Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Manipulation

I’m a man.

(Given that this is not a blog written anonymously, this may not come as a surprise. Only a tiny level of detective skill will be required of you to keep from falling over in shock. You know you were thinking that. Admit it.)

And, given my particular orientation, given the direction that I do face, … well, there are some sights that make me go all wobbly a bit more than other sights. Maggie Gyllenhaal, far more than her brother Jake, por ejamplo.

I’ve been known to watch movies, watch television programming, look at newspapers and magazines, and hmph! in admiration of what used to be known, at least in those thrilling days of yesteryear, as the fairer sex. (Nowadays, they might smack you for saying that. Try to be complimentary…!)

More and more, it cannot be assumed that those objects of my admiration are looking back at me with an equivalently high opinion … whether via genetics or just, well, I ain’t exactly Clark Gable most days.

Clark who?… never mind. Move on.

Anyway, this morning, when I clicked upon a proferred video link, I got a chance to mentally pat myself on the back. Good show!

The link took me to a website whose purpose seems to be the offering up of videos designed to astound, amaze, infuriate, or all of the above … and thereby amplify a particular point its creators wish to make. Today’s video featured the headline: “See Why We Have An Absolutely Ridiculous Standard Of Beauty In Just 37 Seconds”.

Click! and away we go: time-lapse photography of a woman climbing onto a bench in a photographer’s studio, wearing a certain (tiny) amount of strategic clothing, for the obvious purpose of being a model. I thought I knew what was to come: when fashion models are being photographed, a great deal of effort goes into simulating reality. These are absolutely natural things that these absolutely natural people are doing absolutely naturally! It’s as if there’s not even a photographer here! … Or at least we hope that the people passing by the fashion magazine racks on the way to the supermarket cashier aren’t thinking about how fabricated that simulated reality actually was, at the time.

(Hey, I’ve seen the Austin Powers movies. “You’re an animal! … aaaaaaand … we’re done. I’m spent.”)

I will admit: while I’ve always had a sense that this was not how these people looked when they got up in the morning! … I’ve never really given much thought to the possibility that that might really, really, really be true, in ways I hadn’t thought of.

We now have the computer technology to make art not just imitate life, but improve upon it in a pixilated way. Or, to be more precise, we now have ways of making art “improve” upon real life, according to someone’s idea of what beautiful and perfect are.

Recently I posted some thoughts about society’s concept of beauty and attractiveness, and probably spent about two thousand more words on it than I really needed to. And here was proof of that: just thirty-seven seconds of video.

So where were we? Oh yes … Click! and away we go: time-lapse photography of a woman lying chest-down on a photography studio bench, head and upper body held upright by her elbows and forearms, feet crossed directly above her flexed knees, looking sharply to her left into the camera lens … having her photograph taken … and then having her image adjusted via the magic of Photoshop or whatever higher-end computer-generated imaging technology was being used, so as to make her more attractive (again: to someone who decides these things for us).

Here’s a list of physical preparations and adjustments, made in the first fifteen seconds of accelerated video:

[] facial makeup is applied (you may be pleased to know that I really have no idea what all that consists of) (I thought “foundation” was what held my house up)

[] blonde, shoulder-length hair is curled and otherwise teased to appear windblown and considerably more reflective of light

[] further makeup is applied to all other exposed skin (and there is a TON of it) to reduce the incidence of the studio lights’ glare reflecting off the model, presumably to keep her from appearing to be unattractively sweaty

[] hair extensions are attached, such that its full length, draped over her far (right) shoulder, now nearly reaches the inside of her elbow

Then the photograph is actually taken.

Now here’s the list of further computer-assisted adjustments, shown in the remaining 22 blinding seconds of video:

[] marks and blotches are computer-tagged and “removed” from the model’s face

[] a triangular area around the nose is tagged and reduced, making the nose appear slightly smaller (can’t have large noses)

[] lips are “painted” to seem slightly fuller and darker in color

[] a circular area around each eye is tagged and adjusted to make her eyes appear (unnervingly) larger (although admittedly not as large as this Star Trek character’s), and to angle the very end of her right eyebrow slightly upward

[] just to the left of each iris is placed a computer-enhanced light-reflection

[] the shoulder nearer the camera is Photoshopped to appear slightly raised from its original position, making the upper arm’s angle closer to vertical

[] further blotches and areas of skin-color difference along the ribcage and lower back are tagged and removed

[] the lower outline of the upper arm just below the armpit is trimmed slightly

[] the outline of the midriff is trimmed subtly (in such a way that gravity appears to have slightly less impact, and also such that her abdomen could not possibly contain all the internal organs that a human reasonably requires)

[] similar trimming is done to the upturned backs of the thighs

[] the area extending from hips to knees is highlighted and the upper legs lengthened (unnerving to slow that down and see someone’s upper legs being stre-e-etched, even if it’s a computer imaging operation and not the Spanish Inquisition or one of the lesser Star Trek movies)

[] similar trimming is done to the back of the calf furthest from the camera, and also the soles of both feet

[] selected toes are shortened to make them proportionate to big-toes and pinky-toes on each foot

[] more trimming is done to the calf closer to the camera (making it so narrow that it would have a hard time supporting the model’s weight if she wished to chuck the whole idea and walk out at this point)

[] the area extending from knees to elevated feet is highlighted and similarly lengthened

[] the neck is highlighted and similarly lengthened, raising the head a bit higher than heads normally can be raised

[] more trimming is done to the right side of the neck (the side that, as the model looks left, is further from the rest of her body)

[] extra computerized glossiness is added to the hair

[] an extra layer of luster is added to the cheekbones, and the forearms … and the upper arms … and the torso … and the upper legs … and the lower legs … (because clearly all the work done by the studio lighting people was insufficient)

And pow. Natural-born beauty.

Something that only struck me as I ran little bits of this video at a time, trying to account for every little adjustment that was made “in post-production”, was this horrible thought: those 22 seconds of accelerated, nearly Keystone-Kops-frantic activity probably represent hours of work by a computer imaging artist who was looking at the original image and thinking, “nope … too short, too thick, too dull, too blotchy, too this, too that, not enough this, not enough that …”

Passing judgment on somebody, because, according to somebody’s stringent rules of beauty (a/k/a what sells), what God gave ya – which might arguably have been in the upper percentiles to begin with! – just ain’t good enough.

Dimly, I wonder what those computer airbrusher people look like. Ah! sweet irony: statistically, it’s likely that they look more like Kent Tekulve than Kent McCord. (Look them up. Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher vs. co-star of “Adam-12”. Go on.)

 

You will recall that I was busy patting myself on the back. I should get back to that, because it’s why I decided to go on about this in the first place.

After seeing the video for the first time this morning, I naturally loaded it again, so that (no! That’s not why! Stop it!) … so that I could see where the process had all started; what did that model look like at the beginning, again?

And I got my answer. And no, it wasn’t quite as “Baywatch” as the end result of all that techno-artistic jiggery-pokery. But I also remembered what my thought had been when I first saw that model, before the studio lights went on, before the pose happened, before the photo was shot, and before any of the adjustments were inflicted.

I clearly remembered an American man (still half-asleep, so somewhat less likely to have a filter in place) looking at that initial image and thinking:

Oo. She’s purdy.”

A Neanderthal reaction? Well, faintly, perhaps. But on first and second glance, and on third and fourth glance too, and then again this evening as I’ve been writing this … she reminded me of a lot of my friends (which, I know, has the potential to sound really mean, and they know I don’t mean to be mean. At all).

No, but really: outwardly, that model reminded me happily of my friends: perfectly fine-looking humans. With flaws, because that’s what humans have. With imperfections, because that’s what humans have. (Looking frankly tired … because maybe the photoshoot was early in the morning, or because maybe she was just arriving from one of her other part-time jobs that paid not quite enough to make ends meet, and certainly didn’t include medical benefits.) And, still, attractive, damn it.

And we haven’t even talked about what these people are (and what that model could well be) like.

On balance, I think I was just a little happier with myself than I’d have been, had I not actively thought that, first, before seeing the borderline-anime final product of the computer airbrushing. Before seeing the manipulation.

People can be beautiful without all that stuff. Or even in spite of it, I bet.

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November 1, 2013 - Posted by | media, technology | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. And sadly, the “fixed” version creates a lot of distorted body-image issues and sometimes eating disorders for today’s preteen girls and teen girls. When I was a kid, makeup and dieting was the means for models to look “good.” Sadly, in this generation, young and impressionable girls look toward truly unattainable standards of beauty, often to their own detriment. Wish we could get back to “the girl next door…”

    Comment by Kristin | November 1, 2013 | Reply

  2. I am delighted you came to the conclusion you did, and I agree with Kristin’s comments as well. I believe we tried to instill the thought that beauty is what’s inside, not so much outside. However, at my advanced age, some of that stuff sounds pretty good! Ah, different perspective… Mom

    Comment by Nancy | November 10, 2013 | Reply


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