Saturday, 10 October 2009

Hands up if you feel ugly

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say that most of us feel ugly at least at some point in our lives. (I'll go further still, and say that if you've never felt ugly, there's probably something the matter with you). And although I've no stats or evidence to back me up, I think it's more common in women than in men.

We're constantly surrounded by images of women - in advertising, on TV, in magazines, on billboards, on packaging. Any images of realistic looking women - and by "realistic", I don't mean women who are size 12, who have quirky faces or haircuts, or any other slight deviation from the narrow and homogenised beauty ideals we're constantly surrounded by - when I say "realistic women", I mean women who look tired, women whose clothes look like they need a wash, women walking around carrying 73 different bags containing everything they need for the day ahead - are vastly outweighed by these unobtainably beautiful images of women which can only be rendered possible with hours of lighting and photography, and a lot of judicious photoshopping after the fact.

Beauty I have no problem with. We all like to look at something beautiful, after all: that's why National Parks and America's Next Top Model are so popular. But the images of beautiful women with which we're surrounded are so completely ridiculously attainable, there's no way that even the foxiest of average woman isn't going to feel inadequate by comparison every now and again. Who has time to spend six hours in make up every morning? (before a full day at work, right? When do I have to get up? Four hours before I go to bed?) Who's got a special 'photoshop filter' through which everybody will look at them? (Look! No skin blemishes or marks! And look at my unnaturally thin thighs!)

There's no way we can live up to these ideals. We haven't got the genes, for one thing, for another, we haven't got the time, and for another, we haven't got the technology. But that's just the way advertisers like it: our insecurities make us buy more. Like it or not, that's the premise upon which so much advertising works, and women are especially susceptible because of being primarily judged on their looks. (Gee, thanks, partriarchy. When's the next stop?)

Wouldn't it be far better for everybody's mental health if advertising images used only images of normal women? Here, I've got to make a slight detour to give Dove a nod for using real women - with visible rolls of fat - in their advertising campaigns. Imagine it: you'd look at a poster of somebody who looked like your foxy 50-year old neighbour, modelling lipstick, and you'd congratulate her for looking so sexy at 50, you'd congratulate the company for using a real person, and you wouldn't feel ugly by comparison every time you looked at the image. Hell, you might even buy the cosmetics they were advertising.

In a world where it was the norm for women to feel good about themselves most of the time, as the rule rather than the exception, everything would run so much more smoothly. No more spending ages despairing over our own reflections in the mirror every time we think about leaving the house. No more desperately seeking reassurance about our image from our partners (come on, guys, this is a winner. Imagine never being asked "Do I look OK in this?" ever again!) No more obsessing over how ugly / old / sunken our faces are becoming. The casualties would be the photoshoppers, the advertisers, the beauty fascists, and who's going to mourn them??

Who's with me?!

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