We live in a world that is dominated by post-processed images. The already thin model is deemed still not thin enough, but it’s okay, because with a few clicks in Photoshop… voila! She might be fired later, but the shoot isn’t lost entirely.
Wrinkles are airbrushed out. Teeth are whitened. “Imperfections” like freckles or moles, things that are a literal part of us, are erased.
Some of these photos are works of art. They’re undeniably beautiful. They are designed to sell us, at the minimum, products. On a broader scale, false hope. In mascara ads, the models wear extensions, fake lashes and then even beyond that the pictures are enhanced. No mascara will make my thin, straight lashes look like these. I’d need expertly applied false lashes or extensions to achieve that look, and for the vast majority of women buying that mascara, this is the reality.
I was talking to my SL sister a few months ago. I said to her, you know… I see more and more pictures on Flickr from SL models, bloggers, photograhers, residents… that are heavily post-processed. And they are gorgeous, amazing, stunning works of art. I am in awe of the talent that some of you possess. The ability to draw hair, to reshape an avatar face in a way that seems natural… to take an SL avatar and make it, at first glance, look like a real model from a real photoshoot. It’s amazing. It inspires me to do better in my own post-processing. And I do plenty of it myself.
But it struck me, during this conversation with Isley, that in some ways we’ve begun to do with SL what we – or others – do to RL. We’ve taken it and made it… well, not real. Now, obviously SL isn’t real to begin with, but what I mean is, if someone who has never been in Second Life sees some of these pictures and is prompted to join, she will be sorely disappointed to learn that her avatar will never just magically look that way. Just as in RL, many women – and young girls – face the heartbreaking reality that they will never look like the models in the ads. But even the models or celebrities don’t look like the person in the ad! Cindy Crawford once famously said, “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.”
I think disclaimers in advertising should be required. We all know damn well that mascara won’t make our lashes look like that. I’ve never understood how those ads don’t get called out for false advertising. Weight loss ads already have to say things like “results not typical,” though I think most of us try to ignore those disclaimers because it’s not what we want to hear. The false promises of the beauty and diet industries are so seductive and we want to believe. We’re conditioned to want to believe.
That said, I don’t think post-processing has to be a negative thing, or that it doesn’t have value in and of itself. If we view it as art instead of reality, it can be appreciated for the talent that is involved in the creation of these images. We can stop thinking “I could look this way,” and then beating ourselves up when we don’t, if only we stopped believing that ANYONE looks that way.
I’ll find myself tweaking bumps on my SL nose, just the way I might’ve on my RL nose, or fixing a perceived flaw on my skin like I might’ve in RL (I’m saving the detailed story of this for my own blog post for this challenge). And it’s okay if you do this. We all get to choose how to edit our images, if we do so at all, and that’s true for SL or RL. But for me, sometimes I think to myself… is this all that different from when I’d edit my RL body? It is, but it also isn’t. Again, more on that in my own post but for now… here is my challenge.
Take an SL picture of your avatar and don’t edit it. You can crop it, but other than that rely only on a natural, realistic WL and your own beautiful, unique avatar to tell a beautiful story. A raw story told with a raw photograph.
If you decide to participate, please share your links in the comments on this post. I want to see what “raw” means for you.
I’d like to leave you with two amazing TED talks that helped inspire this challenge. I’m going to caution that both are likely NSFW (one is for sure due to artistic nudity). The first one is by Jean Kilbourne, author of Can’t Buy My Love. I read this book in college, as research for a speech on how the media portrays women. The second is by photographer Jade Beall whose book A Beautiful Body Project has become an international sensation. Jean’s talk is more cerebral and more facts based. Jade’s is more emotional, more experiential. But both are brilliant and beautiful and worth watching if this is a topic that interests you.