In this post I want to continue the conversation that several bloggers and I, including Damselfly (Damsel in Progress), Miss Xa Xa (Amuse Biatch), and Trixie (from Kora in Hell) began about today's skewed perception of beauty and/or aging. To continue last week's dialogue, people who are already naturally beautiful are being 'enhanced' through the magic of photoshop. Click on Trixie's or Damsel's blogs, or the spot-on comment on Jossip about Faith Hill's Incredible Shrinking Badonkadonk to get a sense of what I mean.
As you continue to read this post, you might enjoy doing so to music sung by the Chordettes, a largely forgotten girl group of the 50's. The song is called Lollipop. Click here and continue reading, unless you want to study the clothes and hairdos of that era - very ladylike and discreet - and the epitome of fashion and feminine beauty 50 years ago.
In this photo, size one Sarah Jessica Parker looks zaftig next to lollipop head Renee Zellweger. From it one can gain a clear idea of my rant this week, which is about weight and beauty. According to the Daily Mail, Renee works out 2 hours per day and takes 12-hour hikes to maintain her emaciated look. More on this later.
Anorexic lollipop heads and long bony arms have been the staple of Hollywood starlets for several years, starting with the Olsen Twins and carried on in proud tradition by Kate Bosworth, Natalie Portman, and Posh Spice, who once used to weigh around 130 lbs. I believe Posh tips the scale at 98 lbs. these days. Nicole Kidman, though naturally thin, has at times resembled a lollipop headed starlet. And as she ages her face has taken on a stretched plastic sheen that begs the question: 'Does she use botox or doesn't she? and 'Why would she do this to herself?'
Even as models and actresses whittle themselves down to nothing, their comic book looks are more exaggerated through the miracle of computer manipulation. Heads and boobs are blow up to enormous sizes, while arms and waists are shrunk down to anorexic proportions.
When my Entertainment Weekly magazine arrived in the mail a couple of months back, I was struck with how perfect Katherine Heigl looked. Too perfect. In fact, she looked ... plastic. Regardless of how young or beautiful we are, Madison Avenue is telling us that our natural beauty just isn't good enough. In addition to stretching and thinning limbs, heads and bodies, a photoshop technician will remove all hints of lines, blemishes, and variations in skin tone. This is done as a matter of course, as demonstrated in this cover of an unknown model. Comparing the before and after, can you spot the various ways this cute young woman was changed to look 'better'?
No wonder our young women are confused. A healthy athletic group like the Rutgers female athletic players has become fair game for a spiteful comment, not because the team played poorly but because these women didn't conform to some strange unreachable standard of fake beauty. When I view this picture I see amazingly healthy, strong, and talented women. For those qualities alone they are beautiful. It saddened me to see these young faces so subdued: Clearly Imus' hateful comment affected them deeply.
Much too often healthy but admittedly heavy young women like American Idol winner Jordin Sparks are told they must lose weight. Obesity expert Meme Roth got slammed for calling Jordin obese. Our new idol winner isn't light, but considering that the camera adds on 20 lbs and that Jordin doesn't jiggle, wears flattering clothes, and acts with a great deal of self confidence tells us that she has a healthier body image than Renee Zelwegger or Nicole Ritchie.
Thin, attenuated bodies were not always the rigeur. Back in the good old days, only servants, slaves, and poor people were thin from lack of food and a great deal of exercise. The rich, because they were idle and could afford to eat and drink in excess were pleasingly plump or downright obese. They also had poor teeth because of the amount of sweets they ingested, and suffered gout, a rich man's disease, from consuming too much fatty protein.
In fact, for primitive man an ample-hipped, well-endowed woman meant fecundity, and those ripples and dimples we so abhor today meant the survival of one's tribe or genetic heritage.
In certain countries this standard for beauty still exists. I recall the day my mother and I entered a small store in some obscure village in Tortolla in the British Virgin Islands to replenish supplies for our rental sail boat. I had proudly whittled my 5' 5" frame down to 114 lbs. so that I could wear bikinis. (I was 22 at the time.) My mom, going through menopause, had been struggling with weight gain. She looked pleasingly plumb, not obese. As we entered the store, the woman behind the counter exclaimed, "Ah, you are so beautiful!" As I began to preen and crow, the woman added, "Nice and fat!" When we returned to the sailboat, Mom and I couldn't stop giggling, much to my father's puzzlement.
Interestingly as the populace in general benefited from a plentiful and easily stored food supply and mechanical transportation in the form of cars, trains, and trams, the masses began to gain weight as rapidly as the upper classes. One other invention changed our perception of beauty: The camera. The photographer's lens loves angles and lines, and dips and hollows. Women like Katherine Hepburn looked sensational, while the more conventional beauty with a round face and plump limbs, like Mae West, looked, well, rather ordinary by comparison.
The tables had turned. Where once it took effort and wealth to gain weight, now everyone could do it, so to speak. These days, it takes money and leisure and a tremendous force of will and effort to look emaciated. As you read previously, Renee Zellweger works out two hours a day. Fresh fruits and vegetables are expensive. Canned spaghetti and boxed macaroni and cheese are not. Also, to take a bite or two of a $50 dollar meal and say 'I am full' must make a huge impression on the jaded.
Knowing what we now know, can we ever be sure that this photo of Eva Longoria in a Bebe Sport advert is really of her? Are her hips really that small? Are her thighs actually so perfect? Does she truly have such spectacularly perfect skin and hair? Think of what was done to Faith Hill's Redbook cover. Faith is a beautiful woman by any stretch of the imagination, but apparently her fit body (how many children has she born?) wasn't good enough for our photoshop magicians, so they streamlined her waist and arms. BTW, isn't Redbook a magazine for the stay at home Mom?
Self perception is a complex, psychological phenomenon. I know from experience, having once attempted to make a living as an artist. My mother-in-law hated the painting a local artist made of her. He painted what he saw - a middle aged, middle class, conservative school teacher. She ripped the painting to shreds (oh yes) and asked me to tackle her portrait. I sweated bullets but it was a huge success. Know why? I painted her as she saw herself. I enlarged her head by 35% and doubled the size of her eyes. The result was a glammed up 'Mom' and the entire family declared that this was exactly how their mom (who died seven years ago) would be remembered. The point is that when we look in the mirror we already see a distortion. This is especially true for women. Psychologists tell us that when we gaze on our reflections we see someone who is 10 lbs. lighter and at least 5-10 years younger. Now society has imposed another layer of deception on top of our self-deception. Again, I ask you, when will the madness end? Until it does, we will be stuck looking at images of this: A woman made to look like a stick figure with big insect eyes and a lollipop head. Heaven help us.
Whose body type do I like? Let's start with J-Lo. She and Beyonce and their feminine curves rock the Casbah.
Heigl Cover in Go Fug Yourself
Mirror, Mirror: A Summary of Research Findings on Body Image
Lollipop Heads Fox