Body Image In Art, Porn & Media

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Much is written on the effects of porn and female body image. Some complain fearfully of men who will, upon viewing porn, expect all women to have those bodies; others that women themselves fall into this trap and try to emulate such unrealistic things with their own bodies. Of course, these accusations and reservations aren't only reserved for pornographic materials, but magazines, television, any media.

And while you may think that I'm going to rant about how stupid this is, how silly it is to believe that people will be so affected by these images that they'd let ~ no force ~ them to be their realities, I'm not.

I can't.

To deny that people are affected by the media they consume, the images they see, is to stick your head in the sand and pretend; and it won't make the phenomenon go away. People do modify themselves to fit the images which tantalizingly lay before them. The centerfold, starlet, model is for many the female ideal; men want to be with her, women want to be (look like) her.

She may be freakish ~ in fact, there is much evidence to argue just how freakish she is, what with her measurements simultaneously amplified and diminished via scalpel & suction, inserts & removals; her head-to-toe coloring altered to give her unnatural color combinations & striking contrasts. And as if that were not enough, her image is further altered via lighting & angles, airbrushing, and then additional digital enhancements. Her actual thinness, limiting her periods, may be the most natural thing about her. Or at least the one thing she may appear to have the most control over. Yet she is a freak, an anomaly; the unusual in the general population which consumes such media. She was, in fact, selected for her freakishness; she is the rare flower. It is her rarity which makes her beautiful. It is only human that we want to possess something so rare, be that something so rare. And in our art, we do like to portray the rare, the beautiful.

Admittedly 'art' is a loose categorization for 'the media', fraught with gradations and personal interpretations, but entertainment & media are a part of the continuum of art. At some level even the simpering TV programming and the pandering of celebrity in magazines ~ even the interpretation & presentation of 'events' as 'news' ~ is a creative endeavor. None of it is anymore The Truth than Shakespeare or e.e. cummings. Elements of truth may be in it, exposed or illuminated by it, but art in any form is not The Truth.

Women especially have emulated fashions, tried to be the latest version of 'beauty' ~ which usually was tied to the other rarities of wealth and privilege. We've consumed a more materialistic methodology of such things than men have, presumably in our pursuit to be the object of male conquest. But it hasn't always been this way, or at least to this extreme.

Once upon a time, we had the ability to interact with art as sane people.

In the graceful 'perfected' forms we did not see condemnation of our own imperfect forms. We did not see beauty, walk away with the message that we must change ourselves to reflect art, and then complain that we were being brainwashed into doing so.

Diadoumenos-Atenas Greek Statue

Was it fair to either men or women to be compared to the classic statues of ancient Greece? Those bodies sculpted of marble in the Archaic & Classical periods were glorified ideals. Not just body-beautiful in terms of proportion & fitness, but forever young as even the elderly were depicted in their physical prime. Such physical perfection was the definition not only of 'beauty' but of 'piety', 'honor' and other values. Where were the complaints that men and women alike were harming themselves trying to obtain the impossible? Where were the complaints of a youth-obsessed culture? Why haven't I read about spouses who, having kicked one another out of bed for eating crackers while not looking like Greek Gods, no longer fornicated?

Did anyone think to scream bloody murder at Leonardo Da Vinci for the Mona Lisa? Yet who among us could copy that enigmatic smile? None. However I've not heard of any suicides, facial mutilations, or deep depressions from the female population of the 16th century. Nor have I heard that the population dipped because men, dissatisfied with the smiles of real women, refused to get laid.

Rubenseque: Ruben's Portrait Of His Wife

Was it fair to women for Peter Paul Rubens to portray the ideal woman as full-figured & voluptuous (his now famously "Rubenesque" women), when the masses, the majority of the population in the 17th century, were thin? They were thin from hard work, poor sanitation, and other issues of health & economy, and the full-figured standard of beauty was again based on rarity, and indeed unfair. Did they bitch & moan of the unfair standard of beauty, link it to health problems of excess, and demand their government impose artistic standards? Model standards? Did men suffer great unhappiness because they would never be satisfied with the more common thin bodies of real women?

In all cases, humans bred, babes were born, and we've managed to keep the species alive.

Why? Because people understood the difference between art and real life, between representational image and self-image.

We knew that looking and even longing over the images of beauty and perfection were a normal part of artistic experiences. They were creations meant to elicit awe-filled responses, and we may even dream a little dream full of nocturnal emissions, but we humans knew where to draw the line for ourselves. That was art; this is us in our real lives in the real world.

Even today, we seem to absorb the reality of this line along with the painted perfection, the sculpted sublime.

I've not heard anyone denounce Amedeo Modigliani for painting women with with skin 'too glowing' to be fair, for nudes which destroy a woman's sense of self-worth.

Amedeo Modigliani Nude

Duchamp's Nude Descending Staircase

For that matter, where is the complaint that Duchamp's nudes descending are too blocky for the average woman to compete with?

You think I may be taking this too far... I assure you I'm not. Open a magazine or female centered media site in your browser and you'll see all the complaints about print media, TV shows and movies and the unfair, unhealthy messages they send to women.

All hail Ugly Betty for bringing 'real beauty' which an 'average woman' can achieve to television; we cannot see the differences between people on TV and reality.

Perhaps our desire to believe in art, to make ourselves over in the images of art, is the result of technology allowing for more body modification.

Or perhaps it has to do with another advance: film.

Before photography, art was clearly representational. Art had perceived limits, stylistic integrity, things which made renderings different & separate from realities ~ art even stylistic controls which prohibited it from being too much like reality. But film, film captures us 'as we are'. We seem to translate photographs to Truth. Even with all of photography's manipulations known, it somehow seems more real than the other Real Art forms and so tricks us into believing what we see. Photographs are not art, but reality. And we want to join that reality.

Somehow we as a culture have forgotten that the photo, the TV show, the film, the talking heads and swaying hips selling us stuff, are each artful creations of their own. Skillfully created to move us to consume and screw more often than to motivate us towards 'beauty', 'piety' and 'honor', yes. But skillfully created nontheless. It's art.

And perhaps that's the real distinction on this continuum of art... It's not the skill required but the value it seeks to emulate, emote or force us to emit. It's in this territory that the 'art vs. porn' debate has long fought, that blurred line between 'beauty' and 'arousal'. Beauty is a virtue; arousal is a verb. But they meet in there... somewhere.

We'd like to make the distinction between art and artifice, the differences being critical to our acceptance of its value, yet we won't take responsibility for what those distinctions mean or how we choose to act upon them.

Is the camera to blame? Does the camera add envy along with those 10 pounds? Are we no more savvy than the Aborigine who fears that magic box will steal his soul? Why don't we see the distinction between representation & repression, between objectification in art and the self-imposed objectification we choose, rendering us victim to some to oppression we are only too willing to act upon ~ like a recipe. We see a pretty picture and we don't just imagine wanting it or being it, we must be it.

But is it really film which confuses us? Or is it that we no longer intend ~ even pretend ~ that we're responsible for our own actions?

"She's too thin!"
"Quick, count the Anorexics!"

If some celebrity makes you want to slowly kill yourself, I guess that's your twisted choice. Personally, lots of celebrities make me sick, but I refuse to let them or their choices be my choices & control my life (or death).

"If a woman was built like a Barbie doll..."
"Her back would be too weak to support the weight of her upper body, and her body would be too narrow to contain more than half a liver and a few centimeters of bowel. A real woman built that way would suffer from chronic diarrhea and eventually die from malnutrition."

Hey, listen, if I try to make myself over in the image of child's toy, it isn't going to be the one who can't talk. Chatty Cathy, maybe. Then again, I want a working vagina. Maybe the toy I should try to be is the Jenna Jameson doll. Screw that ~ I mean, You screw that. I don't want to be a doll or even Jenna. I like me.

"Women are used to sell products!"
"Worse yet, unnatural women are used to sell women on the idea that they should do unnatural, unspeakable things to themselves!"

Here's an idea: Don't buy it; don't buy into it. You're smarter than that. Laugh at it, walk away from it, turn it off, don't give them your money.

I started off saying that I wasn't going to rant about how silly it is to believe that people would be so affected by the images in art that they'd twist the images of beauty into a projection of self-worth that they must then try to make their realities. And I haven't. People do it, and I believe it. What is silly isn't the believing they do this, it's that people do this.

I'm a feminist, so I get it. I see the horrors ~ the horror potential. But at some point I have to take responsibility for my own choices. And that includes the choice to experience art, media, entertainment ~ porn or not ~ for what it is: Non-reality.

Imposing it upon myself, or accepting that someone else has the right to impose it upon me, is something I can refuse to do.

Bitching that "the media must stop" is crazy. First, "the media" is not some entity unto its own, out to destroy us. It's made of people, most of which are motivated by the bottom line. Stop giving them your attention, your money, and they'll be forced to change their ways. Second, "bitching" for someone or something to "make changes" is trying to impose your values upon someone else. Let your wallet and attention span do the talking and if enough media consumers agree, they will choose to change rather than be forced to give in to some imposed set of arbitrary rules, however 'healthy' you perceive them to be. If no one else agrees with you, well then, buck-up & accept that there will be stuff you don't want in your world. (Newsflash: It's already happening with other things.)

We all need to see more art, study art, visit a damn museum. We need to consider art ~ yes, even works made with cameras ~ differently. We also need to study media and become better consumers of media. But for too-too many, it seems we need to start at the beginning, convincing them that the stuff they see on TV's just not real.

Chuck at the Nerd Herd isn't real, there wasn't really a fortune buried in the snows in Fargo ~ yet a lady died looking for it. OK, so maybe she was just one nut-job. But how many women out there believe they're supposed to look like Barbie, a centerfold, a model, an actress? Too-too many.

We don't need more legislation to protect us from ourselves; we just need to start taking responsibility for ourselves.


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