This month I have tried toying with little bits of the modern world to see how I feel. Dipping my toe into the pond, if you will. Checking the water and seeing if I want to dive in. I also often get questions about how I feel the modern world is in regards to a woman’s image compared to the 1950’s. Many see the 1950’s as a very oppressive time for women. In the kitchen in the apron at their husband’s beck and call or given bad role models in schools and university. I am finding that what we have today on a very subtle level for women’s body image is actually dangerous, even to the point of death for some.
One of the things I have done this month to test out the modern world was watch this Documentary HERE. (You will have to sign into HULU as it says it deals with adult content. However, I found it interesting that there was not really any nudity and no language. It was almost as if they didn’t want young people to see what it is they are being exposed to so that they could still BE exposed to it.) Please, if you have some time, watch it. I think it is rather well done and it deals with beauty image and worth watching. If you have a daughter, perhaps watch it with her. I think it is really eye opening.
It, however, made me repel a bit. Just as my flipping through some modern magazines at the store the other day or a foray through racks of clothes while out Christmas shopping. I am rather timid about the modern world and rightly so.
This is a 1947 cover of Vogue. Certainly the model is thin, yet she seems a real person. Now go back to this 1940 Vogue image. This model is beautiful, but i can tell you today there are many Photoshop areas that would happen. The little bit of arm flap on her raised arm would be removed. The little curve of skin under her forearm would be gone. The rippling on her neck and the slightest little line on her throat would all be gone. That mark above her eyebrow would disappear.
These lovely ladies in the 1940’s are very healthy looking. But today they could not be high fashion models. These girls legs would be considered too fat and not toned. The girl on the right, a healthy weight, would feel bad about her little tummy and the extra ‘fat’ on her upper arm. Why wouldn’t she if she lived in today’s world, where even if she was not looking at high fashion magazine’s but simply shopping for swimsuits on a site she would encounter this. This is not even a high fashion shoot. It is an ad from a site where you can purchase this suit. This girl’s thinness, with her ribs fairly easy to see, is built like a 5 year old thin boy. Her high fashion counterpart is no only very thin but obviously so because she is most likely 12-14 and has not hit puberty full on. Boyish hips and skeletal legs. This seems very familiar to me. Fashion shot? No, child starving in Darfur. Is it beautiful? Is it the ideal?
And, if we think this warped body image is only affecting teens, take a look at this runway show.Compared to this 1950’s Life photo shoot of little girls on the beach. One say’s let’s play and have fun and the other, well I don’t like to say what it says, particularly when it is being applied to a girl under 10.
This is amazing to me because this element of being ‘plugged’ into the media of the modern world doesn’t only work on your physical feelings. As I almost exclusively look at magazines printed no later than 1959, I have, in the past few years, become less enamored with things. A flip through a modern magazine makes me feel not only bad about my body, but covetous of things. A woman’s magazine or an architecture magazine today is an instrument of covetousness. Not that the old magazines weren’t selling you things, but in the 1950’s ladies magazines there are countless ways to make and create your own idea and ideal of the perfect home. It isn’t all stainless steel and granite kitchens full of high end restaurant appliances despite the fact that most families only use their microwave, or oven to heat up prepared foods.
In a way, these past two years have been an almost psychological cleansing for me. By simply depriving myself of any modern advertising and tv, it is amazing how over time my idea of happiness and my desires have changed drastically. Yet, give me a modern magazine for a few minutes and those old feelings come rushing back. I think we honestly do not know how much power all the modern media we are plugged into have on us. Even simple tv shows we might watch are full of subtle hints at what we SHOULD want and that pursuit of some happiness or ideal that is just out of reach. If we stop looking or striving for that happiness, we would stop buying and start looking around and living. We would enjoy what we have and who we have around us. We would even think, what of those who have less than I? And community might begin to reform.
In so many ways it is just easy to live in the modern world. We can just plug in and watch and covet. It can be harder to break free, yet once we do we begin to see how much easier it actually is to live outside of it. I mean to say, it is easy to go and buy prepared food, sit and just veg rather than read or play games together or plant a garden, but once you begin to the those things and try to go back to the other, you find them empty and vapid. It is as if the ‘hard work’ we think is involved in really living is actually easier work that is more inviting and engaging in being alive.
I know for me the more I disconnect from the modern world via media the more I feel connected to myself and those I know. Although in so many ways, when I am out and about I do feel a disconnect from those around me in shops or generally, in that I cannot understand them anymore. The impetus that compels them, though once my own, now seems so alien as to seem as if I have actually travelled here from another time.
So, back to the point of our body image: It is obviously distorted. What was once considered beautiful would now be considered chubby. And what once appeared in magazines would no be air-brushed into a way that is not possible. Why is it that we do value looks more than brains? Why is it that it is mainly on the women than the men that such advertising is based? We women certainly seem to be the sex which wishes to please and so find ourselves, without rhyme or reason, buying into whatever body image is presented to us. We might scoff at our corset wearing Victorian ancestors and then go continue to obsessively read about how to lose weight, how to eat to get thinner. And the irony in the entire situation is that we are all more fat than before. Our models were once a bit thinner than the average, but overall similar in size, now they are anorexic and we, as a nation, are dangerously overweight?
You see the more we are feed an image to strive for, very very thin and then advertised to fatty and unhealthy foods to eat because they are easy, we are on an endless cycle that will GUARNTEE consumers. If we keep finding ourselves heavier than the ideal, then we will buy more products to get thinner, we will also drastically change weight, needing to purchase more clothes and as clothes are so cheap we will buy things smaller in the ‘hope’ that we will wear them. The modern world of consuming is specifically set up to make us unhappy, because that makes a better consumer. We want more and then we need the shopping to feel good as well.
All I can say is if I had a daughter today I don’t know what I would do. How could one shield her from the very world? Where can one go that is NOT plugged into the world? Wifi and TV is even in some of the most remote areas now. If you have watched the documentary you will see the results of body image in one generation to the native people. Their ideal of a heavier woman, such a normal cultural part of their ideals, changed when tv was introduced and the next generation of native girls were throwing up to be thin. It is a powerful tool and when we think it is okay for our children to simply be allowed to be plugged in all the time and then wonder why they do what they do, it is almost a blind naiveté, yet what can one do? We are IN the modern world surrounded by technology. But, ask yourselves why? Why did you let it in? Why, when it knocked at the door did you say, “Come on in, have a seat, of course we all need cell phones, hand held computer devices, tv’s in every room, video games piled to the ceiling, movies at the drop of a hat”.
If we look around our home and our lives and really stop and consider, how much is media and modern outside sources affecting my and my families life? Now consider the 1940 family. The radio is there, the first outside intrusion into the privacy of the family, but no tv and in many cases not always a phone. How did they live? Were they Neanderthals clubbing one another on the head going about in loin cloths? When is it enough? Will we always need just one more device, just one more way to be entertained or aided, “I can’t drive without a machine telling me when to turn right or left”. When? I think, as we approach the day that in our country has become the most consumerist day of the year, it is worth thinking upon. And to ask ourselves not only are we ‘un-happy’ with our bodies, but are we happy with our lives? Do all the things we have make us happier or more well adjusted? Are we better off than our grandparents generation because of all we have? Are we more connected with our children or each other?
Let me know what you think. If you can prove me wrong, I will be very happy. I would love to find a way to return to the modern world in some way, but fear to give up the calm and connection I have found by simply unplugging myself. I know that sounds odd as I am typing this on my computer, but this is a machine I use to set down my thoughts and make creative objects as I would a typewriter, an encyclopedia or a canvas and paint. It is not my window into the world. But, is it realistic to think that we, as a people, could ever live that way en masse? Or is it simply to easy to just sit back, plug in, buy and ignore ourselves and those around us and continue being covetous and simply gratifying it with a click of the mouse and Paypal? I don’t know. Watch the Documentary and let me know how you feel about it.