The fact that we even have to talk about this kind of thing says so much about humans. Recorded history shows our need to portray ourselves in the best light possible. The ancient Egyptians idealized themselves on their tomb walls. But these portrayals have really evolved into something beyond seeing ourselves in the best light possible and have become a way to prove to each other that we don’t measure up.
“There are 3 billion women in the world who don’t look like supermodels and only 8 that do.” ― Anita Roddick
It’s a sad state of affairs when only a very few women are set up as the ideal for everyone. And even sadder to realize, as Jean Kilbourne has pointed out time and time again in her presentations, that those few aren’t even presented how they really look.
As artists we learn how to manipulate photos. We learn how to achieve that ideal–whatever that may be at the moment–and we never really learn to question if it is right. We are dazzled by the ability to alter the photo, to make it something new, something akin to perfection and we wield that power with no thought to the consequences. Whiten someone’s teeth? Hide a bulge on a woman’s side? Make her blemish free with glowing skin? Check. Check. And check. Then watch the same woman become frustrated when the acne scar is noticed, no matter how carefully she applies her makeup. Watch her wear restrictive undergarments in the hopes of smoothing out that bulge. Watch her apply chemicals to her skin to give her a “natural” glow. But it is never as good as the magic brush of the computer.
Yet, as if to remind us not to worry about all those extras women are enticed with articles about celebrities or models without makeup. “See,” they tell us, “celebs get acne, too. They look just like us.” And indeed they do, except for every other time that we see a picture of them. It’s only in rare articles such as this that we can get this reassurance.
Celebs without makeup
Why we desire perfection is probably not the surprising thing. What is surprising is how far we let advertisers go in training us to hate ourselves for not meeting an ideal that frankly, no one can meet. And as artists and people who work (or will work) in advertising, do we perpetuate the illusion? Or do we take a stand and try for more realistic approach?
A few years ago, Dove started it’s Real Women campaign. Here’s a photo of some of their “real” women:
While I agree that these are real women, they are still not representative of the average woman. I challenge you to find a roll of fat, droopy upper arm skin, a double chin on any of these beauties. They don’t have them. Again, it is the cheat that advertising uses to soothe the “plus” size women. Use a well proportioned model of a size barely into the double digits instead of the standard size 0 supermodel.
Take a look through this gallery:
This is what “real” women look like. They have bumps and lumps and double chins and cankles and droopy triceps and big bellies and junk in the trunk and yet they are beautiful. Take a look at the comments if you don’t believe me.
We can only hope that someday, advertising will truly sell to the REAL women and hold us up as an ideal that reflects who we really are, not what a few advertising moguls wish we were. As artists entering the field, perhaps it is up to us to push the envelope, to show that consumers need to see themselves in the ads in order to be sold a product. After all, ultimately we are selling the product, the ideal is only the hook to get us to buy.