Giving "real beauty" a makeover

As much as I can’t stand Heidi Montag, following her recent 10-procedure makeover, she made a statement on Good Morning America that exemplifies the problem I have with the importance of image in mainstream media. When faced with the question as to whether her choice to go under the knife for such a drastic transformation might negatively influence any young women who (for some reason) might look up to her, Montag replied that she’s in a special situation because she’s “in the limelight.”

Only a few years ago, before she rose to celebrity status via MTV’s reality show “The Hills,” Montag was a fresh-faced girl from the small town of Crested Butte, Colorado. Personally, I think she was fairly cute back then, but according to Montag, she felt pressured by the attractiveness of her costars and by being in the public eye to the point that she claims she hated her appearance. Even before her latest and most dramatic round of procedures, she had undergone a nose job and breast augmentation in 2006. Montag also claims that she underwent the plastic surgeries for the sake of her career.

In a blog on usnews.com, Scripps Memorial Hospital chief of surgery Richard Chaffoo considers women who feel they need plastic surgery for purely superficial reasons (particularly to such an extent as Montag) to be in need of counseling, not surgery. He points out the very real mental health issue of body dysmorphic disorder, which is comparable to other such self-image disillusionment problems as anorexia or OCD that are often exacerbated by images of beauty portrayed in the media.

Montag, of course, is hardly alone in her pursuit of her own idea of beauty; the pages of magazines and the internet are teeming with celebrity “before-and-after” galleries.

For every young starlet who goes under the knife for an image update, however, there are far more who are grounded enough to abstain. Really, though, with the miracle of Photoshop, there’s no reason why they should feel the need in the first place. I was amazed by the abundance of Youtube videos that demonstrated Photoshop’s capacities, and found this one particularly engrossing. (Probably the most famous video depicting the magic of makeup and digital enhancements is the “Evolution” video from Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty.) Additionally, Newsweek featured a gallery of “the decade’s most egregious retouching scandals,” and the blog thestylebitches.com regularly posts eye-opening comparisons between celebrities as they appear in real life and on billboards and magazine covers.

With the ubiquitousness of such shameless retouching, enhancing, and otherwise nipping-and-tucking whether digitally or surgically, what kind of message must women of all ages be receiving about what it means to be attractive? And what kind of unrealistic expectations must these contrived paragons of beauty be affecting in men? The latter concern is addressed in an article on psychologytoday.com, which, in short, condemns the subjective ideas of beauty put forth in modern media; the former in a study by the psychology department at Vanderbilt University, which concluded that the general effect of media on the average woman’s body image is both strong and harmful, causing discrimination.

So what’s to be done? An article on nydailynews.com suggests that when an image used in mass media has been Photoshopped, that it be marked with a cautionary sticker akin to those used on explicit CD’s. Other groups such as Dove® have launched campaigns and workshops intended to boost self-esteem in young girls by reinforcing the idea that inner beauty is what is most important.

These measures are laudable, to be sure, but for them to rival the effects of what mass media wants us to think of as “beauty” seems, to be perfectly frank, like a fairly insurmountable task. I’m a big believer in “every little bit helps,” but if we really want to change our culture’s idea of beauty, it seems we should make an effort to confront the problem as much as invent countermeasures. For example, there has been plenty of outrage over the size zero standard generally imposed for runway models, and the Council of Fashion Designers of America has made at least some form of an effort to respond by creating its Health Initiative to encourage diversity in the sizes and ages of models. Also, this year’s New York Fashion Week reportedly saw an “eclectic array” of models walking the runway, according to an article on washingtonpost.com.

Between both approaches, it’s a start. Given the odds, can the ideals of beauty imposed on us by mass media ever truly be, themselves, made-over? What are your thoughts?

Other related articles:

Fashion industry insiders say not to expect any real change in model standards

Glamour magazine showcases beautiful imperfection

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Giving "real beauty" a makeover

5 thoughts on “Giving "real beauty" a makeover

  1. Sarah says:

    Somehow in girls minds there is always a “if only this was different about me then I would be happy” mentality. This is a complete lie. Unless we are content with who we are at the moment, we can change everything about ourselves, and we still won’t be happy. Contentment is never based on your level of attractiveness. We have all known those gorgeous people who are incredibly unhappy and insecure. Something that I have realized also, is that the second we become unhappy with who we are and what we look like, we are essentially telling God that He didn’t know what He was doing when He made us. How wrong is that?
    Also, I haven’t come to a decision about my stance on plastic surgery as a Christian, but I do know that if the reason for it is because one is unhappy with the way they look, I find that wrong.

  2. Tomoko says:

    When I meet new people, I will judge people based on appearance. Why is it that many of us will (in a very subtle manner) take a glance at a person’s clothes or body shape? Why is it that we cannot focus on keeping eye contact (at least in countries where it is respectful to maintain eye contact) with people while they are talking? One thing that I would like to propose is that many times it is a pride issue: “As long as I look better than her, I am better than her.” And I believe that that is a result of the wrong kind of self-esteem. That sort of self-esteem is based on the wrong value. When this occurs, we fail to see people as people. I suggest that the changes that we want to see in beauty ideals begins with our own self-esteem and every interaction we come across throughout the day.

  3. Charissa Standage says:

    It never ceases to amaze me that this battle is still raging and that celebrity figures continue to find imperfections with their body. I can’t help but wonder if celebrities, the “icons” of beauty aren’t satisfied with themselves after professional makeup artists and hair stylists do them up, then how can the average “wash-n-go” woman have any self-confidence? The thing is, the average woman is probably a great deal more confidant than the celebrity they are admiring.

    This whole discussion also makes me really sad, especially when I see videos of what photoshop can do to a person. What really hit me was when the photoshopper in the video removed the scar between that woman’s eyebrows. Personally when I saw that scar I smiled. I think scars (especially on the face) tell a great story and reveal a lot about the person. If you remove those scars or those little “imperfections,” who’s to say you’re not removing something that another person adores most about you?

    Spiritually all this reshaping and remodeling is just a slap in the face to God. He created everything, including that “imperfection.” He not only thinks it’s beautiful, but thought it was important enough to create you that way, flaw and all.

    Luckily I’ve moved past feeling really bad about myself and my appearance, and now my heart just aches for the people caught up in these unrealistic images. Will this issue ever be resolved?

  4. These feelings of inadequecy and low self-esteem are something I truly struggle with in my life daily. I was looking through my pictures the other day and I even have pictures of beautiful women such as Rachel Bilson, Leighton Meester, and Sophia Bush all with “Inspiration” as the title of the photo. Why do women do this to themselves? Is the celebrity image truly the ideal beauty that we should strive for as women? If I lost weight, changed my hair, spend a lot of money on clothes and skin care products would a reach a level of happiness where I would be pleased with my appearance and not put myself down while scrutinizing every part of my body and face in the mirror? What is the point of all of this when I know that there is such thing as photoshop, retouching, and airbrushing on the photos that we lionize and idealize as the ultimate look of perfection? I do not understand why I and so many others do this to ourselves. We are all made in the image of God, and it hurts Him when we put ourselves down like that.

    Will we as women ever feel content and satisfied with what we see in the mirror?

  5. Wow, being a single parent I have a lot of time on my hands in the late evening. So I love to fly through so many of these different blogs on line and just see what new things I can find. I just wanted to thank you for yours and I do look forward to reading more.

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