Friday, March 21, 2008

From Gibson Girls to Photoshopped Perfection

In Gina Kolata's Rethinking Thin, I was reminded that the feminine ideal of the early 1900s was just as unreal as today's photoshopped magazine covers. The Gibson Girls were drawings of otherwise slender women with large breasts and lush hips and buttocks. Their waists were tightly cinched to form an hourglass figure, and they were tall, with bouffant updos that further increased their statuesque heights. Women did their best to emulate the Gibson Girls, despite the fact that they were drawings--idealized versions of a man's vision of feminine beauty. Kolata also claims that flapper girls were a similar invention of artists, leading to the teenage-proportioned body (small breasts and hips) being the new ideal for that era.

Here we are, a hundred years later, still being mocked with unreal images of beauty that we are expected to emulate. Even women who already conform to the ideal are photoshopped to remove the tiniest details, until their faces resemble porcelain dolls. Not only are blemishes, wrinkles and other "flaws" removed, the very proportions of a woman's body and face are altered--eyes made bigger and moved to a different position on the face, lips plumped, widened, and repositioned, waists whittled down, breasts pumped up and lifted. It's ridiculous.

Manufacturers of beauty products absolutely rely upon women's low self-image to sell their products. While I enjoy putting different colors on my face, as humans have done for millennia, the cosmetics industry goes far beyond that. If we are not panicking over every pimple, freaking out over each wrinkle, and becoming hysterical at the sight of a gray hair, they aren't making money. These "too perfect" magazine covers are absolutely designed to shame us, to make us hate ourselves. There is BIG money to be made on our self-hatred.

We bind ourselves in Spanx, strap ourselves into tight bras, slather eight kinds of goop on our faces, pay for the privilege of having someone tell us how and what to eat (and shame us when we haven't lost weight), run on human sized hamster wheels (big big bucks there), dye our hair so we don't look old (instead of for the fun of, say, having purple hair), and then continue to buy the magazines that make us feel like we HAVE to keep doing these things, because we still don't look like the photoshopped cover girl, even though the magazines never actually say anything new (and trust me folks, Cosmo never has any real new sex tips, no matter what the cover hype says).

Well, screw that. I'm sorry, but I don't have the money to support low self esteem. If I felt like I wasn't good enough to be seen in public without buying all of the stupid crap these companies are selling, I wouldn't be able to afford the "privilege" of leaving my house.

Throw those damn magazines out. Stop buying them--they are preying upon you; they are deliberately designed to make you feel bad. Who needs that nonsense? Unsubscribe, and either find a less damning periodical (Bon Appetit, Cat Fancy, Aquarium Fish), or invest your money in some good books instead. If you're a feminist, or at least have feminist leanings, I can highly recommend the works of Sheri S. Tepper, and many of her books can be found for super-cheap used on Amazon. Or, build up your FA library with Gina Kolata's Rethinking Thin, Paul Campos' The Obesity Myth, Roberta Pollack Seid's Never Too Thin (note: Get this one while you can; it's out of print, and only available used), and Barry Glassner's The Gospel of Food.


Anonymous said...

I know how you feel. I really am sick of it too. I don't wear makeup, except lip gloss. Alot of people think I'm half my age, I'm 26. So I do get frusterated at time when people treat me like a kid, or a teen. Cause I do look like someone who could be in high school.

I was thinking, it's like, so I don't spend 2 hours a day doing my makeup, and waste my time going out trying to buy trendy clothing, so that means I look like I'm 13?

You should be able to look natural without people assuming your a kid, cause you're not doing adult things like risking eye infection with eye makeup, and wearing lipstick and all that. If anything I'm more adult than the adults who think I'm a kid. It's crazy,

I'm sure you must feel that way sometimes. Like why are people giving you greif over your beliefs, when they're the ones who are immature.

Mercurior said...

theres a new story in the papers today. which paralells, this.

we are having a miss england, but however wrong some people think it is. Its still a choice adults make.

The beauty therapy student, who was signed by Models Plus model agency, said she decided to become a model to give reassurance and a confidence boost to other "curvy" girls.

Chloe, from Guildford, said: "It's really exciting, I'm really, really happy. I'm lost for words, I started to cry and everything. I'm over the moon.

"I wanted to go through to the Miss England finals to break through the stereotype that you have to be tall and skinny.

"I wanted to make a bit of a statement. When I studied the other entrants for the Miss Surrey competition I concluded that pretty as the contestants were, they were equally all uniformly blonde and Barbie doll like.

Chloe beat seven other girls to the Miss Surrey title at the local finals today

"I want to show girls out there that it is possible to be beautiful and not a standard sized zero.

Stevie Walters, of Models Plus, said that Chloe has a "luscious" figure at 5ft 10in, a size 16 and 38DD bustline.

Anonymous said...

i got my hair trimmed yesterday afternoon and my hairdresser (new person) pointed out with shocked glee that i have some wiry-ish white hair that is not covered by my hair dye. she batted at them like a cat. yes lady, hair turns white as you get older, even for some people in their mid 20s such as myself. i dye my hair occasionally because, like you said, it can be fun. i usually go red because it compliments my complexion and eyes, not because it covers my gray.

but honestly, what the F? this woman cuts hair for a living and she treated gray like a novelty.

also, thanks for the book recommendations. i'll be adding a few things to my amazon wish list
: )

Ms. Heathen said...

I don't know if you've seen these things, but there was this computerized touch-screen thing for a cosmetics company that promised to tell me what product was right for me if I gave it some info. So, indulging mostly in my monkey-brain, I dutifully sat there telling it my age and my daily beauty regimen until it spat out results. Although this company makes an acne wash that's just that, because I'm over 30 they recommended something to "minimize the signs of aging". Because of course, I must be freaking out over the fact that I look like an adult now and I should try every snake oil cure to diminish those terrifying crow's feet. It would be the strangest thing in the world, apparently, to be fine with a couple of wrinkles, to even like that my face shows a mini roadmap of my life.

Yeah, I'm not going to be buying their products, even if they do have good stuff for combination skin. Life is too short to pretend you haven't spent any time living it.

Fat Angie said...

Sometimes the beauty tips are good for, say, picking an eye shadow that won't make you look like an insomniac raccoon. But, I'm of the firm belief that nice clothes and makeup are to enhance the natural beauty that every woman has, not just the women who get photoshopped to perfection.

And Cosmo's sex tips... I don't want to be TMI, but most of them are just weird. The one with the ice cream cone? Has that ever worked?

I will be scouring Amazon and used bookstores for your suggestions, though. It'll be a change to read something besides biology textbooks. (although the chapter on digestion and filtration is really interesting!)


Nan said...

Many years ago Cosmopolitan magazine did a spread showing what it took to get a model from looking the way she did when she walked in off the street complete with uneven skin tone and zits to being on their cover. Among other things, her face got painted with clown white, and then the other make-up laid on top of it to create a glowing, "natural" look. It looked like perfect skin, of course, because pores and blemishes wasn't going to show through that thick layer of clown white anymore than wood grain will show through a good coat of latex enamel.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I just surfed over to your blog from your it! I especially love this entry...I don't let "fashion" dictate my appearance. If I buy clothing, it's because I like it because it's cute/comfortable/whatever, not because it's in the style. I'm ashamed to admit that I used to subscribe to Cosmo, but it's ended now and I didn't renew it, choosing instead to receive National Geographic (which doesn't insult my intelligence). Yes, I'm fat...I am working on it, but I never want to be one of those rail-thin women who has to constantly stress over food. I just want to be healthier, and in shape ('cause I'm not in shape now). And my husband loves my body...I presume that you can say the same thing about your awesome hubby. Isn't it wonderful to find someone who loves you despite "flaws" that society says you have?