Maybe you’ve seen the Dove Evolutions video before. The first time I watched it with a bunch of teenage girls, there was a split second of shocked silence at the end of the clip. Then outrage as they literally started to yell: ‘We’ve been lied to!’ All talking at once, they figured out that the images they had been comparing themselves to in magazines weren’t even real women.
The second video, 34x25x36, I saw on Jamie Smith’s blog. It’s a short film made in a mannequin factory. At the beginning, the designer says:
‘the ideal body doesn’t exist – WE make the ideal body.’
He later describes that the idea of a mannequin is to stir up adrenaline in the buyer to say, “hmmm… I could look like that.”
The designer goes on to talk about the evolution of mannequin production, and how it is a continuation of Renaissance French religious art, where a particular saint was fashioned out of wood or wax to help people envision what they might be like.
In a similar way, he says, ‘we replicate what the perfect girl is… you could see it as worshipping, giving people something to aim for.’
‘Do we worship perfect women?’ he asks.
He explains that in religion, the ideal to aim for is salvation, and again, asks an astute question:
‘What is our current salvation as a society?’
‘Oh, beauty is only skin deep,’ we say. But we consume these images every single day. ‘It’s playing with people’s minds of what their ideal is,’ says the mannequin designer.
Never have our minds been so screwed up in relation to what we look like.
Subconsciously, we are living the narrative that the ‘good life’ is looking like that girl, or being with that girl; that girl, who has been so enhanced and edited that she is literally unreal. We are looking for salvation in something that doesn’t even exist.
I wonder what would have happened if the French religious iconographers would have taken seriously the command to ‘beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female’ (Deut. 4:16). I wonder what would happen if we took it seriously?
The depth of the problem was underscored for me by my own reaction to 34x25x36. I am a rational, well-educated, grown woman. I know these images are unreal, and looking like them won’t make me happier or more fulfilled. I have a healthy relationship with my own appearance. And yet, honestly, one of the first things I thought when I saw this the film? ‘I wonder if we have a tape measure in the house? I wonder what my proportions are? How far away am I from the ideal woman? Do I measure up?”
And then I got mad.
WHO DECIDES ALL THIS ANYWAY?! Who decides what this ideal is? Who decides what the perfect proportions are, and what we think of as beautiful?
Our society’s current beauty-salvation myth is destroying us. It causes women to wage war against their own bodies in order to live up to an impossible, unattainable ideal of perfection. It causes us to produce and consume in ways that are detrimental to the planet and its poorest inhabitants. It teaches us to worship idols and look for salvation somewhere it can never be found.
Perhaps its time we start teaching an alternative story about beauty?