This blog has been a long time coming. Even as I write this, I’m not sure it’s finished.
It comes down to not wanting to be a hypocrite. I’m against airbrushing and the perpetuation of unrealistic ‘beauty’ standards set by an industry who doesn’t value humanity and individuality. So as I share my beliefs on this and try to work for a world free of those chains, I need to make sure I am not furthering it.
My thoughts on this started in the summer when I was tagged in a Facebook picture wearing too much make-up. The look I was sporting was not the one I was going for and it scared me that my make-up was so obvious. It scared me as well that it was taken on a day I was spending time with young teenage girls who face enough pressure without having older girls around them seemingly suggesting that physical beauty was the most important and that it was OK to take make-up to a fairly extreme level. Also: why on earth was I wearing so much make-up? I don’t think I feel a great deal of pressure to be made-up and glamorous all the time. Am I a subconscious victim?
I’m not against make-up. I just put in an ELF order. Make-up is fun. But I am kind of stuck. I was fed by the pre-teen purity ring magazines when I was younger the thought that make-up was OK if it enhanced natural beauty, and countless tips followed. I go with that. But then I wonder: do I actually wear make-up to enhance my natural features, or am I a slave to what is suggested by society as ‘natural beauty’? Mascara to enlarge my eyes, eyeshadow to make the blue of my eyes pop, blush to “highlight my Irish cheekbones”, foundation to smoothen my skin tone…who says I need to have large blue eyes, prominent cheekbones and a smooth skin tone? Who says that’s better than what I have when I wake up in the morning? I do prefer myself with make-up on, but perhaps that is due to years of listening to harmful messages? And if not wearing make-up to change my features, why do I need to enhance my natural beauty with unnatural products? I’m not convinced it’s ‘just a bit of fun’. And the “it’s what girls do” line makes me feel like I would if someone put a plate of mushrooms and salmon in front of me (not good – you may insert your own dietary reservations for similar effect).
In a sense, make-up is a lie. Are we not perpetuating the unattainable standards set for us by money-hungry ‘beauty experts’ in a monstrous industry by playing their game? “But everyone knows we wear make-up.” Yes…but we’re still not being true to our natural physical selves. Is that a big deal? I’m not sure. What about false eyelashes, hair extensions, spray tanning? Those things that are a little more extreme or permanent than everyday eyeshadow palettes. What about them? Are they wrong? Am I lying to the world when I wear St Tropez? Should I wear a disclaimer message like I ask of beauty product advertisements that involve digital editing?
On the subject of photography: what about editing my pictures? My friends and I often joke about everyone looking better on Facebook than in real life. One of my friends went on a date with someone she had only met once and hardly recognised the guy from the Facebook picture she had studied to make finding him easier. Some of these stories are funny; but more than just choose good pictures of ourselves to display to the world, is it ok to edit pictures of ourselves, to ‘enhance’ beauty or just plain old make ourselves look better?
I enjoy discussing the issue with photographer friends. On a photo adventure recently, we talked about the ethics of editing the pictures we were taking. We agreed that with non-human subjects, it’s acceptable to edit the picture to make it look more imaginative/stronger/etc… (although it IS a problem when marketing involves digitally enhanced pictures of objects that mislead the public regarding their function or performance). Where we agreed the waters become murky is when human beings are concerned. Is it not hypocritical to complain about photoshopped images of models in the media when we digitally enhance pictures of ourselves? Is it ok to smooth out people’s skin in photos? To soften the picture or ‘retouch’ a spot? If it’s wrong, why is it wrong? It is important to be transparent on Facebook? What are we trying to accomplish through that? What is at stake? No, we won’t be under scrutiny from body image activists for making ourselves look ‘better’. But what about the Facebook depression syndrome, where through comparison of our own lives with other people’s ‘best bits’ on display (because, typically, that is all we have access to), we feel inadequate? Is Facebook just another Glamour magazine in that sense ?
(My question mark button is being worked hard tonight. Hope your mind isn’t spinning, friend.)
My current Facebook picture has been ‘liked’ more times than necessary. In a wider discussion on why the population of Facebook seems to ‘like’ fairly random things I joked it was because it didn’t actually look like me. It IS edited. Am I lying? Am I perpetuating stupid standards? Am I a beauty-industry sell-out? Or was it ok to play with the lighting in the picture and click on the ‘contrast’ button a couple of times? The lighting effect is obviously fake and I think it makes the picture more fun. What if I had retouched my skin? What if I had widened my eyes? In any case, should I include disclaimers like the ones I demand of the beauty industry?
This is the picture, both the just-snapped version and the Facebook-ready version. What do you think? Was it wrong to edit it? (I’m not asking you which one I look better in/you prefer).
My thoughts have not fully matured on the issue. As someone who loves ‘beauty’, as someone who is VERY against objectification, and as a past PGCE student whose dissertation was entitled “Lady Gaga ate my children”, I have a particular slant on it. Is it necessary to be ‘real’ on Facebook? Is a certain kind/amount of editing pictures ok? Is a certain kind of make-up ok? Is it important to be ‘real’ and ‘natural’? Should we all carry disclaimers? Do I objectify myself if I play into the hands of the industry that objectifies me? Is it hypocritical to objectify myself but fight them? Are these things REALLY objectifying? I think I know where I’m going, but these questions are still milling around my head.
Furthermore, why do I suddenly feel ‘free’ when I have a no make-up (or as some of my favourites call it, ‘naked’) day?
To be continued. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts.