Even better than the real thing: mass media and manufactured beauty

Give me one last dance
We’ll slide down the surface of things

You’re the real thing
Yeah the real thing
You’re the real thing
Even better than the real thing

I figured out a long time ago, even before I began encountering grad-level feminist critiques, that our media’s stylized construction and portrayal of female beauty was problematic. It’s bad enough that unattractive people don’t appear in movies, on TV or in magazines unless the narrative expressly requires someone unattractive, and sometimes even that isn’t enough. I mean, the star of Ugly Betty isn’t really ugly.

But it goes beyond this. It’s not just that we’re only shown pretty people. It’s not just that we fetishize youth and beauty in all things. It’s that we have now passed the point when natural beauty suffices. Jean Baudrillard talks about the simulacrum, the hyperreal, the artificial representation that has no real-world referent. If that’s a little too academic for you, think about a couple popular rock songs you’ve probably encountered.

The first is U2’s “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” quoted above, which pays cynical homage to “the surface of things.” (More…)

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One thought on “Even better than the real thing: mass media and manufactured beauty

  1. As a female… and one who’s been on the “plus” side ever since high school… I have to say I have a love/hate relationship with fashion magazines/ads/etc. Love, because who doesn’t enjoy something pretty? But hate for what it does to me, what it does to other women, to teenage girls and children, to men, to society.
    I have come to terms with, but I continually am surprised by, for example, those men I hit it off with on the internet and who see my head shot and then meet me in person and you can see the disappointment on their face… when I have never been anything less than honest about describing myself. I’m not unattractive. I dress stylishly, I’m good about hygiene, I’m smart, I’m well-traveled, I read, I’m employed with a decent job. Friends describe me as funny.
    But I’m not size 2, size 4, size 6.
    Just browse through any town’s Craigslist relationship ads; men will bluntly say “no fatties/no BBWs” or even more blatant language, “If you are anything more than size 4, don’t even bother”.
    It’s odd, really. Because men are allowed to look grungy. It’s okay when men don’t shave, look like they fell out of bed and got dressed off their floors, or have, at best, a nodding relationship with their barber. Oh, sure, yes, some of those male models are certainly airbrushed too. (ok, all of them.) But the male models look healthy. They’re lean and trim and look like they lift something more strenuous than their cell phone and pocket dog.
    And, male and female alike, we embrace the goofus. Look at John Cusack – he’s pleasant looking, but not gorgeous. How about Superbad or Knocked Up or just about any male comedy out there? Dork gets uberbabe. You will see total hottie babes with fugly guys, but when’s the last time some stud leading man walked down the red carpet with an unattractive woman?
    It’s weird, too, because we women will drool over men, sure. But whereas men say personality etc. is important, women mean it. Is it because estrogen helps us realize that we all sag and droop in the end? Are men simply blinded by testosterone?
    As consumers, we have to speak with 1. our dollars and 2. our voices. Most companies don’t realize they’re being boycotted until somebody draws it to their attention. But if 50,000 people write a company and say, “we don’t like __,” then they notice.
    Did you see this today? French bill takes chic out of being too thin. Bravo, I thought – then I read the comments. It’s amazing how many people spoke out against the bill.

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