Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Good call, Dove

Dove's released this here video, which shows the dizzying process that a normal person undergoes to become a billboard spectacle. It's a pretty cool video for a pretty amazing campaign... not directed at an issue that too far away to comprehend, like world hunger, or too abstract to really care about, like globalization. This is a campaign that's directed at the everyday lives of men and women, who pass from mass media experiences to lives in the home and the office, carrying around the baggage of confused standards and unrealistic self-images. We all do it, people... men and women... and Dove's right. It's stupid.

I think, at ten years old, a lot of us males generated a sort of ideal fantasy woman who we imagined seducing us as we got more comfortable with masturbation. TMI? Too bad. She looked a lot like the women in fashion magazines and hair product commercials, and she was an internal experience that the advertising world has spent years manipulating and trying to capture. Girl X, the unrealizable perfect woman, stands as a theoretical limit for a scale of beauty that we all carry around with us, men and women alike, and it's perpetuated by the old boys of fashion and advertising, who still think their popularity depends on approaching this limit as closely as possible.

Here's my abstract representation of the scale, as we tend to culturally understand it. Don't read too much into this... it's subconscious, and a lot of us spend tons of time trying to fight it, but it's still a ubiquitous cultural model that infects our thinking.

And I've noticed something strange. Almost every woman I've ever been intimate with, whether sexually or emotionally, from the shy to the sexually-secure, sees herself as part of the "Normal" section of the scale, but every one sees herself as being at the bottom of that section... like, right where "average" turns into "mediocre."

And it's not because I tend to like women with low self-esteem. This is also true of female friends who were smart and aggressive, and who are more than capable of well-informed reflection. Somehow, by taking away our control of our criteria for attractiveness, the media has caused a universal self-image pandemic. Every woman looks around her and sees the world teeming with girls who are prettier than she is. Maybe it's the ubiquitous "neurotic mom" syndrome... that's another trend I've noticed. All moms inadvertently transmit their habitual neuroses to their daughters in their earliest years.

At any rate, women have to realize something about the people who fantasize about them (I include in this category straight men, gay women, and all varieties of bisexual). First, we've given up on... no, in fact, we've literally lost interest in Girl X. We've realized she's as flat as the billboards she adorns, and if she were real, and we were dating her, she would probably ditch us to go to the gym and the tanning salon. We don't think about her when we masturbate any more. We think about our girlfriends and strangers we saw on the subway, because Girl X got REALLY BORING.

Second, even though we tend to see this scale as universal, it takes on a unique hue in every person's head. There are no identical scales of attractiveness... one gentleman prefers women in size 11 to 15, another likes girls with really strong cheekbones, a girl likes women with big thighs that taper down to small feet. A few select people, like Miss Amp, understand this, and she says it with a lot more attitude than I can muster.

Any self-respecting girl can, and WILL, find somebody who places them toward the "very attractive" end of the spectrum, and who will be overjoyed to date them, especially when they find out about the awesome personality that goes with that great body.

I don't know who I've really been writing this to, so I'll assume it's to everybody. Here goes...

GUYS: Don't be ashamed to like whatever it is you like in a woman. If you really like skinny girls with bags under their eyes, then go to the fucking Calvin Klein studio. But if you're like me, and you find a girl attractive because she's got fucking brilliant curves and a warm smile, then make it clear to everyone around you. Idle man-talk is standing squarely in the way of anybody having any perspective, because in idle man-talk, everyone is supposed to agree that the skinny chick with blonde hair is totally bangin'. More often than not, it's a goddamn lie that only one in twenty of us actually believe.

GIRLS: I know it's hard, but don't get suckered into this body-image shit. Whether something is listed as being "healthy" or not, whether it's talking about "self-image" or not, if it's telling you to lose weight or smooth out your skin tone, ignore it. When you look at other women, try to look directly in their eyes before you decide that they're too chubby, or overdressed, or boring-looking. We need to extract "health" and "self-esteem" from "looking your best" and "fitting" into anything, because we're at a point in history where improving your looks is directly at odds with improving your emotional health. There is no open space between indifference and neurosis... when you force your belt one hole tighter, the judgement train has already left the station.


Kelly said...

This, this RIGHT HERE is why I'm totally the luckiest girl in the world to be with you. *happiness*

dani said...

I saw that "Evolution" video the other day and I was really struck by how much work goes into creating so-called natural beauty in an advertisement.

I agree with you that most "normal" women consider themselves to be at the lower end of the scale. I think that's because no matter how many times we convince ourselves (or have others convince us) that we are attractive beings, we wake up one morning and pants that fit fine the day before are a little snug, or we look in the mirror and notice our stomach sticks out more than we thought it did, or we get on the train and see someone who embodies the physical goals we have set for ourselves and realize how far we are from attaining them. Sometimes all it takes to plunge me into a fit of depression and self-loathing is looking at opening between two people on the subway and realizing that there's no way I'd be able to comfortably squeeze my butt in such a small space.

I think what you said about ""neurotic mom" syndrome" is (in my case at least) a huge reason why young girls go through these self-esteem wrecking cycles. I grew up living with a woman who was constantly unsatisfied. With her weight, with her face, with her hair. Her disappointment that she wasn't able to shape me into everything that she wished she could be was (is?) profound, and continues to shape how I see myself as a person. I mean, if I'm not good enough to satisfy the one person who is supposed to love me unconditionally, why should I be satisfied with myself?

Being surrounded with images of computer-generated beauty is just icing on the cake.