No Wonder our Perception of Beauty is Distorted – cont.

Other / Canada

mrG has a very interesting point of view on face photoshoping. Here is the comment he posted on my No Wonder our Perception of Beauty is Distorted post:

I think we maybe miss the point with these excerises. It’s like what Carl Jung said about UFO’s and how it is not nearly so interesting whether UFOs exist or not, but how tenaciously we cling to the desire to want them to be real — what I find fascinating about these photoshoppings (and I don’t believe the Lazy Canuck for a second) is the vectors the artist takes attempting to anneal the “source face” into the abstracted “perfected face” because it says something very important, psychologically, about the human perception of face features.

Consider the famous zen gardens, or the later paintings by Picasso, each of them studies into the neurocognitive reality, extracting essential details from the subject matter, enhancing and highlighting those details, arriving at not an image of stark mundane photographic exactitude, but at an image of seeing our way of seeing, of seeing vision, of seeing the mechanics of the way we humans turn the noise-laden reality of our bare senses into abstracted Platonic forms which we can readily remember and recognize.

IMHO, criticizing the photoshop artist is as lame a pasttime as criticizing the grammar of the person banging on your door to tell you your roof is on fire. You may not agree with their abstract/extraction of her ‘essential’ features, and the sane response would be to present your own abstract/perfected view of her, but to put a blanket dismissal on the practice or to turn it upside down to assert that every woman is somehow trapped in a game of trying to be her own perfected abstract self is fodder for comic books, not a viable life strategy.

Thus the woman on the right is every bit the woman on the left, in the eyes of the photoshopper, and in the eyes of all those who find they would rather stare quixotically at the right image while finding it easy to pass the other image by. Those who know that woman on the left, especially those who are close to her, and ok, maybe the lazy canuk too, they probably already see that right-side image on the right every time they look at her.

mrG, I agree that it’s not the Photoshop artist’s fault. In fact, I appreciate the artist’s breathtaking changes and creative touches. As you also mention “Those who know that woman on the left, especially those who are close to her … they probably already see that right-side image on the right every time they look at her”.

My only concern is the way these Photoshoped photos are used by beauty companies to portray the image of an “ordinary” person. Photos in magazines have caused many people to lose their self esteem. I basically think this is wonderful art that belongs to galleries and not fashion magazines. Just my point of view 🙂

7 responses to “No Wonder our Perception of Beauty is Distorted – cont.”

  1. mrG says:

    You are as welcome to your point of view as I am to mine, but I would challenge you to find just one woman who truly has lost her self-esteem from these adverts, and not demonstrably through some other abuse (real or perceived) closer to home. We are told that heavy metal music produces psychopaths, big-band music leads to sexual indiscretion, and leaving the muslim church is a sin. Don’t make it so.

    Anorexics are an exceptional phenomenon, not the rule. Like alcoholism, some of it is metabolic, triggered by zinc deficiency, and I will wager the causes of the rest are similarly othewise, merely taking the photoshop as a convenient (displaced) target of rage because the real target is too sensitive. We so so very very rarely ever want to blame ourselves for our own decisions.

    Same is true for those models who give their bodies in the pursuit of actually achieving the abstract perfect-beauty to the detriment of their health; real supermodels very rarely die of being models, although they may die of being afluent and trendy jet-setters. But being “beautiful” doesn’t kill them because they are pros, they can manage it. Same is true for all sorts of body-builders, whether that is aimed at muscles or facial features … or super-human abilities on the athletic track; anyone can go overboard, even bookworms can go overboard and endanger themselves. Nonetheless, it is not the reaching for perfection that kills them, so long as they keep it in perspective for what it is, a fantasy game.

    Inside our pre-frontal lobe puppet-theatre self-stage where we play out our me-thoughts, we are all perfect, or rather, we can be perfect. No, I’ll go back to my first: We are perfect inside that thought-stage, even if, to our twisted reason of that moment, ‘perfect’ might mean “perfectly broken” or “perfectly victimized by media we know we cannot control” — that stage is our stage, a creation of our dreaming, made from our own fantasy, so it is anything we want it to be, irrespective of the reality of photoshoppers and fashion models simply earning their pub money by making their dreaming into a tangible reality they can share with others.

    Research in neurology of advertising tells us that male-mind reacts to these abstract perfected images through an amygdala response that neurologically heightens memory and attention, so it stands to reason that, to make more profits, the artists involved will sell more imagery the more it trips that neurocognitive switch. On the other side of the psycho-gender fence, semiotic research tells us female-mind sees these images through a pre-frontal mirror-cell identification (which you agree) and extract the degree to which the image controls gaze and attention; this is what leads fashion to become viral, each participant seeking to gain the leverage seen in the image.

    Where we go wrong as a cultural response to advertising is not in trying to tell the advertisers to stop trying to perfect their perceptions of hidden beauty; that’s as useless as telling semiconductor scientists to stop trying to make computers smaller, faster or cheaper! What we should be doing is to teach our young a proper perception of what advertising is actually doing, teaching them to see the essential unity of humanity that Plato saw in the essential pure unity of all geometry. When they see the abstract perfect beauty, they need to know to ask themselves, “Where is that feature in me?” or in my wife, or whatever.

    The covergirl isn’t an object to be gained, we all know that.

    She is only a goddess. An image of ourselves.

  2. mrG says:

    oops, sorry about the obtuse double-negative there, confused even myself with that “is not in trying” that would have been more correct as “is in trying” and it’s that which is prompting this addendum to say you are right, we do have a really twisted perception of beauty: it is inexplicable why we cannot all of us see each and every other of us through that beautifying abstract lens of the fashion-photo camera!

    That is the real shame. That we feel we are compelled to find ugliness and deficiency while everywhere real beauty is lurking, that is our downfall. Like Joyce’s wonderful fable of The Mooske and the Gripes we are oh so keen and eage to find fault in ourselves and others, we blindly trod the flowers beneath our feet. Instead, we should work hard to correct our perception of beauty, like in Robin William’s Hook where the youngest lost-boy pulls back Robin’s sagging jowls and joyously proclaims, “Peter! It is really you in there!

  3. mrG says:

    Sorry, just one more — I keep getting distracted by work 😉

    I just wanted to add a fun experiment everyone can do: when we look at advertising, say for magazines or especially movie posters and, yes, in the ‘girly’ magazines too, one thing you may notice is how the poses and facial expressions are very artificial, behaviours you would never see in the “real” world. The way they tilt their heads, the way they stand with their shoulders angled, all sorts of stylized shapings of the posed body, and what strikes me is how effective these poses are — this is blazingly (and painfully) obvious when you compare professional photography with amateur photo sites.

    Why would those odd poses have the “dramatic” effect? Actors have known this for centuries, and I remember a friend in a famous SF acting school demonstrating “How to stand on stage” to me giving all sorts of theoretical rules as to why this pose vs that is best in whichever dramatic situation. We could call it Body Language but it is a language no actually real-world body would speak, it is stylized and abstracted so as to carry across the vast distance between the stage and the theatre seat … the same way, I suppose, the fashion model is stylized to carry from the magazine cover or billboard (and you should see the makeup when it is not washed out by the bright photostudio lights!)

    Anyway, here’s the experiment: Pick some movie posters or magazines to emulate, even foreign movie posters, and shoot pictures of your friends in those poses. The effect is, well, dramatic. Nearly everyone seeing those photos will ‘see‘ the intended effect, and says something about our perception of human images. Like the studio engineers who pump stylized abstract psycho-acoustically ‘corrected‘ pop-hits, these advertisers, working at exactly this attention/communication problem 40+ hrs per week, have discovered something pretty universal about the human animal and, I think, that’s fascinating.

    Of course, for extra bonus points 😉 ask your self this: Did the stylized posing (or the psycho-acoustic ‘enhancement’) make it a ‘better‘ true picture of your friend?

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