We’ve touched on beauty quite a few times here on CWR. We’ve celebrated when France banned beauty pageants for kids, dedicated a round table to discussing the idea of beauty and its changing standards, and, in The (Inner) Beauty Problem, even asked why we try to attribute beauty to everyone rather than giving more weight to other attributes.
So why does “beauty” as a topic come up so often? Well, probably because it’s a question that gets thrown at us every day through advertising. I for one, get this ad popping up on my Facebook every few days.
Not to mention clothing advertisements. It’s funny that these kind of images show up all over my Facebook homepage when I actually avoid fashion magazines pretty intentionally in real life. Even though I consider myself a fairly confident person, looking at page after page of perfectly toned models can occasionally get inside my head. According to Psych Central I’m not the only one who starts feeling self conscious after reading fashion magazines. We all know that most of the bodies we see in ads, etc. are airbrushed (or feature people who have personal trainers), but it’s hard to ignore the barrage of “perfect” bodies as we go through life.
So what happens when you have someone take all these messages and applies them in a very literal sense? Well, probably something like this:
Justin Jedlica, or “Human Ken”, seems to have a case of plastic surgery addiction. He has had a total of 125 operations in his pursuit to become more like the Ken doll, a figure he says embodies the masculine beauty ideal. Valeria Lukyanova, in contrast, claims to have only had breast surgery. Apparently that’s the issue standing between the Human Ken and Barbie. Jedlica thinks Lukyanova is less dedicated to her image than he is to his, since the majority of her look is due to “make-up illusions”. It’s probably also due to her liquid diet, and her plan to move to a diet of “air and light”.
Around the same time I was reading about Lukyanova, I came across this photo series by London-based photographer Ben Hopper. The photos below are part of his “Natural Beauty” photo series, which challenges the “brainwashing” done by the beauty industry.
While a quick look at Hooper’s website reveals that his challenging conventional ideas of beauty only applies to slim models with armpit hair, it still got me thinking about the kind of issues we focus on when we talk about beautify modifications.
I mean, when you really think about it shaving itself is a body modification. Sure, it’s more on the level of dying your hair than it is on the level of a boob job, but it’s still a modification. Plus, the more effective ways of dealing with hair freaking hurt. Have you tried waxing, for instance?
Where did the idea that women need to be hairless come from anyways? Oh yeah, the same place we got the idea that hot = skinny.
Apparently the craze of silky smooth armpits started with a very specific ad that ran in 1915 after the fashion move towards the sleeveless dress. The fashion mag Harper’s Bazaar decreed if women were going to wear sleeveless dresses it would require “the removal of objectionable hair.” Apparently it took a little more convincing before women would sign on to shave their legs, but by the 40s that message started to sink in as well.
Another photographer, Jessica Ledwich, did a photo series challenging a whole range of beauty treatments. In her photo series, “Monstrous Feminine”, she “depicts beauty rituals as acts of mutilation, making viewers re-think the standards of femininity and what some women undergo in order to meet them.”
So what does all this have to do with the Human Barbie?
Well, it demonstrates how all of us are caving to the pressures of the beauty industry. Yes, Miss Lukyanova is an extreme example of someone who has internalized the messages celebrities and advertisers throw our direction every day, but don’t we all internalize those messages to some degree?
That being said, there are still some pretty problematic issues that the Human Barbie has brought up. It’s just important we remember she’s not the only one vulnerable to those messages.