On Wednesday, June 13th, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) held a screening of The Illusionists as part of the Better Body Image conference which was sponsored by A Solution B and other local businesses. The film is a revealing documentary on the role of body image in the modern world.
Of the many surprising truths regarded in this film, that which stood out most was the fact that a major, and growing portion of the world holds western ideals of beauty as a standard--that the aesthetic of the west is permeating the world at large. This means that the west's accentuation of the role of body-image is becoming more substantial not in only in countries like the United States, but in countries such as Japan and Lebanon as means of communication and the distribution of media have become far more ubiquitous.
There was a time when products were marketed for their functionality and the rationality of their purchase. However, in the late 1920s, the economy faced a problem: there was too much supply for too little demand, so businesses began to prioritize consumption and recruited researchers such as Edward Bernays--a nephew of Sigmund Freud--whose preferred method of increasing consumption was to tap into the subconscious desires of the consumer. Products began to be marketed as status symbols rather than rational purchases. Another psychologist, Ernest Dichter, took it farther, working to spread a mentality of maintaining status through consumption. The role of insecurity became to motivate the purchase of products thought to heighten status—to be a source of commercial profit.
Insecurity is bought and sold
The body eventually became the point of focus for marketers.
It was the beautiful body that became the symbol of high status. People grew more used to evaluating their self-worth from the outside as the saturation and importance of ideal body-types in our daily lives proliferated and continue to today. In the modern world of marketing, women especially are convinced that their physical image determines their desirability as a person. This is unfortunately a framework that is increasingly shared around the world. The age, proportions, and skin-tone of the woman are constantly compared to the ‘official body’ most often heralded by the commercial world—women are often pressured to emulate impossible representations of the female body as models are ‘retouched’ after shooting with computer software, and even in some instances, completely digitally produced. Men are as well very often compared to ideals beauty and desirability.
By the end of film, one is faced with reconciling an overwhelming exploitation of unfortunate realities with what a person is to do about them. How does one walk out of the theatre and confront omnipresent advertisements whose aim, as it seems, is to manipulate their self-esteem to convince them of a purchase? How does one face the disheartening emphasis on our physical presentation rather than who we are as people?
Our well-being and quality of life is a priority of A Solution B, which recognizes the impact that body-insecurity and the fixation on image and status can have on a person's life. One must sometimes contradict dominant standards and instead make decisions that pursue the independence and strength of our self-esteem and security. As the film notes, use of media and new means of communication can become an advantage in spreading ideals which build a person up rather than those which break them down. Working to spread a focus on acceptance and love, of the self and of others, will help us learn to value ourselves for who we are rather than what we are. Learning to see through the veils produced by consumerism, and learning to maintain self-love despite it, is a strength the world is in great need for.
written by Arthur Westbrook
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