17 09 2012

Already as beautiful as could be!

The Lovelace is an old hotel in my hometown that had been converted into apartments long before my time. It was a pretty cool place to reside back in my college days, with a community t.v. room in the former lobby, and a toilet and a shower down the hall. It was one of those old buildings with a boiler in the basement, and the radiator heaters that clank and hiss as the steam passes through, constantly waking you in the middle of the night, and heating the building in the dead of winter to a temperature just short of blistering. The adjustments never worked on the individual radiators, so you were left to controlling your room temperature by how wide you flung open the one window that wasn’t painted shut. My friend and I rented a couple of the more swanky apartments, with our own kitchens & bathrooms.

But I digress…

While living in the Lovelace, a group of us watched an extensive, multi-part, BBC documentary on human sexuality. There are two key points I gleaned from this show that have been the basis for my philosophy on the subject ever since.  The first is the simple biological forces at play in human sexuality, and the second is the media’s manipulation of those forces for their own gain.

The first episode discussed the biology.  From a purely scientific standpoint, sex is about the propagation of our species; the survival instinct. A large part of what drives us is simply the species’ need for the successful production of healthy off-spring. What is considered ideal when selecting potential mates, however, differs slightly between males and females of a species. (These differences, together with social conventions lead to a whole list of other issues, better left for another post.)

Males want to assure the proliferation of their off-spring, as opposed to another male’s. What better way to do that than be there first? Thus, females that have just passed puberty are desirable, and girls of this age tend to be proportionately long legged. A healthy mother is more apt to be able to birth healthy off-spring, so all of the traits we associate with health, such as bright eyes, and clear skin, come into play. Other attractive physical traits include enlarged breasts and flushed skin tone (arousal).

The Barbie Doll is an extreme exaggeration of these traits, with physical proportions that do not even exist in reality.  However, everybody knows that’s just an imaginary toy, right?  (I should rephrase that: these proportions don’t exist in the natural, un-manipulated state, since they now apparently do exist in reality, thanks to modern cosmetic surgery!)

In a later segment they applied this knowledge to advertising. They took a photo of a blond model in a black skirt, revealing plenty of cleavage and leg, lying on her side in a sultry pose. As we all know, she has already been doctored up with plenty of make up, and the lighting/photography is just right. Then they put this photo on a huge computer screen (common enough today, but remember, this was back in the early ’90’s!) The computer tech then proceeded to completely manipulate the image. First, he eliminated every skin blemish at the pixel level, a level unobservable to the naked eye! He added a little more color to simulate arousal, and added a little shading to increase the definition around the breasts. He then increased the size of the breasts and width of the hips ever so slightly, while decreasing the waistline just a touch. Finally, he increased the length of the legs by something like 20%. Now we have a “photograph” of a woman that DOES NOT exist.

I was unable to find the above mentioned documentary online, but came across this excellent ad from Dove.  It pretty much says it all.

Our reality is so twisted by technology and the media, and given the overwhelming, non-stop bombardment we have created, i.e. billboards, magazines at every checkout, t.v.s in restaurants, smartphones, computers, it’s like a science fiction story come to life. This is so prevalent, it’s no wonder members of both sexes have completely unrealistic expectations. And now we’ve got botox, liposuction, silicon implants, and laser treatments to try and attain a state of perceived “beauty” that has never existed.

I have always found this disturbing, and now, as a father of three daughters, the sense of urgency has me looking for a cabin far from the insanity of the suburbs! Don’t people see the terrible message they’re sending to their daughters? We tell our children they’re beautiful, and then buy them makeup so they can be “more” beautiful? Our society glamorizes movie stars and pop stars, as if it’s an ideal to aspire to. Has everybody forgotten that it’s all fake? The people we see in movies and in music videos and read about in magazines are not real.

As this media blitz continues to expand into every corner and niche of our daily lives, bombarding us with image after image of the impossible, the line between reality and this completely man-made virtual reality is becoming harder to distinguish.   Are our actions as parents helping our children recognize this, or are we just feeding the illusion?

(here’s a link to a good article from CNN, with some great links on this subject)



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