Beautiful daze: modern American photography

Posted by Jason Dowd

America's obsession with beauty has grown out of control. It's fueled mostly by ads and pictures in magazines. It seems that every magazine is packed full of fashion photos and beauty product reviews and tips, and, to make matters worse, they are also full of deception.

These magazines not only target adult women, but also impressionable teens and pre-teens, showing them exactly what "true beauty" should look like. The women who look at these magazines then compare themselves to the models and feel anything but adequate in comparison.

The photographs define what beauty is and, therefore, the women who feel they don't match up will do whatever it takes to be as beautiful as the women in the magazines. This is a tactic beauty product companies have used in order to make a multi-billion dollar industry based on the insecurities of women.

Unfortunately, in most cases the photos are completely altered. The model's skin is often digitally airbrushed, her weight is altered and the hips and bust are also enhanced. The problem then is that women are shooting for an unrealistic standard of beauty that can only be obtained through digital manipulation. To the untrained eye the photos look realistic. Women are led to believe that the products these models endorse really do work. What they fail to realize is that these photos are completely fake.

The question is — does it really matter? Is this really hurting anyone? Unfortunately, yes, it is.

The goal is to sell these beauty products in order to make money. As a photographer, I see both sides of the equation. I don't feel there is anything wrong with making money, but I do feel it should be done honestly.

I can see the rationale of the beauty product companies for doing what they do. If they placed people on their ads with major flaws, no one would buy their products. I feel that a little touching up on a photo is fine. If you want to reduce some wrinkles, remove acne or lighten up the shadows underneath the eyes, then go right ahead. However, doctoring the photos to the extreme that they do is just wrong.

Digitally altering photos to the extent they have has led women to compare themselves to the unrealistic. They think that if they are not a size 0 or 1, then they must be fat. And because these older models seen in magazines have absolutely no wrinkles, then female readers feel unattractive with just a few frown lines or crow's feet.

This can make women severely insecure. To make themselves feel better and more beautiful they will go out and buy these beauty products hoping they can achieve the same "results" as seen in magazine ads. And when they don't they are put at risk for more serious problems.

Some women will turn to plastic surgery. There is nothing wrong with plastic surgery, except that it won't last. Breast implants, for one, will need to be checked regularly, and in most cases, replaced after so many years. This is expensive, but once the surgery is completed, these women will have no choice but to spend money maintaining the operation.

In other cases, both women and men will go under the knife to surgically alter their nose or other facial features. Again, there is nothing wrong with this, except every time you go under the knife, you are risking your life. There's also the possibility that the surgery will be unsuccessful and result in a permanent deformity. The sad thing in cases such as these is that the people were fine prior to the surgery, but not afterwards.

If not these things, then weight becomes the issue. In summertime I see ads in magazines and on television talking about the dreaded "bikini season." So, women will often diet in order to look their best in their swimsuits. Hoping to lose weight quickly, some women will turn to fasting, crash diets, dangerous dietary supplements and energy drinks in order to boost their metabolism. All of these methods of weight loss can be extremely dangerous, especially if you are not under a doctor's supervision.

Some women will virtually kill themselves to fit into that size 1 dress because they see so many skinny models on television and in magazines. To these women, thin equals beautiful. In our modern society, there is great pressure to be a certain weight. Interestingly, according to most height to weight charts, 110 pounds for a female who is 5'4" or taller is very underweight.

As these people fight for their optimal weight, they may develop severe eating disorders and other health-related issues. Some will take more drastic measures such as stomach stapling and lap bands, which are medically done, but can be extremely dangerous.

I've been a photographer now since the mid-1980s. I've had clients require me to alter photos to enhance their appearance. In turn, I have successfully shaved 20 pounds off my subjects. I have removed scars, baldness, wrinkles, pale skin, acne, eye bags and other flaws. I have taken away "the muffin top" and created a more toned stomach. If you've never seen these people in person or seen their photos prior to being altered, you'd swear that that's how they look in real life. That's why most people can walk by a supermodel or celebrity and not even recognize them.

What we also tend to forget is that each of us are made from different genetics. With our unique set of genes, each one of us tends to age differently, wear our weight and bulk differently and have different complexions. So no matter what we do to ourselves surgically or cosmetically, a person may never be able to achieve the look they want to because their genes won't allow it. Photoshop, on the other hand, has no idea what a gene structure is.

Apart from the health risks involved with altered photos, we also face an ethical problem. A few years ago I heard a story about a plastic surgeon who gave breast implants to a girl who was less than 16-years-old. The teen simply wanted to enhance her figure. Her parents allowed it, but they too were obsessed with their bodies and had no qualms with plastic surgery.

This young girl said it was her body, and that she could do whatever she wanted with it. She's right, except she forgot a major piece of the equation that both her parents and doctor should have recognized. She was still developing!

The young girl went to a few plastic surgeons and all of them turned her down. Determined to find a doctor, the teenager and her parents kept searching until they found one who had no morals and just cared about the almighty dollar.

As previously stated, this girl was still going through puberty. Some young women do not finish developing until they are in college. So what if that was the case for this girl? What if she grew three cup sizes in addition to the implants and then developed physical and emotional issues down the road? Sadly, as long as there is a desire to be beautiful and the money to pay for it, there will be a doctor who will throw morality out the window to get paid.

In conclusion, I have this to say. We all have a flaw or two; we're human, after all. We need to use these flaws to bring out our strong points. We need to be proud of them and use them to our advantage. Our flaws are what make us unique. They make us stand out in a crowd.

Don't worry what anyone else thinks of you. Don't change yourself to please them. If you want to model or try out for a part, don't ever take one that forces you to alter yourself (other than your hair) because it wouldn't be worth it. Find someone who will accept you as you are.

And most importantly, if you want to diet, do so under the guidance of a reputable doctor and be sure to exercise and eat properly. Don't opt for these dangerous diets and supplements. They may work fast, but they're dangerous and unhealthy; take the weight off gradually. Love yourself and enjoy who you are!

Fight Club demonstrates in D-Hall

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