I had the pleasure of being featured at The Saturday Evening Pot this week, and one of the things I talked about in my interview was body image and self esteem. I’ve had a lot of emails in response to that, and one of them, from Judy, the lovely lady behind Savoring Today, included a video from the Dove Real Beauty Campaign that I had seen before but never written about. It perfectly illustrates one of the main things that influences our perception of beauty today.
Shocking, isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong, I love things that help me make the best of me. I write about fashion and beauty. I have my hair coloured back to a shade similar to what it was when I was younger, have been known to wear false eyelashes and have regular facials. I love taking care of myself and particularly wearing makeup. It’s fun, and it helps me to feel confident. There is nothing wrong with celebrating and making the most of your own beauty.
However, for well over two generations, the self esteem of women around the world has been affected by a perception of beauty that is dangerously skewed, and in many ways this is only getting worse. As technology moves forward and makes it possible for us to digitally alter not only photographs, but also moving images, we place future generations at even greater risk. Anorexia and bulimia are on the rise. Little girls try to ‘fix’ the things that are ‘wrong’ with them, growing up faster and faster as they aspire to an ideal that is in itself an artificially created lie. For all we tell our children they are beautiful, the world assails them with images that suggest to them they are just not good enough.
My 18 year old son is a photographer, and I have found it incredibly enlightening to walk through the streets of London with him. There are billboards, advertisements on buses, images of thin, fashionable, ‘beautiful’ women everywhere. Although I knew in principle that many of these have been digitally altered, it wasn’t until my son began explaining exactly how they had been altered, picture by picture, that I got a sense of the insanity around us. If a model has one eye that is somehow better shaped than another, they will even remove the other eye and put the ‘good’ one on her face twice. Seriously! Waists are thinned to a size that even the strongest whalebone corset could not obtain, lips are plumped or thinned, skin colour is altered and eyelashes are ‘enhanced in post production’.
It is good to see companies like Dove stepping up to help stop the madness. Another wonderful initiative from inside the fashion industry is All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, formed to highlight the fact that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and is not restricted to a particular age, shape, size, height or race. Willingly or not, more and more companies are changing the language they use in advertising. Also there are more and more skin care and cosmetic companies promoting a healthier attitude to beauty. Some magazines are even limiting the amount of photographic enhancement they use. It’s slow progress, but it is progress nonetheless. In the meantime, there are things we can do to help. We can
Stop being critical of ourselves, and be careful not to use self-critical language, particularly in front of children and young people. I’m embarrassed to say I made this mistake with my own son, always telling him how wonderful he was, but criticising myself. To my shame, it took him calling me up on it to make me stop. If we tell our children they are beautiful, but say we think we are fat or our noses are too big, we are sending mixed messages that put our children’s self esteem at risk.
See the beauty in others, and comment on it, especially in front of our kids. Often the media encourages us to see the bad things, delighting in a celebrity’s bad hair day or a fashion faux pas. Sometimes we do it ourselves, mentioning that so and so has put on weight, or ‘let themselves go’. Instead, we can make it a point to compliment the things we like about people. Let’s face it, we all love to hear good things about ourselves.
Talk to your children and the young people in your life about digital enhancement of photographs and video. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of photographic intervention, such as flattering lighting or the removal of a blemish. However alterations that fundamentally change someone’s appearance with the intention to deceive the viewer are a step too far. If we can’t stop them from happening, we can at least point out to our children that they are.
Where possible, use political and economic pressure to encourage designers, broadcasters, writers, artists, magazine editors and cosmetic companies to embrace a broader spectrum of beauty. I’m not about to ask anyone to stop using the products they love and that work for them just because photographic enhancement is used in the advertising. However avoiding companies that actively promote an unrealistic ideal of beauty where you can, can help to make a statement. And if you love fashion magazines like I do, be sure to explain to the young people in your life that the images in them have been enhanced, and reiterate it regularly.
Use your voice for good. If you have a blog and this issue resonates with you, write about it!
Remember you are beautiful. Real beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, colours and heights, and it really does come from the inside. There has never been anyone else exactly like you, and there never will be. You don’t have to change a thing. You are beautiful right now, as you are, and you always will be.
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