My concerns and grapplings with this issue began with Naomi Wolf's book, 'The Beauty Myth', where I imagine many women have begun. I come to this issue primarily as a woman, not so much as a photographer, since I don't really shoot people almost at all. But it does reach into many peoples and my concerns with the issue of veracity in images.
So what would the issue be after that long preamble? Well, essentially this, how models are portrayed in ads and popular culture and how that affects our own perception of ourselves.
While this does affect men, what with the coming of the metro-sexual, this is still I think largely about women.
Recently I came across this entry in the blog BAGnewsNotes. It shows an ad that Dove made as part of their 'Campaign for Real Beauty'. The ad largely shows you how much and how images are made and manipulated before they reach the consumption stage. It suggests, off course, that our perceptions of beauty are quite skewed by our perception only of the end product, a highly synthesized and manipulated, unreal end-product. A far more telling look for me was at Glen Ferron's portfolio, basically celebrity and model pictures before and after retouching. It's profoundly frightening to see these changes. All skin is uniformly firm, toned and clear, bodies toned, waists thinner, etc, etc. The signs of being human are regularly removed. Industry pundits tell you that no image is unmanipulated, its merely a difference in degree.
This is really nothing new at all, we all know this. The extent to which this knowledge permeates our consciousness of course, varies. There is probably the whole spectrum from falling hook-line-sinker to utter cynicism. And in my mind, there is very little doubt that a lot of people, particularly young girls are buying into these images as real and aspiring to reach them, much to their detriment. One need only take a look around to observe this, or maybe look at your daughter or niece, we've all encountered it. (Lauren Greenfield's photo-documentary takes on the particulars of this sub-culture are definitely worth a LONG look.)
What might be interesting about all of this is that we are somehow hardwired, psychologically, to inherently view others are better looking than ourselves. Its interesting because that might mean that it is much harder to combat our poor conceptions of ourselves in relation to these astronomically, albeit assistedly, better looking models than we think.
Here are two things that prompted this thought. First, theres been some research done by Sarah Hill that does suggest this. That we think that the opposite sex finds people far more attractive than they really do. In short, we overestimate our competition in terms of attractiveness.
I was thinking that heres how it might work. Its been said by fashion photographers that the rationale behind some of the manipulation is that this is indeed how we see other people. A little thought suggests that it might be true if we're talking about relatively quick looks at people we see incidentally. We usually tend to sort of visually 'average' out things, rarely do we notice flaws in appearance, unless they are rather large. Try it for yourself, look at someone 'normally', cursorily, and then closely for long, with the intention of finding flaws you'll see what I mean. Whereas, when it comes to ourselves, we're usually gazing in a mirror in close-up and for long, noticing flaws. Our own perception of ourselves is a sense 'honester'. You can see how this would lead to a overestimation of the competition.
What do you make of a photograph, however? Because there are close-ups and you can look as long as you want at them. Are we now conning ourselves doubly? By 'seeing' a lack of flaws even at this close-range in models, are we convincing ourselves that our own flaws are that much worse? And reinforcing an idea we already had from daily lives?
What do you think?
Maybe I should be clearer?
PS. Look in the comments, some of which I had pulled into the main body and now have pulled out.
The abstract to the original article is here.