Yesterday a male friend sent me an email of a beautiful naked blonde – don’t ask it’s a long story – later the same day another friend showed me an image of a blow up sex doll – I don’t know perhaps they see me as their drinking buddy. A hint to all men reading this ; showing women images of other women – naked to boot – is not the way to a girl’s heart. But back to my original thought.
What struck me about these images was the uncanny resemblance between the two representations of the female form. Both were the perfect modern image of female beauty, blonde, thin, big big breasts, wide Californian smile and a skin as perfect as plastic. This perfection in the doll was not surprising, but the photograph of the ‘real‘woman set me thinking about the impossibly high standards we have set for physical beauty as we understand it today, and how this concept of beauty has shifted through the ages as we have become more and more self aware, aided mainly by perfecting the manufacture of the mirror.
While an intimate acquaintance with our personal looks is today considered quite normal and consumes a vast amount of our time and budget, this was not always the case. In the progress of mankind it is only with the invention of the mass produced mirror and perhaps the theories of Freud and his concept of the inner id that the masses stepped onto the path of intimate self discovery. A path that we have trodden into such a deeply worn groove that today almost all of our endeavours are aimed in some way or another at our personal enhancement.
Before the days of the mirror ,when we were obliged to believe the words of others concerning our looks , the concept of beauty must have been far less regimented and severe than today. Diversity in the human perception of beauty would have been completely natural and also linked to animal fundamentals. In women, wide shapely hips, good teeth, strong hair and more flesh than any modern western woman would care to carry were considered the height of female attraction. A man was easily able to determine that he was looking at a healthy, fecund woman able to bear children with ease, a major consideration in the days when large families were essential to the survival of the clan. Woman looked for strong men, tall straight clear eyed and, in the days before mirrors, beauty was not just in the eye of the beholder but in the nose. A well developed sense of smell directly relayed to the human mind that the hormone load of the person in their presence was highly favourable for the procreation of the species.
Then the Phoenicians belly danced- flabby thighs a jigger- onto the world stage and started introducing perfumes into society. These scents were reputed to attract men but succeeded admirably in masking the real aroma of women. Was this advancement in sexual relations or perhaps a subtle form of female of self defence?
Soon the Phoenicians were shunted off centre stage by the Egyptians, who produced the greatest queen of antiquity; Cleopatra. She could not have known that she was actually fairly ugly. Being the ruler of Egypt she probably did not have many people around her willing to tell her ‘hey Cleo what’s with the schnozz and about time to do some squats what.’ But despite her obvious physical shortcomings she happily went forth and conquered the know world mainly by using her sex appeal. I would like to bet that had she been in possession of a full length modern mirror she would have been somewhat more aware of her physical failings and history would have told different tale.
In the days of Henry the 8th the distorted reflection of a highly polished sheet of metal was our only view onto ourselves. Think of the simple task of the portrait painter whose clients had no intimate knowledge of their own features .To confirm the truth of that which the painter put down on canvas they once again had to rely on the opinion of others. Who was about to tell old Henry8 that actually no he was not quite as tall, muscular and handsome as the court painter had chosen to portray him . With his reputation for beheading people being fairly well known who was about to wager his head on a missing wrinkle or roll of fat. So as long as the court painter was adept at visual flattery his position was secure, but I digress.
The role of the mirror in the rise of capitalism.
The scourge of the glass mirror only came into being fairly recently and even then mirrors were so extravagantly expensive that only those rivalling Louis the 14th in wealth could afford one that would reflect the entire body. Getting a total view of ones self was unknown for the bulk of humanity. In the days of tiny mirrors men who liked women still shaped the female ideal – happy days those – think of the robust wenches that inhabited the world of Rubens. Now those lumpy cellulite maidens could tuck into the endless middle age meals with relish ,secure in the knowledge that her man would be only to grateful for her sumptuous flesh into which to sink his fingers. The ideal female form of today would have been considered ugly and rather unhealthy. What the men of days gone by would have made of the exaggerated breasts attached to bony rib cages is anyone’s guess.
By the 19th century the mass produced mirror had arrived and in tandem with the great leap forward of the mirror industry came the advertising industry. Suddenly the ideal image of women was decided by a small handful of men, with which the industry of reshaping the female form was born. With every bedroom, bathroom, lounge and hallway now blessed with the presence of a mirror, modern women were constantly treated to the hard reality of the lump, roll and wrinkle of their bodies .Which on the whole did not fit into the ideal as prescribed by those early advertising moguls. To add to the woes of the modern female, the fashion and advertising industries discovered they where a match made in heaven, or hell, depending on your point of view. These two henchmen to capitalism are today the greatest manipulators of the female and more and more often the male mind. Today a vast economy depends entirely on the ingrained belief of the average female that she is just not good enough. From the roots of her incorrect shade of hair to the laugh lines around her eyes, from her acrylic sculpted fingernails to the removal of every bit of body hair from the nostrils down and fairly recently the rebuilding of eyes, ears, noses and of course the exaggerated breast joined the never ending well of profits the female form represents for those who manipulate our thinking.
The harried female was no longer expected to only cook, clean, raise the children, do the laundry, and bring in half the household budget but she was to look like a Stepford wife while she was at it. This monopoly of the female mind has also has the less obvious effect of setting back the advances of woman’s lib by linking the value of the female directly to her form.
The advent of Photoshop further distorted the image of real woman. At this point the household mirror became an object of torture as how could anyone possibly live up to the computer enhanced images filling magazines. Linda Evangelista once famously said – no not the getting out of bed thing – but that she was surprised that woman strove to look like the advertising worlds’ image of her, when she herself didn’t even begin to look that good. A make up free un-retouched image of Ms Evangelista appeared some years ago in a tabloid magazine. I remember the dj’s –humans who underwritten by the advertising industry force their own singular class of stupidity down the throats of humanity– having a field day over this image. The overall consensus was; Linda Evangelista is a complete dog. Now there is a ray of light for us all and may all those djs right ears fall into their left pockets. So we see that with Photoshop anything is possible. I have personally discovered a few Photoshop tricks that I apply to images of myself, so don’t believe any images you might see of me on my website they are all half truths and lies- oh what a hypocrite I am!
This quest for the modern version of perfection is fantastic for commerce and capitalism. As through the brutal realty of the modern mirror women are caught in a destructive cycle, endlessly spending their hard earned cash on trying to achieve the impossible. Up to now this obsession with self-image and dissatisfaction has been restricted mainly to woman. Men on the whole have been free from this not so subtle tyranny. But changes are afoot as the corporations smile and rub their hands in glee. The aim has shifted. The marketers of capitalism have tapped into a whole new market. As women are slowly discovering that the pursuit of perfection is a short step to madness, men are filling their place with alarming enthusiasm.
The worst part of this incessant dissatisfaction with ourselves is the wanton destruction of the planet and the other creatures that share it with us. Furs are back in fashion, animal testing still goes on and chemical gunk floods the oceans. Our throw away society is the direct result of our adherence to fashion – a concept that in its most basic form states that which is perfect today must be discarded tomorrow – as only by this constant cycle of waste can commerce and capitalism as we understand it today be maintained.
My advice to the world ; Stand in front of your full length mirror – butt naked – take a big fat permanent market and write on that mirror; I am beautiful ; I love you ; You look great. So that you will feel good every time you see yourself.
With all the money you will save on the constant revamping of the wardrobe, makeup drawer and body parts you can work your way out of debt; a debt free existence equals freedom and is a far more satisfying way to enhance your life than though chasing an image of virtual perfection.