Chasing Beauty in the 21st Century

A lot of people have seen and written about the Dove video about how beauty is enhanced manipulated by 21st century technology. (If you haven’t seen it, click on the link to view it.)  For me, the saddest thing about the video was that the manipulation seemed to me to obscure her true beauty; it was like a computer generated “mask” was put on her; that it wasn’t her at all.

Not satisfied with just altering the beauty of a real woman?  How about this photo:

This isn’t a woman at all, but a computer composite of 22 finalists for the 2002 Miss Germany competition.  This website outlines some research in the creation & perception of computer generated beauty.  After showing people pictures of both beautiful “real” women and pictures of computer constructed “perfect” women the researchers concluded,

A remarkable result of our research project is that faces which have been rated as highly attractive do not exist in reality…Faces with such a smooth, pure skin, without any irregularities do not and cannot exist. But it is this kind of perfection that obviously overwhelmed (people choosing the pictures)…  a model agency from Munich chose 88% artificial faces… Natural faces cannot keep up with their artificial “competitors”.

The entire website is worth your while to look over— to think about how beauty beyond the reach of even the supermodel can be engineered by computer, and how I can see a perfectly “natural” looking photograph of a highly desirable woman who CANNOT EXIST in reality— who is more beautiful, more desirable, more perfect, than any of the 2 BILLION real young women on this planet.

Well, that’s interesting, you say, but that’s just research, not what I see every day. But what you DO see every day in the media is the subtle manipulation which before computers came along was known as “airbrushing”— removing blemishes and imperfections.  Now, nearly every photo you see in a magazine, a catalog, an advertisement, even of supermodels, has been enhanced to “superhuman” beauty.

What is the use of this technology doing to the women and men in our culture?  You might retort, “I’m not being influenced by that!  I’m rational! I’m spiritual! I’m above such manipulation!”  No, you’re not.  We are all subtly, subconsciously influenced by our environment. (an excellent introduction to the effect of the environment on our decision making is Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.  Like it or not, admit it or not, we are all being tempted and manipulated into chasing beauty.  Joe Carter linked to this sad, haunting video which artistically portrays how the media is controlling our perceptions of beauty.

How do we fight against this insidious and pervasive quest for impossibly flawless physical beauty?  For both men and women, we must first recognize the problem, that our minds are being toyed with by the media.  Second, we must consciously decide to reject judging ourselves or others by physical beauty, agreeing with Proverbs 31:30, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

Chasing beauty is a real problem, especially in the 21st century.  It causes women to be dissatisfied with the beauty that God has graced them with, and causes men to be dissatisfied with the beauty that God has given to the women in their lives.  Let’s not be fooled by the manipulation; let’s pray for the grace to appreciate feminine beauty as God has created it in the way He has intended it.

2 comments to Chasing Beauty in the 21st Century

  • Nice article, thank you!

  • I’m not a Christian, nor a woman (!) but your article is very good. I too question the notion of “real women”. This is a bizarre simulacrum that has nothing to do with women nor reality, a trace perhaps…..
    The pressure that the incessant media puts on women is great, but so unrealistic that women (up to a point) can disregard it as capitalist stupity. However, this depends on their maturity and education/intelligence. Tattoos and women is an intriging contemporary phenomenon; an expression of hyper-reality, isolation and the toughness of modern life, mixed with a coquettish femininity that is both self-depricating and self-affirming. You are right to link mens’ experiences with female experiences. Jung pointed out the disparity yet the intrinsic connection between the sexes, via “anima/animus”. The ridiculous pressures on women affects men, their conception of women and adds to the heightened pressures that men also face today.

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