Portraying Beauty

As a girl growing up in the twenty-first century, I faced confliction every day as magazine advertisements, television commercials and the sexualization of women grew to such a size that it became impossible to ignore. The beautiful women in magazines and on billboards were not real. They were the airbrushed fantasies of talented artists who had no regard for the impending consequences. Now that I am an adult, I see it all around me. I see it when I look in the mirror and on my friends’ faces; the injustice of a world where the only truly beautiful women are the ones who are touched up and re-created in magazines. These mediums provide a bar that no woman could ever possibly meet. They use Photoshop in magazines to give celebrities the ideal look, but the problem is the ideal woman does not exist. A real woman is found beneath layers of makeup, a good fitness trainer and the help of Photoshop.

The impression left by the media travels to teenagers not only through television advertisements but through school pictures in high school. Graduating seniors have enough on their plate with finals and packing up for college. As a student I was astounded when it came time for school pictures; I was given the option to have them altered. Students today are still being given the opportunity to touch up their pictures to get rid of any imperfections their image might show. Tyler Main, a junior at North Carroll High School in Hampstead, MD was surprised to learn that school pictures could be altered with Photoshop. “I guess [students] are going by what others would think about their pictures, but it’s also a lifetime keepsake. Some people don’t want to look back on their high school days feeling bad about how they looked,” said Main. Looking through a school year book, it is impossible to see any of the tell-tale signs shown on a teenagers face such as acne or redness. Main believes that people are always searching for the image of perfection and they find it in the media. “People tend to go out of their way to try to achieve that look or shine that people think is ‘perfect’,” said Main. There is nothing to suggest that these 17 and 18-year-old kids have a single imperfection in their, now flawless, pictures.

Looking back through history, women like Marilyn Monroe were revered as beautiful and sexy, even though she had curves. She was known as one of the sexiest women alive, and is still revered today. According to an article in New York Daily, Marilyn Monroe is making an impact fifty years after her death as a renowned beauty icon. She is featured in Sexy Hair in 2013 and in a Dior advertisement in 2011. She is not the overly thin, perfected model seen in advertisements today, yet she is still impacting the fashion world years after her rise to fame. In Monroe’s day, women were perceived as beautiful whether they were thick or thin. Somewhere along the way the idea of curves and imperfections got lost, and young ladies became women under the false pretense that true beauty is based first on appearance and second on personality.

In an attempt to stand out and confront the main problem of the “image is everything” mentality, Dove began a campaign in 2004 to show women that the idea of beauty is distorted. They released the campaign through commercials, their website and eventually YouTube. Their promotion rings out loud and clear: if the image of perfection is altered so much, then what chance does natural beauty have.

Dove’s campaign makes a splash as they have targeted 11 million young women so far, and the numbers are growing. “We are working to reach more than 15 million young people with self-esteem education by the end of 2015,” said a spokesperson on Dove’s official website. The company has promoted self-esteem successfully through commercials such as Dove Evolution, Real Beauty Sketches and Patches. In each video the company addresses the issue of distorted beauty.

In Dove Evolution, a woman is brought to the forefront as she prepares for a photo shoot. Everything about the image is altered, from the lighting to make-up and, ultimately after the final picture is taken, Photoshop. The editor elongates the models’ neck, alters her eyebrows, makes her lips fuller, changes the angle of her chin and jaw line with the end result being the billboard standing tall over a highway. Their final catchphrase reads, “No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted.”

Other corporations are beginning to follow the growing trend that promotes self-esteem and inner beauty. One such corporation is Aerie which has begun their RealAerie campaign. Straying away from commercialization, their method is simple: they refuse to airbrush and Photoshop their models. Their website and magazine informs readers that the women in the advertisements have not been altered by the hands of a Photoshop artist. Underneath the main page of their website is the final print that says “these girls have not been retouched” with the hashtag aeriereal. As a method to get woman involved and comfortable with their bodies, the website has added a page that has pictures of women across the country. How to get a picture on the site is simple, for the viewer simply has to post a picture of herself on Twitter with the hashtag Aeriereal and their picture will be included. The purpose is to empower woman by showing off their personality behind their looks.

The site goes one step further by giving visitors access to coverage on E! News and Good Morning America that has been promoting their campaign. In an interview with Aerie’s style and fit expert, the campaign puts a spotlight on natural beauty. “We have left everything. We have left beauty marks, we have left tattoos. What you see is really what you get with our campaign,” said Jenny Altman.

Models for the Aerie campaign are speaking out about how it feels to be airbrushed and their opinion about the campaign. Amber Tolliver, a 28-year-old Aerie model with chestnut skin and long, wavy hair is shown in Aerie’s new campaign laughing and doing a small two-step dance. The young model explained in an interview with Elle Magazine that she was nervous about the photo shoot because she knew there with be no re-touching. “I told myself I wouldn’t prep for the campaign. I was really tempted to go on a juice cleanse and workout at the gym 12 hours a day. I realized by doing that I am essentially re-touching without a computer” said Tolliver.

Similar to other women Tolliver feels insecurities about her stretch marks and her stomach but she refuses to let it define her. “We all have parts of our body we wish were slightly different, and there’s nothing I can do about my stretch marks, they’re there for life. Own them,” said Tolliver.

As a model, she supports the campaign. While the campaign was a daunting experience for her, she believes it was therapeutic and liberating. “It’s more daunting because you realize all of your flaws and insecurities are going to be out there for the world to see, but at the same time it was very liberating and therapeutic in a way to know that who I am as a woman, as a model, will be represented in the ad,” said Tolliver.

Ken Milner is one of many who is impressed by the steps Dove and Aerie is taking to negate the growing notion of body image. “We live in a world of increasing input,” said Milner. “Marketing is almost a science. The eighties had high hair and Madonna. I think the nineties went almost emaciated. I totally lost track in 2000. But through it all the message has been the same.” Milner doesn’t agree with the media’s attempt to begin promoting to children at a young age because the outcome could be detrimental to a young adults self-esteem. “I see a lot of pressure to conform. But I also see a lot of pain in body image” said Milner.

There is an increasing domino affect from women to young girls as the impact of something as simple as shaving is being overlooked. Mary Pritchard, a psychology professor at Boise State University, contributed her opinion in an article in the Huffington Post explaining that the “less is more” tactic should be woven into the mainstream media. She suggests that the impact of the media goes so far as to suggest that puberty is not a right of passage anymore, but rather it is something to be ashamed of. At younger ages girls are being bombarded with pressure to fit a certain body type and image, but although their bodies are maturing, their minds are not. Pritchard believes that embracing body image starts at home as she relives a story about her friend who eliminated television shows such as America‘s Next Top Model. The result was that the children felt more independent and were happier with their bodies.

The ideology of stick-thin models and flawless skin and hair is changing, but it is still a problem that young women deal with on a daily basis. Kathryn Mislow, a graduate at Sacred Heart University expressed an increasing concern of the impact of the media on youth and adults. ” I think it does a great disservice to the youth especially, but also adults. Youth want to be thin and beautiful, but only according to what they see- not what they feel or think should be beautiful.” As children, girls sit on the floor of the bathroom and watch their mothers meticulously apply make-up. They use foundation to cover any scars left from teenage acne, eyeliner and mascara to enhance their eyes and blush to make their cheeks appear constantly flushed.No one questions the obvious problem, if women didn’t care so much then their children wouldn’t either. “I don’t know if we are to blame for believing these images or if we should blame the media for putting false information out there,” said Mislow. “It’s so sad that people feel uncomfortable in their skin because of the standards set by total strangers.” Pritchard identifies with women who feel insecure sometimes but gives words of advice in her article in The Huffington Post. “Stop beating yourself up,” she says. “Get comfortable with who you are. You are the role models for the next generation. Even if you don’t have kids, every time you see one, know that he or she is looking to you for guidance.”

Even in this day women are faced with the unattainable idea of beauty. The media is relentless, nevertheless, corporations are beginning to make an impact for future generations through their campaigns. Jonathan Wolfe glances at a picture of his grandmother and his mother and says “my idea of beauty is defined by these women. They had short hair, they didn’t work out but that’s the thing. With these campaigns girls will start to feel beauty based on who they are.” Maybe Marilyn Monroe as our next sex symbol is around the corner. “Maybe we will start to realize that standard of beauty is subjective, formed within the mind of an individual,” says Wolfe.


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