Day 495: Real Beauty

As a pop-cultural artifact, “Coven” arguably reflects our obsession with staying young, sexy and full of energy. Jack Nachbar and Kevin Lause, in their seminal text on studying popular culture (“Popular Culture: An Introductory Text,” 1992), outline what they call the “Popular Culture Formula”: “the popularity of a given cultural element … is directly proportional to the degree to which that element is reflective of audience beliefs and values.” In other words, viewers find the reflection of their own beliefs, values and desires attractive and entertaining, and pop-cultural artifacts that reflect these tend to become successful. Following this “formula,” the reflection of an attachment to youth and vitality in “Coven” is indicative of such an attachment in society at large.
But “reflection” is just one aspect. There’s another component involved that Nachbar and Lause can’t deny: the ability of popular cultural forms to mold those very values they are reflecting back to us. To this the authors respond with a fitting metaphor: the “Funhouse Mirror.” Popular culture “both reflects our ‘image’ back to us but also alters our image in the process of doing so,” they argue. Indeed, debates surrounding this dynamic continue to unfold, perhaps most notably regarding violence in video games. And a show like “Coven” may be not just depicting our particular obsessions, but shaping them.
TV isn’t the only popular cultural medium depicting a societal attachment to preserving a youthful image. Attacks against art directors and magazine editors abound for their “Photoshopping” of raw images. Actress Jennifer Lawrence’s cover photo on a 2011 issue of Flare has recently resurfaced with an accompanying animated GIF revealing just how much of a “touch-up” her photo received. Her reaction to photos from her Dior handbag campaign on the red carpet at this year’s Oscars was particularly telling: “That doesn’t look like me at all.” Lawrence facetiously admitted that she “love[s] Photoshop more than anything in the world,” even though “people don’t look like that.”
...These are reflections of our values and desires. They may be shaping them as well, but we are drawn to these popular cultural manifestations – and are entertained by them – for a reason. - Salon

Funny enough, Jennifer might just be one of the most outspoken celebrities when it comes to calling out the pseudo perfectionism of Hollywood starlets as portrayed in the media. Upon seeing her recent ads for Christian Dior, the "American Hustle" star proudly proclaimed, "That doesn't look like me a at all," adding that Photoshop was certainly to blame.
Then, in November, while in conversation with Yahoo! CEO Marissa Meyer, Jennifer explained the issue further. "The world has this idea that if you don't look like an airbrushed perfect model," she said. "You have to see past it. You look how you look, you have to be comfortable. What are you going to do? Be hungry every single day to make other people happy? That's just dumb." - Huffington Post

The social concept of what beauty is evolves over time. If we were to look back one or two hundred years, we would see that beauty in those times was completely different to how it is defined now. Even now, different cultures (well those that have not westernized completely - yet) see beauty differently to the generic skinny, high cheekbones, full mouth, plastic kind of look that has become so common. There are also many movements trying to change the focus of beauty from the aesthetic aspect to more of a self acceptance and self comfort - I really do hope that these movements are successful - but realistically, as long as mainstream media and the big corporations are still pushing out the generic barbie look then social views will not change an a large scale.

Sadly, many parents do not adequately prepare their children for all the pictures, pressures and norms that they will be bombarded with - and some parents actually encourage their children to participate in these "superficial" norms like modelling or pageantry.  When a child starts to interact with the world around them they are taking in everything - if the parent does not sufficiently prepare them to discern what is actually acceptable and what is not then the child will inevitably integrate and become what they are seeing around them. Obviously this would mean that the child is learning from TV, magazines, adverts etc what beauty (apparently) is. This then opens the child up to living in a state of constant comparison of themselves to everyone around them, trying to establish if they are "good enough", "pretty enough", "sexy enough" and all that jazz.

Living in a state of constant comparison leads to all sorts of nasty habits (ways) of thinking - commonly known as psychological disorders - such as bulimia, anorexia, anxiety disorders, depression etc. What really doesn't help in all of this is the reality that people are being promoted in such a way that they appear to be physically flawless (which is obviously impossible, and frankly doesn't even matter in the bigger scheme of life) with the help of things like Photoshop. So the models being used in adverts and such appear to be these divine figures sent down down from Heaven to show us all how completely not amazing and horribly not beautiful we are. Aspiring to an impossible ideal is simply that: impossible.

So what is beauty? It is a concept. It adapts along with our changing views and norms. What has been happening in recent decades is that our accepted view of beauty is used to create and exploit our insecurities, thereby making us more susceptible to purchasing all these "really amazing" products that will magically make our lives better. I saw a post floating around on Facebook that sums up what I'm getting at quite well: If all women accepted their bodies as they are and loved themselves, how many billion dollar industries would go out of business? And it's not just makeup, fashion, plastic surgery - but also our movies and TV series. So many movies and TV shows are based on and promote our societal/cultural norms - which we do not question, because we accept these norms - so the shows are further validating our social perceptions of beauty.