As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.
Oops. Sorry, wrong reminiscence.
As far back as I can remember, a girl, girlfriend, critical theorist, or celebrity gossip columnist has always been very quick to alert me to the fact that so much of the female public “beauty” image — especially amongst celebrities — is manufactured and the net-result of a lot of smoke, mirrors, and air-brushing. Yea, should I ever find myself expressing admiration for a female celebrity’s appearance out loud — especially for some specific instance of it (e.g. photo) — you can be damn sure any woman within earshot would promptly identify and catalogue every instance of trickery and fakery employed to create that image. Indeed, I suspect women may be genetically programmed to identify fake boobs and air-brushing.
Moreover, real girls do it to each other all the time, sometimes even when they are trying to compliment each other. For example: E.g. “Ooo, I love clothing item X, it so totally makes body part Y look better (implied: “better than it actually is”)”. Honestly, if women and girls belonged to some kind of magicians club, where y’all had to keep your secrets secret to stay in the club, every one of you would have been kicked out long ago. Though, to be fair, this omnipresent desire / need to sniff out false appearances is not only girl-on-girl. It was — and always is — girls who point out the painted-on abs in 300.
Now, while it is not quite right to say I didn’t believe women when they told me these secrets / lies of public “beauty”, it is fair to say I didn’t really understand what they were telling me. Or, perhaps, more to the point, I didn’t quite get to what extent a woman’s appearance could be remade with a bit of lighting and some clever camera angles — never mind digital re-touching. I didn’t have a sufficient data-set of real examples to compare and contrast, so I couldn’t really make sense of it what was being claimed. Crappy and unflattering paparazzi shots are unconvincing because they are, well, crappy and unflattering paparazzi shots and everyone can look bad in a picture.
Even the very famous Dove “evolution” video didn’t really convince me. First off, in this video, they take an OK looking woman, and after what seems to be an incredible amount of work, turn her into a slightly strange-looking, overly made-up, OK-looking billboard model. Moreover, with this video, they are trying to prove a point, so of course they are going to make it seem like a big transformation has taken place. That doesn’t prove it happens with real celebrity beauty. Now had they shown, say, a hideous / gorgeous before and after photo of Kate Moss that might have done the trick. At any rate, for most of my life I think I believed women when they told me celebrity beauty is all a sham but implicitly assumed some of those celebrities really were that damn good-looking.
Here is the dove video if you haven’t seen it:
Then, along came the consumer digital photo revolution and Web 2.0. All of a sudden, every woman on the planet had the means to take perfectly flattering photos, tweak them, and then distribute them for public consumption. At last! Public “beauty” image egalitarianism was upon us! Now every woman and girl could be a model and every woman and girl promptly set about using every trick in the book to remake her appearance for public consumption. Make-up, lightening, camera angles, re-touching. Everything and anything in the name of looking cool / hot /beautiful / real, etc. on My Space, Facebook, Lavalife, etc.
As a result, I had more than enough compare and contrasts to analyze. Plain women I knew who suddenly looked hot. Hot women in photos who turned out to be plain. Two photos of the same person side by side and in each photo she looks totally different. On and on, it went. I processed and processed and then, suddenly, it clicked. I understood. I had seen the soft-white light! I suddenly understood the tricks of the trade and now could see behind the veil effortlessly. And now that I see behind the veil, I see behind it all the time and everywhere. Magazine covers, films, and women on the street. I see the image and can infer the reality behind it. And, just like that, ninety per cent of the hot / beautiful women in my imaginary sexual universe vanished into thin air like so much AIG “wealth”. Now even the Bay catalogue underwear models are no longer as alluring as they once were in my hyacinth days. What’s a hard-up boy to do?
So, my question is this: why do women do it? Why would a woman want to create a false impression / expectation that only leads to disappointment. I should also be clear, I understand that a lot of the public physical display that women present is for female eyes as opposed to male eyes. I’m not sure that changes the force of the question — although I accept it means there may be two different but related answers. As a matter of contrast: I for one would much rather tell my male friends I can bench press a hundred pounds and then actually bench press a hundred and fifty when they test me. Shouldn’t girls employ the same logic about their appearances? Why all the smoke and mirrors for the woman-on-woman gaze, especially if women are themselves the best at seeing through the subterfuge? Or, are you ladies assessing each other on your ability to pull off the super-fake?
And, of course, as an addition, we can reframe the question more globally and make it less gender-specific and ask “why do people regularly misrepresent themselves in the context of our mating games? After all, guys also misrepresent themselves all the time. Honestly, it doesn’t make any sense to me, for girls or guys. If the general rule in sales, for example, is under-promise and over-deliver, shouldn’t that rule hold true in our mating rituals? It occurs to me now that maybe under-promise / oversell is a kind of subterfuge as well.
As an addendum, I should add that my new second-sight has provided me with a much greater appreciate of unmanufactured beauty / sexiness when I encounter it. Unfortunately, I’ve also noticed that more often than not I need to try and look past the subterfuge to see it. Honestly, if a woman ever comes up to me with wide eyes, flushed lips and cheeks, and an arched tailbone because she is actually into me — and not because she is simply wearing her public face — I may actually explode. Above and below the belt-line.