The art of digital enhancement has become ubiquitous within television, magazines and films, and has permeated most aspects of the media. Celebrities are enhanced in a physical and digital form and, prior to filming, undertake the rigours of a learned and effective make-up routine performed by professional make-up artists. Models are caked in make-up, photographed, then tweaked again digitally. Anything from eye whitening to slimming hips is done to portray an unrealistic and unachievable end.

Research has been conducted on the most prominent emblem of unrealistic body proportions: the Barbie doll. Researchers have generated a computer image of what a woman with Barbie doll proportions would look like. Turns out, in the real word, Barbie’s body would be far too narrow to accommodate her liver in its entirety (though it could manage half) and only a measly few centimetres of bowel. Not to mention the fact that her back would not be strong enough to support the weight from her upper body, and that a real woman with these proportions would be inflicted with chronic diarrhoea and perish from malnourishment. Poor Ken.

In this age of instant media we are relentlessly bombarded with images of ‘perfect’ people – these cosmetically, physically, digitally enhanced celebrities whom we probably see more of than our family. It is no surprise then that the youth of today, girls in particular, have the lowest self-esteem ever observed. Bliss magazine surveyed 2,000 girls and found that 67% of them felt that they needed to lose weight and that the same number of girls under the age of 13 in the survey had already tried dieting.
These figures are shocking, yet come as no surprise when young girls are besieged with unattainable ideals. Keira Knightley is presented on promotional King Arthur material with a cleavage that belies its natural proportions. She has openly criticised the fact that her breasts are always digitally enhanced for the US media: “I don’t have any tits, so I can’t show cleavage. But you’re not actually allowed to be on a magazine cover in the US without at least a C-cup because it turns people off.” Kate Winslet decried her digital alterations made at the behest of GQ magazine when she appeared on their front cover.

In an unprecedented move, Debenhams has banned digital touching-up for their swimwear advertising campaign, proclaiming “We’ve not messed with natural beauty: this image is un-airbrushed. What do you think?” They even released a before and after image of the model being airbrushed in which she was slimmed, her skin was darkened and her hair was modified to ensure that not a single strand was out of place. With the advent of high definition television (HDTV) the situation looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets even worse, with make-up artists scrambling for better, lighter make-up that will make celebrities look more flawless than ever in high definition.

All this is war waged by the media who are eschewing the normal and natural in their attempt to project a false, socially-constructed, insalubrious ideal of perfection. This practice is not conducive to the fragile self-esteem of teens, women and men everywhere. After all, even model Cindy Crawford proclaimed “Even I don’t look like [me] in the morning,” prompting many, hopefully, to rethink the standards upheld by the media in its habit of publishing false images.
From the media we can observe that incredibly good-looking celebrities are unsurprisingly endowed with a fabulous wardrobe that far surpasses the generosity of student loans. Considering the fact that many celebrities our age have released a single, starred in a film and have marketed their own fragrance before puberty, its no wonder us mere mortals often feel left by the wayside.

For students, on top of looking good and ensuring a decent knowledge of the latest Topshop trend, we must achieve at least a 2.1 in our degrees, obtain that coveted internship in second year and participate in extracurricular activities like there’s no tomorrow. Add to that the pressure to go out and party like its 1999 every other day and be able to afford the new ‘it’ item, all with a beautiful smile on our face, perfectly backcombed hair and up-to-the-minute fashionable clothes, its clear that we as students are very much trapped in the throes of a consumerist society.

This escalating pressure to look good is uncomfortable and unjust; dare to be different, put down the mascara before lectures and stop detagging those Facebook photos. If we don’t, then unattainable ideals will be perpetuated for years and years to come.

Settit Beyene

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2 Comments on this post.
  • JJJ
    10 May 2011 at 14:30
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    Well said 🙂

  • gingin
    11 December 2012 at 17:10
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    SOOOOOO sick of these images!!ADMIT your airburshing with these photos!! Why not. It can’t help your’ self esteem bc anyone can look good with airbrushing , and it darn sure doesn’t help the women who see it!!!

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