ears, others gush over large doe-like eyes, and more recently, the Western world is worshipping large breasts. Ultimately, the world’s present concept of beauty is muddled in a big, nasty mess of what we want, what we think we want, and what we are told to want. Everything around us calls for us to work harder to obtain a certain appearance, but no one really explains why THAT is what is needed and desired.
Are you sure that’s all the work you want done? Because there’s definitely still room for improvement.
I also come in blonde, athletic, and emaciated.
We can’t deny the physical attractiveness plays a huge role in our every society. Beauty is, of course, at the centerfold of human culture. Everywhere you look there are testaments to its impact. PostLet’s make sure we just leave this in the past, capiche?
But we have to give credit where credit is due. There isn’t just fault found in newsstands and magazines. There are engrained perceptions of beauty in visual media and entertainment. Everywhere we are forced-err, excuse me, suggested– particular concepts of physical attractiveness, as well as stereotypes for what an idealized woman is meant to look like. Megan Fox was chosen for Transformers for a reason, and Prince Charming chose
Tune in tomorrow where she’ll be wearing a deep v-neck and no bra!
Eve ruins it for everyone with her ‘feminine wiles’. Way to be.
The ideal female form was a youthful and slim figure with narrow hips. Both men and women used makeup, oils, and perfumes, bathed regularly, and wore jewelry. Lower class or royalty, physical appearance, health, and maintenance were very important in Egyptian society. Much of the makeup used could cause blindness or death. But at least they decked out their mummies, too.
Pale complexions came into fashion, and women used many methods to whiten their skin: chalk powder, white marl, and, or course, the class favorite, white lead. Cinnabar and red lead were also applied to the cheeks to create a rosy complexion, as well as death by intoxication.
Women painted their faces and sun bleached their hair, all to appear as close to albino as possible. Not only was blonde in, but unbelievably pale skin was a sign of prestige, wealth, and, ultimately, beauty. Hairlines were plucked to achieve high foreheads, and hair was always worn up and often hidden. Except on a girl’s wedding day, where it could be let down and flowing (probably to let loose at the Bachelorette Party).
In the beginning...
Ancient Egypt Elizabethan
Ancient Rome&Greece Victorian
So, people finally wised up about the deadly face powder thing, but continued to use lead in eye shadow, mercuric sulfide on lips, and belladonna for sparkle. There was also a backlash against cosmetics, and soon only prostitutes and other females with loose morals used them,. The hourglass shape was ideal, and this was achieved by making everything else huge. Skirts were made to be large, full, and impossible to walk in, and women were draped in layers and layers of garments. Corsets forced the ribs to crack and organs to rupture. The ideal waist size was between 18 and 20 inches. Women often died from what was called tight-lacing, but the look achieved was apparently worth it.
The last era where women are celebrated for their natural figures, and use little to no makeup. Pale skin was still the “in” thing, and the look as achieved by using a whitening agent composed of carbonate, hydroxide, and lead oxide. One lady in Italy finally caught on to the fact that these things were bad for you. But instead of telling everyone and being a cool dude, she decided to commit a series of murders and just be a big meanie. Signora Toffana created a face powder made from arsenic for wealthy women. Signora instructed her clients to apply the powder to their cheeks when their husbands were around. Six hundred dead husbands (and many wealthy widows) later, Toffana was executed, for being just so darn devious.
Men and women would use mercury to get rid of any signs of pesky blemishes, as well as any signs of life. Lye was also used to bleach hair, causing it to fall out, and now explaining to everyone why wigs became so darn popular. Wigs, especially women’s, were grease with lard to hold up the ridiculous proportions they often reached.
a brief history of
B E A U T Y
Generally with the same amount of constriction as the Victorian era, just with a slightly altered silhouette. Emphasis on a flat stomache and narrowed hips, but a large bust and back side. The straight-fronted corset helped with this at first, but the S-Bend really exaggerated the shape of the narrow shoulders and the large ba-donk.
The twenties were a controversial era. Women actively were redefining what beauty was, but still doing some ridiculous things. The little boy look was introduced by Coco Chanel, and in order to achieve this women bound their breasts and flattened their curves. The corset was replaced by an elastic girdle, meant to flatten everything, especially the stomach. Dresses became shorter and hemlines rose above the ankle (heavens!!). Makeup also came back. Thick eyeliner, rouge lips, and an “Oriental pallor” became central to the Roaring Twenties.
Emphasis on forced hourglass figures, soft curls, red lips, and finding a husband. The pin-up also became popular in America.
A continuation of the 30s/40s, but more conservative. Women’s clothing was tailored precisely and well, and the hourglass figure was still in demand. Girdles and petticoats were widely used. Uni-sex clothing was not an option. Men and women dressed in their respective gender’s expected manner.
Complete upheaval, probably rebelling again the 50s. Women went from one extreme to the other; from the hippie craze to the mod craze. As long as they were being outside of reason, all was well. The natural, grown out locks prevalent during the Renaissance came back, as well as the pixie cut from the 20s. Hemlines also went shockingly well above the knees. With the model Twiggy, the 12-year-old-boy figure came into fashion. It has yet to be weeded out.
Consisted entirely of over the top color, hair, makeup, and shoulder pads. About as tacky an era as you can get. The mullet also came from this era, as did the slow but sure growth of the plastic surgery phenomena.
Cosmetic surgery is in high demand, and there appears to be high amount of diversity in how beauty is portrayed. But it all boils down to two looks: thin, or thin with breasts. Women not within these two parameters have obviously not working hard enough. The female population seems to be the main culprit in creating their own suffocating world. When the men of this world start missing curves, and women attack any female with a little junk in the trunk, there is clearly some miscommunication going on.
Whether the Fawcett or the Afro, your hair had to be BIG. Otherwise, the 60s carried over.
Cherished as the era that takes everything previous and uses it, the 90s were seen as the “everything goes” time for beauty. From toned and athletic girl-next-door look of Jennifer Aniston, to the heroine-chic, 60s androgyny inspired models on the runway, it appears there is one thing that is across the board: thin is in, and it looks like it’s here to stay.
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
Kim Kardashian has practically made a living off her curvaceous figure. But the E! network celeb was looking a little less shapely in Complex magazine in April, her body reduced about a dress size, her legs smoothed to near-perfection.
How did readers know? Complex accidentally posted a pre-Photoshopped image of Kardashian on its website - before her thighs, arms and waist had been digitally sculpted. In a matter of hours the photo was gone. But in that brief time span, those who spotted it got a little reminder that we should think twice about taking photographs at face value. and landscapes, not even registering that wrinkles have been diminished, legs lengthened and the sky honed to a dream-like shade of blue. And, unlike its predecessor, airbrushing, anyone can use it. But Photoshop’s popularity has proven to be divisive. While some laud it for its ability to allow people - and things - to look their best in a photograph, others see it as a vehicle for feeding our culture’s desire for uber-perfection. “I think the perfect bodies we’re seeing in magazines that are Photoshopped have a terrible effect on how women feel about their own bodies,” says Montana Miller, assistant professor in the department of popular culture at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. One theory about retouching in advertisements is that it’s done to create an aspirational concept of beauty that inspires women to buy more products. Miller’s heard another: that the goal of showing perfect images is to make women feel bad about themselves - also making them buy more beauty products. Kelby, who also writes a blog on Photoshop, doesn’t believe it’s a malevolent force; in fact, he sees it as practical and cites the example of singer Faith Hill. In 2007, the fashion website Jezebel posted unaltered images of Hill that were shot for a Redbook magazine cover. In comparing them to the finished product, it appeared that Hill got a makeover, including erased crow’sfeet, excised back fat and a slimmer arm.
The fallout was huge - the Jezebel post generated more than 1.3 million views, and was picked up by ABCNews.com, VH1.com, TMZ.com and a number of blogs. Many commenters were angry that an already attractive woman had her image altered to appear on the cover of a national magazine. (Redbook declined to comment for this story.) “If you met Faith Hill in person,” Kelby says, “you would think she’s absolutely beautiful. And when you take her picture, you will see every flaw that you never saw in person. Those flaws not only become visible, but magnified. . . . “If I were talking to someone, I’d look at their eyes, not at the blemish on the side of their face. But as soon as you open up that photo on a 30-inch monitor, you’d say, ‘Oh my gosh, where did that come from?’” What the brain perceives in a still photo is vastly different from what it perceives in real life, according to Dr. Dale Purves, director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University in Durham, N.C. Up close and personal, “every second you’re getting a series of images of a person that you’re kind of blending together, and that would be a little more forgiving.” What we’re taking in, he adds, is a load of stuff, including clothing, personality and smells - elements that can evaporate in two dimensions. When it comes to editorial photos for magazines, it’s common for several different people - photographers, professional retouchers, photo editors, art directors, publishers - to have a say about an image. Although some editors insist celebrities don’t
have final say on how images will be altered, “If they’re big enough, they do get [final approval]” says Howard Bragman, chairman of the Fifteen Minutes publicity and media company and author of “Where’s My Fifteen Minutes?” etoucher Amy Dresser sits at a computer monitor in her home office scanning a portrait of an auburn-haired model to demonstrate how she uses Photoshop. She deftly zaps a few small moles and then peers at a small white patch just below the model’s eye before obliterating that too. “I think one of my main objectives,” she says, “is to erase distractions. When you look at an image, sometimes people can’t focus on what they’re supposed to focus on because there’s something going on in the background.” She adds, “I don’t have a rule that a mole near her armpit equals bad. It’s really case by case. I don’t think anything is universally bad.” Dresser is considered one of the top freelance retouchers in Los Angeles. Her portfolio includes work on celebrity, advertising and model photos (Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani, Kat Von D, Lil Wayne, Dita Von Teese) for editorial work, and promotion, as well as big-budget ad campaigns. For editorial portraits, Dresser says she doesn’t take liberties, such as over-softening facial features and turning subjects into plastic-like dolls, a look often seen in rookie Photoshop work. She abhors that style, leaving in freckles and moles and sometimes drawing in stray hairs to retain a person’s humanness.
“My belief,” says Scott Kelby, president of the Florida-based National Assn. of Photoshop Professionals, “is that every single major magazine cover is retouched. I don’t know how they couldn’t be.” But don’t stop there. Aside from U.S. newspapers, most of which do not permit photos to be manipulated, it’s quite possible that the vast majority of images seen in the public arena have been altered. Photoshop, the go-to graphics editing program that got a foothold in the 1990s, has become so ubiquitous that most of us gaze at faces, bodies
Complex magazine, editor-in-chief Noah CallahanBever says he tries to sit in on every cover shoot to ensure what’s seen on set is accurately translated into a two-dimensional image. “I want to make sure that person is represented in a fair way,” he says. “If their flesh tone ends up looking flat and dead, and it doesn’t look true to who they are, then it goes back for more retouching.” Ask Ladies’ Home Journal creative director Jeffrey Saks if magazines are consciously manipulating images to foster readers’ poor self-images and he firmly denies it. “When it comes to notable people,” she says, “I feel like embracing the details of that person’s face is what I’m supposed to do. Obviously a person wants to have a nice picture of themselves, and the photographer doesn’t want to look bad, and I don’t want to look like a lazy retoucher, and the magazine wants an appealing image, so you have to find that middle ground.” “We’re not trying to make women feel bad,” he says. “We’re trying to show women looking like real people, and whatever cleaning up we do is basically about the quality of the photograph more than trying to do plastic surgery.” Gigi Durham, associated professor of media studies at the University of Iowa, doesn’t buy into the argument that Photoshop helps people regain what they lose when going from real life to a flat page. “We do see who people are in real life,” Durham says. “We can actually see blemishes and weight and body shape, and most of the time we love them anyway. I think manipulated images are far from that, and have impacts that are more negative because they’re subject to far more scrutiny than we’d give them in real life.” She’s referring to the fact that young women, especially, pore over magazine photos, comparing themselves to the images.
“Whoever did this has
“When I’ve talked to young adolescents about this,” she says, “they’re not aware of the extent of the manipulation.” Even those who are more savvy, she adds, are still affected. “They know that no one really looks like that, but they still say, ‘I wish my waist were that small.’ “ ith technology always evolving, no doubt graphics programs like Photoshop will become more sophisticated and easier to use, possibly making it even more widespread. If “to Photoshop or not to Photoshop” is the question, the answer lies in what retouching will ultimately achieve. These days, purposely being seen au naturel is almost a political statement. Last April’s edition of French Elle featured eight European women, including Monica Bellucci and Charlotte Rampling, sans makeup and retouching. To many, it was as refreshing as it was eye-grabbing. In the course of making adjustments on the auburn-haired model, Dresser mentions that she recently joined an online dating site, and posted a photo of herself. Was she tempted to Photoshop it?
Jeanine Stein August 2nd 2009
People may not think too much about Photoshop when scanning the magazine stand, but they do notice immediately when altered images of notable people go awry. Comedian and actor Dane Cook went off on his blog about his Photoshopped image for the movie poster for “My Best Friend’s Girl.” “Whoever photoshopped our poster must have done so at taser point with 3 minutes to fulfill their hostage takers deranged obligations. . .” Tennis player Andy Roddick was digitally enhanced for a cover of Men’s Fitness in 2007, and posted this on his blog: “Little did I know I have 22-inch guns and a disappearing birth mark on my right arm. . . I walked by the newsstand in the airport and did a total double take. I can barely figure out how to work the red-eye tool on my digital camera. Whoever did this has mad skills.” Kardashian blogged that Complex’s slip-up didn’t faze her: “So what,” she wrote, “I have a little cellulite. What curvy girl doesn’t!? How many people do you think are photoshopped? It happens all the time! I’m proud of my body and my curves and this picture coming out is probably helpful for everyone to see that just because I am on the cover of a magazine doesn’t mean I’m perfect.” At
“I wish I looked as good as Cindy Crawford!”
- Cindy Crawford
Now, I’ll have you know, this is an article about looks, so we won’t be discussing the personalities of these characters. Though some of these female characters MAY indeed be ‘bad-ass’, we’re mainly observing them on figure and form. This is a shallow article and we’re going to do it right. Nice, and skin deep.
“Does This Tiara Make Me Look Fat?”
On Disney Princesses & Body Image
Despite being a former Disney “cast member” (I used to work for the magazine group), I’m not much of a fan. In fact, I tend to look askance at Disney products, most especially the princess characters. However, I’m raising two young girls, so the Disney Princess franchise is a constant, if somewhat unwelcome, presence in my house. Those movies are girly-girl
crack: the songs, the outfits, the hair, the general mood. And I understand why. I loved that stuff, too, when I was a little girly-girl. Now, however, I cringe at the characters’ passivity (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty - I’m looking at you, ladies), their willingness to be subjugated (Snow White, why exactly are you doing those dwarves’ laundry?), their general simpering (that’s you, Little Mermaid - when you’ve got your voice, anyway). The only Disney chick I really like is the powerful, independent Mulan. And have you noticed that she’s never hanging out with the rest of the pantheon? I have yet to see a single Mulan dress-up outfit at my local Target. Moreover (and you knew this was coming) I take issue with the body images. My girls have beautiful, strong, healthy, sturdy little physiques. The thought that they might compare themselves to those Barbie-like figures (Ariel’s waspish waist is fully exposed beneath that clam-shell bikini) and find themselves lacking fills me with dread. Which is why I was particularly intrigued by a new study, published in the latest issue of the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, called “Am I Too Fat to Be a Princess? Examining the Effect of Popular Children’s Media on Young Girls’ Body Image.” It’s as if they were speaking directly to me.
These researchers measured the effects on very young girls - 3 to 6 years old by showing them scenes from movies that contained “appearance-related clips” (most were Disney movies, but Barbie in the Nutcracker was thrown in for good measure). What constituted an appearance-related clip? A scene that focused on the main character’s looks: the clothes-changing scene in Cinderella, for example, or the bit in Beauty & the Beast where Gaston says Belle is the most beautiful girl in town, “which makes her the best.” Meanwhile, a control group was watching shows considered neutral, like Dora the Explorer. (God bless Dora and her mind-numbingly boring adventures.) Before viewing the movies, each child was shown digitized pictures of herself with two different body sizes, and asked to select the picture that looked most like herself. Then each child was shown pictures of other girls and women, and told that one was a “real” princess; it was the child’s task to identify who it was. And after movie time was over, researchers observed the girls’ imaginary play. The results? Kind of surprising, I must admit: “Results failed to reveal any direct negative effect on girls’ body dissatisfaction.” A majority of the children believed that they themselves could be princesses, regardless of their self-perceived body sizes. (Do I want my kids to believe they can be princesses?) A third of the girls did report that they would “change something about their physical appearance,” given the opportunity, and half reported worrying about being fat at least some of the time - but this was true whether they watched Belle or Dora.
Age was a more predictive factor than media imagery for girls’ answers to the researcher’s questions. The 5- and 6-year-olds consistently chose significantly thinner women as the “real” princess than did the 3- and 4-year-olds. What to make of this? The authors say this is the first empirical study of its kind, so no sweeping judgments can be drawn just yet. It’s clear to me as a parent that there’s something afoot in this culture; this is not the first study to show that the older girls are, the more likely they are to equate thinness with desirability. It’s too easy, of course, to pin this on one source, such as princess imagery; this study underscores that. In the end, regardless of the research, Disney princesses will remain a fixture in our home - until the High School Musical kids or Hannah Montana displace them (later to be dethroned by the Twilight characters, no doubt). But as long as they’re here, I’ll continue to make my mildly snarky, hopefully thought-provoking comments to my daughters. (And Mulan? You’re welcome here anytime, honey.)
Naomi Shulman December 4th 2009
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