Saturday, October 27, 2012

I don't quite believe it...

...that beauty magazines make one feel ugly. Something else makes one feel ugly and it's not photoshopped, glossed-over liar-ly images of already goodlooking people. And I understand how a mythical, manipulative approach to prettiness (making someone's pecs look bigger or waist look smaller or eyebrows more arched) can probably make a reader feel 'cheated' a little bit. (Like when one finds that WWF wrestlers are really faking it.) But to make one feel unattractive? I do think the problem is elsewhere and it is not going to be sorted by beauty images not being distorted.

If beauty magazines get the rap for making me feel unattractive, then travel magazines should be responsible for make me feel bored with my life too. After all, they feature all these places I haven't been to. (They do make me feel a little bad. However, I suppose I'd stop feeling that way if I actually traveled more instead of hoping Lonely Planet doesn't touch up the flamengo-hued sunset over the ruins of Peru. A disclaimer here - I don't know if they do touch-up those pictures or not. But the sunset sure looks good!)

Maybe I should feel disconcerted by the dazzling white sheets and sparkling crystal I see in the Home and Lifestyle magazines. I should also feel inadequate by reading a recipe book and knowing that those petaled swirls of that marvelous mousse will never come out of my kitchen. (To be fair, very little comes out of my kitchen, anyway.)

I'm not sure if the issue is whether magazines should be doing all that touch-up or not. Maybe they shouldn't be peddling something that isn't real. But to ascribe the lowering of my self-esteem or distortion of self-image to them? I'm not too sure about that. That's holding them responsible for a whole lot more than what's reasonable.

In the book, 'We need to talk about Kevin' by Lionel Shriver, there's a part where the character Eva is talking to her adolescent son, Kevin. Over dinner, she shares her irritation with America. I reproduce the following text, being mindful that I share the sentiment but do not think that the problem is restricted to America. I have a similar problem with today's times - wherever it may be - or rather, wherever beauty magazines are circulated.

Here goes:

"Look, one of things about this country I really can't stand? It's the lack of accountability. Everything wrong with an American's life is somebody else's fault. All these smokers raking in millions of dollars in damages from tobacco companies, when, what, they've known the risk for forty years. Can't quit? Stick it to Philip Morris. Next thing you know, fat people will be suing fast-food companies because they've eaten too many Big Macs!"

And that's my problem with cracking the whip on photoshopping or altering photographs. I feel it's a cop-out.

 Like if they didn't do this, my self-esteem would be restored? Is that the kind of restoration I even want? Seems to me that my self-esteem would still be fragile, be still precariously placed, but now, it would be someone else's responsibility to maintain. Not quite right. 

The way I see it, my self-esteem is my business. The magazine people can go ahead and make that nose look smaller.


____

An alternative point of view froma  friend who's a social psychologist:

Research in psychology shows that in any social phenomenon, there are two factors at play:

1. Personal - in this case, our self-esteem, our ability to make up our own minds, our immunity to pressure exerted by society

2. Contextual - the arrow presses downwards on the individual and is a sum total of our significant others, society at large and the trends that media perpetuates

We are prone to overestimating our ability to operate from the first factor and underestimating the magnitude of the second - since we like to fancy ourselves as "individuals" distinct from the "collective".

But there is a raft of research showing that exposure to thin-ideal models in media has a negative effect on body image. This applies to men as well as women. It has also been shows that the effect is less severe in grown-ups, and is muted in those that have good self-esteem to begin with.

So your point that self-esteem can make you immune is a good one. But that begs the question: how many of is have good self esteem to begin with? And if not then why not? Maybe it is because we are "made" to cultivate insecurities - and this happens because of that very arrow that pushes inward at us from our outer realities.

My POV on this is that perhaps you are underestimating the effects of being bombarded by "perfect" bodies.

Also, there's one more thing. Consider the fact that people who fit the "attractive" bill preset by the media are afforded - by regular people - the luxury of finding jobs easier, getting shorter prison sentences, receiving better evaluation from teachers, being more likely to get elected to office. The list is endless. Should we not do what we can to enhance our abilities to look beneath the surface?

The "beautiful is good" stereotype hurts. There is no doubt about it; the connection between media portrayals of beauty and self-image has been scientifically discovered a hundred times. (I looked it up - there seriously are that many formal studies that have found a link.) The first step in undoing the damage is buffering our self-esteem, sure. But it's much harder to do, as a society, with the rampant contradictions we find around us, day in and day out.

As for how travel magazines may belittle me for not having sailed to a myriad shores or beauty shots of food may mock me for not being a gastronomic prodigy. Well, it's a question of how close to your skin the phenomenon hits. Ask a kid, deemed highly unattractive by society, to pick one: being popular for a day or taking a trip to Disneyland for a week.

As I end this, allow me to say: your piece is well-written and humorous to boot. However, as a psychologist, I find it tough to find mirth in this particular issue within myself. It is indeed grave to me.









 

1 comment:

Shree said...

Research in psychology shows that in any social phenomenon, there are two factors at play:

1. Personal - in this case, our self-esteem, our ability to make up our own minds, our immunity to pressure exerted by society

2. Contextual - the arrow presses downwards on the individual and is a sum total of our significant others, society at large and the trends that media perpetuates

We are prone to overestimating our ability to operate from the first factor and underestimating the magnitude of the second - since we like to fancy ourselves as "individuals" distinct from the "collective".

But there is a raft of research showing that exposure to thin-ideal models in media has a negative effect on body image. This applies to men as well as women. It has also been shows that the effect is less severe in grown-ups, and is muted in those that have good self-esteem to begin with.

So your point that self-esteem can make you immune is a good one. But that begs the question: how many of is have good self esteem to begin with? And if not then why not? Maybe it is because we are "made" to cultivate insecurities - and this happens because of that very arrow that pushes inward at us from our outer realities.

My POV on this is that perhaps you are underestimating the effects of being bombarded by "perfect" bodies.

Also, there's one more thing. Consider the fact that people who fit the "attractive" bill preset by the media are afforded - by regular people - the luxury of finding jobs easier, getting shorter prison sentences, receiving better evaluation from teachers, being more likely to get elected to office. The list is endless. Should we not do what we can to enhance our abilities to look beneath the surface?

The "beautiful is good" stereotype hurts. There is no doubt about it; the connection between media portrayals of beauty and self-image has been scientifically discovered a hundred times. (I looked it up - there seriously are that many formal studies that have found a link.) The first step in undoing the damage is buffering our self-esteem, sure. But it's much harder to do, as a society, with the rampant contradictions we find around us, day in and day out.

As for how travel magazines may belittle me for not having sailed to a myriad shores or beauty shots of food may mock me for not being a gastronomic prodigy. Well, it's a question of how close to your skin the phenomenon hits. Ask a kid, deemed highly unattractive by society, to pick one: being popular for a day or taking a trip to Disneyland for a week.

As I end this, allow me to say: your piece is well-written and humorous to boot. However, as a psychologist, I find it tough to find mirth in this particular issue within myself. It is indeed grave to me.