In Europe, there was a push for a while to label photoshopped images in magazines to “discourage the altering of photographs in a manner that could promote unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image.” (New York Times, Nov 2011.) I watched a recent South Park episode where Wendy shouts “Kim Kardashian is a short, overweight woman who manipulates her image and makes average girls feel horrible about themselves.” The general assumption is that photoshop, these images, have the power to make girls feel bad about themselves and that we should do something about that.
It’s a view that I usually sort of buy into. Whenever I see a view of a beautiful woman, who is likely photoshopped, I usually mentally compare myself to her or feel angry. Part of me just wants someone to make it go away, and I deeply sympathize with people who want to legislate it away – and maybe it would even work, I don’t know. But, I don’t have the power to make it happen, this is not the world I live in. So, why worry about that too much?
Once, I took an introduction to shiatsu massage class, and half way through I was feeling very relaxed and open. Suddenly, a voice in my head said “I’m going to die soon.” I was deeply unnerved, and not really sure how to take it. I tried to resist it, but no reassurances I could give myself could reassure me that I wouldn’t die soon. What was soon, anyway? Two days? Two years? Two hundred years? Who was this “I” even referring to anyway? Me? Who is me? And who was this voice talking to? Also me, the same me? Why was it not “you’re going do die soon?” (In fact, when I repeated the story too a friend, I remembered it as saying “you’re going to die soon” – I couldn’t keep straight who was “me” and who was “you” when referring to the voices in my head.)
Anyway, I came to the conclusion that even if the voice was completely prophetic, nothing had really changed. Except, when I walked home that night, everything looked different.
As I stepped off the subway, I entered a room completely plastered in express ads. The ads featured skinny women in lacy clothes, with heavy eye makeup, and that slightly open mouthed expression that is so common these days. “Pouty” I think it’s called. I remember when they’d first put the ads up, I’d been so angry. My eyes could not escape them, no matter where I looked. They even had ads plastered on the floor – I was allowed to walk on the pretty women, as long as I looked at them.
But, when I entered that room that night – full of awareness of my own mortality – I didn’t feel angry. Or sad. I felt amused. I stopped in front of one of the large vertical ads, and stared up at these woman who were probably about twice as tall as I was. And, I can’t recall the exact feeling now, but I remember finding it funny.
Since then, sometimes when I pass the ads, I still feel angry. I have tried to remember what it was I found so funny, and I don’t think it’s quite something I can put in words.
But. It had something to do with the pouty expressions, carefully engineered to completely hide the inner world of the models.
Once, when I was a child, my grandmother showed me a case with a beautiful ring in it. She took the ring out to show it to me, but I was more interested in the case. She let me play with the case, but when my brother saw me playing with it, he wanted to play with it too. I had seen ring cases on TV, and had realized that people valued them which was why I wanted to play with it, but I didn’t understand the ring inside was the valuable part. When my brother saw me with the ring case, he was tricked! He also assumed the case was the important part. We sat there fighting over the case, completely ignoring the ring.
Maybe the media is like a giant ring case shop, with huge, beautiful ring cases on display – more elaborate and more ornate than anything that has existed before, most of which you could never afford. And in the corner, there is a bucket full of beautiful diamond rings that you pick up to go in your case.
You enter the shop, and go over the the bucket of diamonds rings in the corner. You spend a minute or two staring at them, then turn to the man who runs the shop and ask, “Can I have one of these?”
He laughs at you, in a condescending but indulgent way. “Sure,” he chuckles. “Help yourself to whatever you want.”
So you reach in and take a big fist full of diamond rings, and put them in your pocket. “Thanks!” you say, as you head out the door. And, he shakes his head with a bemused sort of pity. What type of fool are you, that would want a handful of rings without a good ring case to keep it in?