Lentis/Technology and Conventional Norms of Personal Beauty
The conventional norms of personal beauty have changed greatly over the years. Most beautiful people today would not have been considered attractive a few hundred years ago. Today, the term “the perfect body” is ubiquitous in American culture, although most people feel they fall short of this ideal. While up-scale clothing retailers and weight-loss companies benefit from society's desire to achieve "the perfect body", non-profit activists fight for a more realistic portrayal, arguing the need for perfection can have dangerous consequences. Despite this fight, the desire to obtain "the perfect body" remains pervasive in U.S. society; it can be seen in the sales of manufactured toys, entertainment, social media and through the rise in plastic surgery. This article will discuss today's conventional norms of personal beauty and asks the question, “How does technology affect a woman’s perception of 'the perfect body'?”
One case study that examines the sociotechnical interface of personal beauty is Mattel’s Barbie doll. The Barbie doll was created in 1959 and has evolved a great deal since then. Barbie’s evolution demonstrates that these dolls reflect society’s perception of beauty.
Mattel’s first commercial for Barbie (1959) specifically markets her as “beautiful Barbie”. The commercial’s jingle ends with these telling lines: “Someday I’m gonna be exactly like you / ‘Til then, I know just what I’ll do / Barbie, Beautiful Barbie / I’ll make believe that I am you”. However, a closer look into pre-1997 Barbie reveals that her proportions are not physically possible.
According to Rehabs.com’s article “Dying to be Barbie” (2012), Barbie’s child’s size 3 foot and extremely thin ankles would require her to walk on all fours. Her 16-inch waist is less than half the size of an average woman’s and would leave room for only half a liver and a few inches of intestines. Also, Barbie’s neck is twice as long and six inches thinner than the average female’s, rendering her incapable of supporting her head. Lastly, a woman with Barbie’s proportions would not be able to menstruate, due to extremely low levels of body fat. These startling revelations suggest that society’s image of the perfect body does not and cannot naturally exist in the physical world.
One woman who strives to emulate Barbie’s proportions through unnatural methods is Valeria Lukyanova. While she denies undergoing any plastic surgery beyond breast augmentation, before and after photos of the twenty-something Ukrainian beg to differ. Plastic surgeons have claimed that Lukyanova must have removed some of her ribs, made her hips wider, and reconstructed her face. Lukyanova desires to be- as many people call her- the real-life Barbie because, “to me, the Barbie doll looks perfect; it was created as a human idol”.
In response to Barbie’s unlikely proportions, artist Nickolay Lamm created a new “normal Barbie", with proportions based off of CDC measurements for an average 19 year-old woman. From side-by-side comparisons, the differences are apparent: “normal” Barbie is shorter, with smaller eyes and a wider waist, and her neck is shorter and thicker. “Normal Barbie"’s backside is also more pronounced, her limbs are fuller, and her breasts are set lower on her chest. Lamm questioned Mattel’s intentions, asking, “If there's even a small chance of Barbie in its present form negatively influencing girls, and if Barbie looks good as an average-sized woman in America, what's stopping Mattel from making one?”
Nickolay Lamm isn’t the only person who believes Barbie’s unrealistic proportions could contribute negatively to a girl’s perception of herself. Survey results link young girls’ desire to be skinnier to Barbie. Girls ages 5-8 were subjected to a psychological study where they were shown images of either Barbie or a more realistic doll. The girls who saw images of Barbie were found to have less self-esteem and a stronger need to be thin. Another study involved 6-10 year-old girls who each played with one of the two dolls. Those who played with Barbie ate significantly less food throughout the study.
Further, Google’s Ngram viewer, an online phrase-usage tool, shows a strong correlation between the words “Barbie” and “anorexia” in the years after Barbie’s 1959 debut. This collectively supports the idea that Barbie’s impossible body image negatively affects young girls.
Like the Barbie doll, entertainment shape society's idea of "the perfect body". The conventional norm of female beauty has changed throughout the decades, but with more recent body-altering technology, the discrepancy between how women feel they look and how they feel they "should" look has grown larger. Entertainment and the media can also falsley portray the "ideal" woman through unreaslistic standards accepted by the entertainment media as a requirement for beauty rather than a unique body type.
Disney Princesses and Beauty Norms
Disney princesses are a reflection of society's interpretation of beauty. Snow White was the first Disney princess, circa 1937, in a time when fuller women were considered more attractive. 1930's media even advertised weight gain remedies so that women could appear more beautiful. Similarly, Snow White's cartoon body proportions appear fuller and more realistic than Barbie's.
In the mid 1940s, this body image began to change. "Pin-up girls" became popular as girls on informal posters "pinned up" on walls. These women, as well as icons of the 1940s and 1950s, advertised accentuated waistlines. Disney reflected this interpretation with its 1950's princess Cinderella, who had an over-emphasized, narrow waist. Disney didn't stop there, either; it continued this trend, which is still seen today. Subsequent female Disney characters mimic these unrealistic proportions and would look very different with realistic waist proportions. While the body proportions of recent Disney princesses appear unattainable by real-world women, these princesses are not real; they are cartoons. Young girls may admire the attractive Disney princesses, but they don't necessarily feel pressure to compare their own, real bodies to them. In a 2010 study, appearance-related media, specific to Disney characters, did not affect the body image of 3-6 year-old girls.
Victoria's Secret Fashion Show
Despite being a multi-billion dollar retail company, Victoria's Secret's annual fashion show garners the attention of millions of viewers worldwide. Models between 5'8" and 6'0", known as the "Angels", provide several hours of entertainment by strutting down the runway wearing the company's upcoming fashion line. Despite the entertainment provided by the Angels, the beauty standards the models portray can be harmful to body images of people all over the world. Cate Jefferies, blogger for Verily, recalls watching the show with her friends saying "I could see how quickly our minds still race right back to that painfully unrealistic standard of beauty that’s so deeply ingrained in us all—including the models themselves."  Victoria's Secret has never released official requirements for becoming an Angel; however professional photographer, Robert Voltaire, wrote a list in his blog and mentioned "having 34”-24”-34” body measurements and ideally being 5’9” without heels" is a basic requirement. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published on their webpage the average height of a woman is 63.7 inches (or about 5'3"). Thus, having the body image to become an entertainment and fashion icon isn't typical of most women worldwide.
A study done on the effects of female magazine models on the self-esteem and body image of college-age women found that a majority of the sample acknowledged that they would like to look like female magazine models, but did not feel the models had a direct impression on their own body image and self-esteem. On the contrary, a study done in 2002 discovered that only health/fitness magazines were directly linked to body image concerns. So although viewers worldwide acknowledge may wish to look like an Angel, the true effect of the fashion show is not definitive in regards to data collection and/or research.
Social Media is the collection of communication websites and apps dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration. Social media sites allow people to create, share and exchange ideas, pictures, and videos. This web-based communication is becoming an integral part of life online as social websites and applications proliferate. Currently, 1.95 billion people use social media and it is projected to go to 2.5 billion by 2018. But is social media really serving its purpose today or is it affecting our perceptions? A 2014 Dove study found that women wrote 5 million disparaging tweets about beauty, most of which were about themselves. The survey noted 78% of the sample felt that the portrayal of women on social media is unrealistic; however, 82% of women said they believed social media can change prevailing standards of beauty. Dove wrote in its study, “Whether women are rating beauty products, giving each other advice or sharing personal beauty/ body image stories, or posting their own images or ‘selfies,’ beauty has become more personalized and more inclusive on the internet.”
"Black Girl Magic"
Julee Wilson of the Huffington Post depicts “Black Girl Magic” as a movement created by CaShawn Thompson in 2013 to celebrate the beauty, power, and resilience of black women; the main purpose being to "counteract the negativity” society places on black women.  But this phrase goes beyond that. Clove Hope describes Black Girl Magic as a declaration of pride among black girls and women that began as a viral campaign on Twitter that has played a central role in the discussions about black female visibility on how they are seen and not seen. It is a step towards black women not being seeing as a one-dimensional being. Amy Juicebox describes black women being seen as a Jezebel; depicting them as hard and with attitude. She makes the comment, “ How dare our mothers and aunties believe that their afro and big lips be considered anything close to beautiful?” Juicebox iterates this idea that #Black Girl Magic is a collective stand against the stereotyping, colourism, misogynoir and outright racism that some face daily; that kind of treatment that can cause high rates of depression and anxiety among black women.
In 1988, the invention of Photoshop allowed technology to alter the body parts of anyone who fell short of "the perfect body". What was once limited to a small pool of beauty icons became a country-wide phenomenon: every magazine, advertisement, or public image now presented "the perfect body".
Photo-shopped women are prominently exposed in magazines advertising personal beauty, which can negatively affect subscribers. Dove launched their Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004 to bring attention to the body image distortion occurring in the media and its potential negative effects. A video was posted on Dove's social media page to illustrate how models look entirely different after photographs are edited.
This pervasive ideal body image is correlated with a desire to be thinner. In a 1999 study, 11 years after Photoshop's invention, 20% of 9 year-olds and over 40% of 14 year-olds reported wanting to lose weight. The dissatisfaction women feel often causes them to alter their bodies in unnatural ways. In the mid-1980s, there was a stark increase in use of the terms "eating disorder," "breast augmentation," and "liposuction", and the upward trend continues.
The evolution of the conventional norm of beauty is depicted through beauty icons portrayed in media technology at different time periods. Twiggy, known for her thin build, was named "The Face of 1966" by the Daily Express. Soon, "skinny" became the new "beautiful". Google's Ngram viewer shows a steep increase in use of the term "skinny" beginning in 1964. Beauty icons of today have changed this ideal even further. Kim Kardashian is a very famous beauty icon, known for her pronounced curves. Although young girls do not feel the need to emulate cartoon characters, they feel pressured to change when they see "the perfect body" on a real person. A study in 2010 showed that young women became more critical of their bodies after looking at models in a comparative way.
Where once only film stars, singers or high-end fashion models represented by powerful agencies would fit under desired beauty norms, social media influencers are now working their way into the force. In light of Instagram and its immense popularity, many users discovered an outlet that provides them the freedom to express themselves. “Instafame” -self-made micro-fame, began to rise in 2014. Many diverse users aside from the usual Victoria’s Secret models, took the opportunity to turn the lens on themselves and share their true colors. Following a relatable person who inspires you other than famous actors, singers, models, etc. became hugely successful; thus providing everyday social media users a glimpse of the spotlight.
Although many users will embrace the open environment, some users feel pressured to receive acceptance from their followers. Essena O’Neill is an Australian “instafamous” model that gained more than 615,000 followers. On October 27, 2015, she deleted more than 2,000 of her photos and shared her unfortunate experience with social media. She voiced that she went through depression to contrive the “perfection” her followers would desire. Through this disclosure, many of her followers admired her bravery and sought her as a role model. Instagram “models” serve as a brilliant source of beauty inspiration and is continuing to push new beauty norms.
Plus Size Models
The “perfect body” described in the fashion industry is the accustomed “super-skinny type”. We typically see this same "type" in every magazine, billboard, television commercial or digital advertisement. 50 percent of American women are a size 14 or above, so magazines [that aren't including plus-size fashion] are willfully ignoring 50 percent of their readership. Social media offers a unique opportunity to challenge the prevailing view that success is based on conforming to the “thin body ideal”. It is shining a light on curvy, body-positive women, as demonstrated by Tess Holliday, a U.K. size 26 model who shot to fame when she was signed to MiLK Model Management in 2015.
On social media platforms like Instagram, women who have felt ignored by mainstream fashion are finally able to have a voice. In 2015, Aerie started an #AerieReal campaign that became instafamous with an audience over 1.7 million. The campaign supported real women in diverse sizes to be seen as models to young girls and women aged 15-21 who are most influenced negatively by idealized images of perfect bodies in the media. Last year, Lane Bryant also introduced a #PlusIsEqual campaign that included a wide range of women sizes in clothing and proved that promoting new beauty standards can be lucrative. With the influence of social media self-empowerment, titles like Sports Illustrated and Cosmo created buzz to putting plus sized girls on their covers and including them in editorial shoots. In the end, Instagram and other social media platforms play a major role in shifting the fashion industry culture.
Pro-ana is an online movement that promotes the eating disorder anorexia nervosa and related behaviors. It consists of websites, forums, and social media groups for individuals with eating disorders. Members of these sites share peer support, advice on how to hide symptoms of eating disorders, and ‘thinspiration’ - images of slim or emaciated women as motivation for weight loss. Myproana, a forum with almost 300,000 total members, is one of the largest online pro-ana communities.
The National Eating Disorders Association claims that pro-ana sites “provide no useful information on treatment but instead encourage and falsely support those who, sadly, are ill but do not seek help." The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders states that Pro-Ana sites "can pose a serious threat to some individuals, not simply because they promote eating disorder behaviors, but because they build a sense of community that is unhealthy.” Platforms such as Instagram and Tumblr have responded to pro-ana with policies banning content that promotes self-harm, but the online pro-ana community has largely persisted.
Since 2000, cosmetic surgery procedures have increased by 104%. In 2013, 15 million procedures were performed, the most common being breast augmentations, rhinoplasties, eyelid surgeries, liposuction, and facelifts, respectively. About 90% of these procedures were performed on women.
Causes of Cosmetic Surgery Rise
Researches have investigated the driving factors behind the rise in cosmetic surgery. One study performed by Ching et. al found that those who desire cosmetic surgery are generally less confident with their body image. Other research discovered a high correlation between the desire to undergo cosmetic surgery and exposure to media/social-media. It is reasonable to believe that the increase in cosmetic surgery procedures can be attributed to technological advances that allow the procedure to be safer, less invasive, cheaper, and require a shorter recovery period. Conversely, Edmund et. al demonstrates that these technological advances were made because of societal demand. Collectively, these findings suggest that the rise in cosmetic surgery popularity is a result of societal conformity to the ideal body image.
As plastic surgery becomes more popular, society, in addition to Barbie and the media, may begin reflect this ideal body image. Soon, cosmetic surgery may become the norm as beauty is redefined based on the cosmetic surgery capabilities. On an individual level, cosmetic surgery may improve a women’s confidence with regard to her body image. However, on a larger scale, the rise of cosmetic surgery may lead to more body image issues.
Many producers rely on the ideal body image to promote their product. Perfume, clothes, alcohol, and purse manufacturers often use attractive models in their product advertisements with the belief that sex sells. Film-makers use “perfect looking” celebrities or cartoon characters to make their product more appealing.  The success of gyms, plastic surgeons, dietary supplement producers, and undergarment retailers relies on the individual's desire for the ideal body. Victoria's Secret recently ran a "Perfect Body” campaign, advertising a bra that could make any woman look perfect.
Non-profit activist organizations such as The Goddess Project, My Body Gallery, and Bare Reality, promote the healthy natural body. These groups aim to negate the harm that the existing perfect body image has on women. Also, Dove promotes the natural body image and in their "Campaign for Real Beauty”, which it also uses to attract women to their products.
Through Barbie, entertainment, social media and plastic surgery, technology can be seen modifying the natural body image. This is an example of Techno-Natural Perfection: the use of technology to innovate a natural state or being. The following Lentis chapters describe applications of Techno-Natural Perfection:
- Genetically Modified Food Controversy: Foods are genetically modified to meet production demands
- Steroids and Baseball: Steroids are used to increase the capabilities of the natural human body
- Cell Phones versus Face-to-Face Interaction: Cell phones are replacing the natural way in which humans communicate
- Fracking: The process of extracting natural gas from its natural position
Each of these chapters describes a technological innovation to a natural system and explains the harmful effects. Is it possible that all technological innovations to a natural system will result in negative consequences? The answer is still unknown. To discover more about Techno-Natural Perfection's application to personal beauty, the male body image can also be examined.
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