The influence of virtual beauty
Last week I watched a documentary called ‘Perfect me‘.
It is half Dutch, half English and I will include the link, just not everyone will be able to understand all parts due to the Dutch language. This blog may fill that gap however to get an idea on what it is all about. So, let me first add the information from the makers and promoters of the documentary:
Being beautiful has many advantages: you do better in the relationship market, you do better finding a job, a house and a network. But who decides what is beautiful? And how do you compete with your idealised, digital, self? Online we massively filter our selfies to look better, but cosmetic enhancements to our non-digital self are becoming very popular as well. Being beautiful has never been more important, because beauty pays! Those who meet the dominant beauty ideal have many advantages, not only in the relationship market but also in finding a job, a home and a network. But who decides what is beautiful? And how do you become beautiful according to what is seen as standard?
In fashion and advertising it is trending to show more variety and colour. On social media there is space for body positivity and plus-size models. But according to fashion activist Janice Deul, it often only is ‘window dressing’ and ‘symbol politics’. The ideal of young, thin and white remains dominant. Research also has shown that global beauty standards even have become more similar and not more diverse.
The influence of social media and the growth of the service economy has made appearance even more important. People are investing in beauty more than ever. Philosopher Heather Widdows points out in her book ‘Perfect Me’ that the degree to which we submit ourselves to the dominant beauty ideal is also changing: for many men and women the demand to be beautiful becomes a driving force in their lives, a ‘moral imperative’ from which you can not withdraw. What will the beauty ideal of the future look like? And which beauty ideal belongs to a globalised, digital society? ‘Digital perfection beats pure beauty.
‘Perfect Me’ on VPRO Tegenlicht, by Bregtje van der Haak
Bregtje van der Haak is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. Since 1997, she has been directing international documentaries on social change, most recently for the VPRO Backlight series such as Future fashion and Hoe echt is echt ( How is it for real).
If the player refuses to show the documentary use this link please:
My own impression
There are quite a few things I consider disturbing after watching this documentary:
- The fact I was confirmed in an increasing prevalence of an unhealthy influence on a person’s self-image by social media. Somehow I already knew of course, but I guess a more optimistic part of me hoped for people learning lessons. I think the pandemic we live in worldwide did not change a thing in this perspective. Maybe it even increased being obsessed with physical perfection and virtual beauty, because the use of social media stayed safe with social distancing being the rule. Realistic confrontations have been pushed to a background more, giving virtual beauty an even bigger range and chance to take over a mind and view on beauty.
- The gigantic pressure on people to be a not ok person when you choose to NOT enhance yourself in any way. It seems to be legitimate and accepted to belittle someone’s looks when they have imperfections that COULD be fixed with cosmetic enhancements or cosmetic surgery. Imperfections in fact are being see as a failure you do to yourself and should not be there. That I find shocking. The ‘I could fix it’ became a ‘I should fix it’.
- Hearing people say they have no choice and just feel forced to work on their looks almost 24 hours a day also shows this pressure and what it does to people. All I could think was: ‘You cannot be a happy person like this. You don’t do this for your own feeling good, but for other people’s judgements on you. You do it for receiving likes that confirm you still are ok and acceptable. There was something in their comments that revealed they feel trapped and apparently are unable to escape.
- The unrealistic expectations on what is possible. Showing a selfie with a perfect face filter and ask to be changed into that. So unrealistic and believing it actually can be done . . .
- The incredibly young age that has become common for making cosmetic changes. Kids of 12 or 13 years already visit a clinic to be more perfect.
- The absence of a decent psychological check on people’s mental health. To ‘fix’ a body/mind issue like Body Dysmorphic Disorder with cosmetic changes is high risk. The chance they will become addicted because never satisfied due to a mental disfunction is big. They are stimulated to believe they need a fix to be ok. Exactly what they should not believe in.
- The basically uncontrolled existence of social media itself where a system of likes and self-promotion determine how accepted you are as person. Not your raw and imperfect body, mind and personality matter, but your self created image and perfect looks matter. Your realistic human looks better stay away from social media if you want your biased followers to not walk away. To develop a fake identity in being perfect, you actually tell your realistic self to be crap. Nice job . . .
- The influence of digital/virtual looks on how you think on your real self. Many start to feel less ok with their real self, because used to their perfect digital/virtual self. They start avoiding to share unfiltered selfies and look at themselves as less ok than before, seeing all imperfections, feeling uncertain or ashamed.
I know this is not an impression that will fit with any user. Thank God there also still are many users who won’t follow the demands of dominating beauty ideals. And like with all trends there always is an anti-trend. The body positive movement for instance. But not so sure that is the right answer on the long term. If body positive means you can just go into being heavily obese and be happy and satisfied with that as anti-trend . . . not very good either is it? It is another extreme opposite of what should just be more diverse, balanced and not ruled by social media, hypes, trends, ideals and whatever. We should not even NEED social media to proof ourselves to be an OK person just as we are. As if confirmation on social media makes you the legitimate accepted person.
I think it is best to educate all of us and especially the vulnerable ones, that you are indeed ok as you are, no matter what looks you have. And that someone’s value is not dependent on a look. Drawing conclusions on someones look is just not ok, not accurate and lacks any effort to really get to know others and value and respect them for who they are, not how you think they are because they are not perfect in looks. You still can find someone not your type, based on what someone is like as character and in outlooks etc etc, but use some sense to form your opinion and not only your eyes and unhealthy demands on how someone should look according to your standard, which by the way is not yours at all. Someone or something also pushed that as standard into you and you took it as demand, alas. And sure you are allowed to keep that standard for yourself, if it makes you happy, but don’t make it other people’s demand or your excuse to have a right to belittle someone who chooses to not follow your standard.
Imagine we all would obey the same standard . . . . Boring!
Imagine we all would need good looks as main aspect to feel ok inside . . . . Unhealthy!
Imagine we still look like 20 when we are in fact 70 . . . . Spooky!
Imagine you cannot live without followers anymore on social media . . . . Addicted!
Imagine you are told how to live your life, or else . . . Demanding!
Imagine you have a kid who fears school for being different . . . . Heartbreaking!
Imagine no one dares to be imperfect anymore . . . . Psychology will be the most needed study ever.
Imagine you could change yourself back to the carefree person on your looks of before . . . . Freeing, right?
Yet many seem to make it their mission to look like someone else, be like someone else and act like someone else. But this competition driven way of life via social media can be incredible destructive is what becomes clear more and more. Not only for looks. Also in how people try to create truths, collect followers for that truth and then become some sort of dictator telling others how they should be. The truth being an unrealistic, fake or manipulative force does not even matter anymore. The power of influence matters and the ways to reach that often are relentless and shocking. Commercial as well, because a smart social media user generates income with it and just sells a truth to become rich and powerful. Hence the new job we have these days: influencers. Most of these influencers have no intention to help you. They just want to change you into their personal adept and addict, feeding their own need for attention and need for money. Being an influencer in the way many beauty bloggers and vloggers and instagram users do is being your own biggest fan . . . ewww. Again, exceptions there and those are very welcome and even needed.
I personally would not cry one tear if all social media would disappear tomorrow. Yup, I use Facebook for Second Life, because I can and because it is a way to generate attention as well now and then, for my blog mainly, (I am such a diva as well ofc . . ; P ), but no, honestly I could do without it and feel no regret none whatsoever. I would find other ways to keep connected with the ones I value most. Just e-mail, Internet without all these distracting social media crap and some platform to chat with friends would be enough. Something like that ; ) If I would have to make that ‘offer’ to have a less obsessed world I would be very happy to do so. It would not be an offer. It would be a blessing.
I am a bit upset and angry yes on all those demands being so present. I also feel empathy however and even feel sorry for all who feel trapped inside this systematic attack on their mental and physical wellbeing. I know what it feels like to be trapped into stuff like that, even if a bit different in my case. Body Dysmorphic Disorder used to ruin a big part of my life and you really do not want to end up in that. It is therefore I also know you HAVE to resist and fight your way out of it when you are trapped into this kind of self-image tortures. That can take long yes. It will increase your feeling horrible initially because you have to let go of something that gives you a feeling to be accepted. But acceptance that only exists because you obey rigid standards is not acceptance. It is totally the opposite. To feel it as safe and ok means you are deep into it. To learn to let go of it, with or without the help of a professional, will bring you back to accepting yourself as OK independently of other people’s opinions. That is the only place acceptable really in general, because it frees you from the trap you were in and gives space for enjoying your life without all those worries on the status of your beauty.
There are I am sure also people who really feel ok with being focussed on their appearance all the time. Because they don’t feel it as pressure and simply enjoy the being into beauty. Maybe as creative outlet, maybe purely aesthetics with no judgement in it, maybe to explore future life, or just because they truly enjoy to do it for themselves and not for others. Those people are carefree in their beauty quests and that’s fine of course. It is not that it is something forbidden or wrong to have a kink with beauty. I like it too, but the general trend here and now is that beauty as DEMAND makes it unhealthy and makes many people unhappy. That should stop and change I think, to not create a society full of anxious, insecure people with a body image issue preventing them to have a relaxed life with more important concerns and priorities than beauty. Not everyone has a talent or money or preference for being the world’s hottest whatever.
The ones in a trap have a problem. I think when asked if they are really happy with all the needles and work-outs and fillers and surgeries and trying to make perfect selfies, plus the checking and waiting and comparing of likes and hotness on social media, most of them would have to admit to be tired of it (if no one would read or hear that statement ofc). A self chosen prison is easy for a while, when it boosts your self-esteem, but not forever, because it is exhausting to keep up with all drills inside the prison. Input and output will clash one day . .
Oh damn, guilty as charged now . . .
I have a perfect looking avatar yes. She even is addressed as cute and sometimes has to firmly refuse certain erm ‘characters’ from being intrusive in their approach. The ones thinking that looking cute also means I must be available for sex or modelling or other body and beauty related activities. Well, I am not. I walked as a cat in December, for the machinima I made, and it was freeing to be not a human in looks. You are approached differently, not seen as potential dating material. Maybe I should switch to cat again. Maybe it is my own ‘fault’, to look perfect instead of something not so perfect. On the other hand I never feel perfect myself in the avatar I use. My mind has experienced too many imperfection feelings in a not so healthy way in RL due to the Body Dysmorphic Disorder, for many years and I kind of became allergic to seeing beauty as my ticket for being OK. Even if people find me beautiful or ok or something else positive in RL, I still am capable to find the total opposite myself. I cannot look at beauty in a standard way. As a proof of someone being nice, smart, desirable and valuable. I want to know what is behind the package, the picture perfect face and the mind blowing but unrealistic selfies. Hundred percent selfies solely to show off your glitter and glamour face as your hobby and sharing them in zillion groups on Flickr will make me walk away most likely. Because too shallow, and too pre-occupied with your looks and likes on those looks. So yes, sure I may LOOK perfect, but I do not feel it as such.
This week I made a new profile pic. Many likes and a high cuteness level. Today I will post the same picture with several changes on it made by software showing what smoking, drinking and tanning do when you grow older. Less cute, but interesting ; )
This is the software I used: Change my face
It is not an app you can just download. It is a UK based company and the software is used for more official campaigns like health care. So yes, you see watermarks because of that. I don’t smoke and tan in RL, I drink occasionally, nothing excessive, so for me a general aging effect will/would make the biggest differences and not what this software tries to show. I would look less perfect anyhow . . .
Becoming less perfect in virtual beauty with software has its interesting differences by the way.
If I use a very popular app many use on their Instagram selfies you see the difference in how making yourself older via their app preserves the cuteness and won’t show any effects of a less healthy lifestyle, tiredness or illness etc. The face does not age in an unpleasant way so to speak. It’s all about being still acceptable is it not? Through the eyes of the dominant beauty standards.
This is the app I used: FaceApp
So, please, don’t get my perfect cute avatar appearance wrong. I am less perfect (like anyone in SL) in RL and am well aware of that. It does not mean the avatar does not show anything of me at all. I do like to make and shape an avatar, sure, but more as creative and personal pleasure than wanting or needing to impress anyone. And I do add personal elements to it. Because I need and want to be able to feel me in an avatar to a certain degree. High heels I dislike for instance. I prefer bare feet, flats and (flat) boots. Casual wear I like best. So the avatar will show that. Make-up I dislike as well. So my avatar will not or hardly wear it. Bling bling jewelry does not make my heart beat faster either. I like personal additions more, like little details with a meaning or connection to something or someone. I wear 2 small tattoos that represent such a meaning. I won’t wear a full body tattoo for its cool design. Does not speak to me and does not fit me.
Plus how I behave in Second Life probably shows the most of my RL me. Total hermit in general and not very social, exceptions there when into it now and then or when into a project. My being social mostly limits to a few good contacts. And even those have to deal with me being not very active in actually starting the conversation, except a few super close connections. But ok, behaviour is not really part of our looks, so that just is being written to tell you my avatar is not completely unrelated to who I am in RL. In RL I am the kind to forget birthdays of relatives, with possible grumpy responses on that for not being attentive in their minds. In SL I can forget events in the same way, even if sent to me 5 times. Or I just click all away without even reading a notecard or invitation when my mind is away from being social. I just am not made for obligated ritualistic habits like that. I can like rituals and habits, but only when they give me pleasure and feel free to let go of them as well. They do not interest me. I even am able to forget my own wedding day you know. And yes my husband too . . so that is helpful to not be called ignorant. I dedicate and show attention and care in other ways, less ruled by what is common to do. Why would I organise a birthday party if I like it better to watch a movie together or write a blog or listen to music or talk with that dedicated friend somewhere on the grid? Anyway, again, that’s all behaviour and behaviour has no looks . . . except how it looks to others. They probably look selfish, or strange, my behaviour. Maybe I am selfish in certain ways yes. So be it ; ) But at least I am PERFECT in looks :P
More information on professor Heather Widdows
Heather Widdows, a professor of philosophy at the University of Birmingham in England explores the changing nature of the beauty ideal and the need to address body image anxiety as a global epidemic. She wrote a book and launched several projects. Her research still is on-going. I highly recommend as source on this subject. All information I share in this part of my blog comes directly from the projects / websites itself, meaning the texts I share below are not mine.
‘Perfect Me’ is Heather Widdows’ book in which she examines how the beauty ideal has come to define how we see ourselves and others and how we structure our daily practices—and how it enthralls us with promises of the good life that are dubious at best. ‘Perfect Me’ demonstrates that we must first recognise the ethical nature of the beauty ideal if we are ever to address its harms. In short the book is about how looking beautiful has become a moral imperative, an ethical ideal and why that is not a good thing. An introduction to the book can be found here: Perfect Me (web page) and here: Introduction Perfect Me( PDF).
The Beauty Demands Project began with the funding of two key research initiatives and workshops in 2016.In addition to the workshops key deliverables are the on-going Beauty Demands Network and its associated blog and the Beauty Demands Briefing Paper. The briefing paper contains key findings of the network in ethics, psychology and law, and makes policy recommendations based upon these. The briefing paper was launched at the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in June 2016. The blog is a research network addressing the changing requirements of beauty, led by the University of Birmingham. All views expressed in blog posts are the author’s own and not necessarily those of the University or Network. They also accept guest bloggers. How to get a slot can be read here: Guest bloggers.
“Do we have a duty to be beautiful? It’s not surprising that how we look matters in an increasingly visual and virtual world; the pressure to be perfect is something which young men and women increasingly feel”. Professor Heather Widdows
The demand to be beautiful is increasingly important in today’s visual and virtual culture. Conforming to beauty ideals is becoming ever more demanding and defining of women, and increasingly men, irrespective of their professions. Rightly or wrongly, being perfect, or just good enough, has become an ethical ideal to live by, and according to which we judge ourselves good or bad, a success or a failure.
We are so used to people commenting on beauty that the harshness of their moral judgement can pass us by: you should ‘make the best of yourself’, you’re worth it, you deserve it and, whatever else you do, you should not ‘let yourself go’. The moral pressure to ‘do’ beauty is growing. Increasingly being perfect – or trying to be – is what we value most. It is what we think about, talk about and what we spend our time and hard-earned cash on.
Heather launched the #everydaylookism campaign to end body shaming in June 2019 at Annual Global Ethics Conference at the University of Birmingham. Negative comments about other people’s bodies matter. When we shame bodies, we shame people. These are lookist comments. We no longer put up with sexist comments, we don’t need to keep putting up with lookist comments. Sharing your lookism stories shows how common lookism is, it calls it out, it says it’s not ok. You can read the anonymous stories and share your own if you wish on the #everydaylookism website.