By Jacinta Mazzarolo
Artwork by Belinda Zanello
‘She’s pretty—I’ll give you that. Well, maybe if she… No, no, she’s gorgeous, beautiful, in fact,’ I concede with slight pang of jealousy and a modest dose of denial that I’m sure many other girls also encounter when faced with Chloé’s new fragrance campaign.
I study Raquel Zimmerman’s flawless image gracing the billboard across the road, hair impeccably coifed and body immaculately dressed by the designer, elegantly striding towards the photographer. It is not even nine o’clock and I’ve already concluded that my casual Zara business shirt and sass & bide blazer (a very expensive, two-pay-cheques kind of blazer) was not up to standards. It’s a perfume ad—I bet she even smells great.
My appearance in the mirror was no longer as satisfying as it was an hour ago when I applied my makeup before work. However, maybe my initial denial wasn’t completely trivial. Raquel doesn’t get out of bed looking like that. She too may have had to scrounge around her bathroom this morning for her concealer because of the enormous blemish that appeared on her cheek during the night. In fact, the efforts that went into covering that imperfection to create the image that now hovers intimidatingly above everyone else would take a lot of time and money. Professional makeup artists, specific lighting and, of course, Photoshopping are just some of the elements that go into fashioning any media image, let alone an advertising campaign.
As a result, beauty is being portrayed unrealistically in western society; spearheaded by the media. Our idea of beauty is becoming more skewed and unattainable than ever before. Dove’s infamous ‘evolution of beauty’ video is a prime example of this notion as it illustrates how easily reality can be altered into blatant lies, simply wrapped up in a pretty dress. The images themselves are not distressing; it’s the fact that people cannot tell the difference. What is even more distressing is the exploitation of these vulnerabilities for profit as we value consumption over self-esteem. Consumerism is a major reason for displaying these unrealistic representations: advertisements portray the idea of perfection to convince us to purchase the product. We didn’t always think like this though, did we?
Now, I admit that, like millions of other people around the world, I used to sit down once a week to lust over Serena van der Woodsen’s life in Gossip Girl. Her blonde hair, designer clothes and impressive body are completely enviable and, minus her chequered past, spiteful best friend and morally ambiguous family, she is our role model … yet she doesn’t exist. Serena was also the poster girl for beauty when I confronted a class of teenagers. The girls wanted to be her and the boys wanted to date her. This declaration was somewhat predictable taking into account our societal compulsion with perfection and aversion to growing old. However, it wasn’t until I stepped into my mother’s classroom of grade ones that I discovered this skewed perception of beauty was not an innate part of our psyche.
After being attacked by colourful fish hanging from the ceiling by staples and border tape, I posed the same question to the six-year-olds. Their responses were unaffected and innocent. Many associated beauty with natural wonders such as waterfalls or rainbows (‘the weld is bootfool’), others drew their friends (‘I thingk Nick is Baeutiful’). Some even drew themselves (‘I am spesol’) and possibly my favourite response, a picture of three hearts with the caption ‘My hut is luwee’.
The difference between these answers and an adult or teenager’s? Mainstream media was not the standard to which they were comparing themselves. Theirs were honest and pure points-of-view. However, the distorted media influences did begin to rear their heads as some of the girls remarked that long, blonde hair and blue eyes were “the only thing that was beautiful” because that’s what Disney’s movie princess Rapunzel looks like in Tangled.
Of course there is no denying that women have always sought out beauty in a bid to look and feel good. Before modern civilisation, Native American women used to apply the juice of red berries to their lips to attract possible partners. Yet somewhere in between a couple of wars, a really big sinking ship and a ‘large step for mankind’, we began to brazenly harm ourselves in the name of beauty. We inject plastic, starve, pull out hair and literally cook ourselves in an attempt to achieve a perfection we don’t even know exists. We look to the pixelated screens of our computers, televisions and iPhones for guidance before unleashing these practices—which some cultures consider torture—upon ourselves, instead of trusting our own best friends or sisters.
Now, without this turning into another verse of Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful, we must really think about why we waste billions of dollars on artificiality in the name of insecurity. We clearly were not born with this instinct, nor were we programmed to subconsciously skew our priorities. Is it for integrity, satisfaction, jealousy, greed or conformity that we buy into the media’s idea of beauty?
The truth is I don’t even know the answer to this question, as I am definitely not constantly content and confident in my appearance. I mean, just this morning when faced with the mirror, the screams were probably audible to the entire street. Still, despite being enamoured by the Chloé ad across the street, I resist the temptation to run to the nearest bathroom and reapply my concealer. Perfection doesn’t exist—not in reality at least. Life is much more interesting without it anyway; and you know what, if I squint my eyes for long enough, I can just make out Raquel’s blemish too.