The Louis Vuitton fall 2010 collection, presented by Marc Jacobs in Paris last month, showcased models with more size, shape, and age diversity than is characteristic in runway shows. Both MJ and LV deserve some acknowledgement for challenging beauty stereotypes. At the time of this writing, shots of the models on the runway can be seen here, and sans fards head shots (duplicated to the right) can be seen here. I suspect that the point of releasing the head shots image is to underscore that ordinary women are beautiful by showing how ordinary beautiful women can look. Comments on the images at BuzzFeed are mixed, but, mostly in the omg (‘oh my god’), wtf (‘what the f**k’), and ew (‘expression of disgust’) categories. Most of the models are not wearing makeup, though, for example, Elle Mcpherson is (bottom right). But, of course, there is more to this image’s impact than just a lack of make-up on the models’ faces. The deadpan expressions on most of the models and the ‘bad-hair’ contribute substantially to the super-ordinary appearance of these models (some of whom earn millions of dollars a year as models – and note: if make-up was all that mattered, supermodels could not command these kinds of salaries).
In addition to the subject dependent variables of make-up, hair, and expression; technical decisions about how to produce these images also contribute to their impact. Three stand-out:
- perspective distortion
- unflattering lighting
- unflattering exposure/contrast/levels or curves adjustments
Perspective distortion can result from the use of a wide angle lens and is illustrated here:
The top image illustrates the distorting effects of the use of a wide angle lens while the bottom image shows a distortion-free representation. This type of distortion appears visible in the models’ heads/faces and contributes to the “alienesque” appearance of some of the models.
Unflattering shadows exist on each face. It appears that models posed in front of a wall, with a window to their left front. This sort of lighting is not used when a photographer is attempting to take a flattering image.
The exposure/contrast/levels or curves adjustments vary with each portrait: most wash-out features/details in unflattering ways.
All-in-all, rather than being a ‘sans fards’ (without artifice) image, it appears that pre-photoshop, old-school photographic rules/techniques were intentionally ignored in order to make these supermodels appear super-ordinary.
A common goal in most oculoplastic procedures is to increase symmetry. In an effort to establish baseline measures in attractive subjects, Ing et.al. (2006) measured ocular asymmetries in male and female models’ photos in fashion magazine advertisements (e.g., Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Vogue, Gentleman’s Quarterly, etc.). They found significant asymmetries in:
- horizontal fissure width (1)
- upper central lid fold (5)
- upper temporal lid fold (7)
- central eyebrow height (9)
- temporal eyebrow height (11)
- medial canthal to midline distance
- pupil to midline distance
- orbital distopia (asymmetrically displaced eyes)
While I applaud the effort to establish realistic expectations of beauty, I do not believe that the methods used in this study can reach valid conclusions regarding each of the numbered measures in the bulleted list above. Each of these measures can vary based on facial expression (if you like, you can demonstrate this point to yourself in front of a mirror). Even in cases where fashion models’ expressions appear neutral in a magazine ad, we cannot assume that subtle asymmetries are not the result of subtle expressions – as opposed to assuming they result from structural asymmetries.
That being said, attractive models are not always perfectly symmetrical. A cursory visual inspection of beauty shots (essentially, close-ups of faces intended to look beautiful) will reveal asymmetries in beautiful models that are visible to the naked eye.
Ing E, Safarpour A, Ing T, & Ing S (2006). Ocular adnexal asymmetry in models: a magazine photograph analysis. Canadian journal of ophthalmology. Journal canadien d’ophtalmologie, 41 (2), 175-82 PMID: 16767204
Action figures have gotten bigger and more muscular over the last 25 years. In a straightforward bit of research, Baghurst et.al. (2006) measured changes in the relative sizes of action figures that have been in production for more than 25 years (G.I. Joe, Batman, Hulk, Spiderman, and Superman). Their data are summarized in the table below. Given that research on the effects of media and male body image is relatively young, it is unclear what effects these bulked-up and unrealistically proportioned toys will have. We can guess that some will be inspired to attain the muscular ideal and that others will develop higher levels of body dissatisfaction.
G.I. Joe Photo: H.P.Holland, 2006
BAGHURST, T., HOLLANDER, D., NARDELLA, B., & HAFF, G. (2006). Change in sociocultural ideal male physique: An examination of past and present action figures Body Image, 3 (1), 87-91 DOI: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2005.11.001
Darryl Roberts’ film, America the Beautiful, is worth watching – not for its academic rigor or balanced presentation of what we know and what we don’t know about beauty, its effects, and our fascination with it. Instead, the film is a good starting point for discussion and an opportunity to increase our consciousness of some of the negative effects of the mainstream media’s approach to beauty in the United States.
The film is currently playing limited engagements. You can check here to see if the film is showing near you.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
A recent meta-analysis has summarized the current state of our knowledge regarding the influence of exposure to thin media ideals and:
body image dissatisfaction;
internalization of the thin ideal; and
negative eating behaviors and beliefs.
Body Image Dissatisfaction
90 experimental and correlational studies looked for a relationship between exposure to ultra-thin media models and body dissatisfaction. These studies show a small to medium effect size [d=-.28 with a 95% CI of -.21 to -.35]. There are two ways to conceptualize effect sizes. The first is to consider effect size as an average change in percentile ranking.
The normal curve represents the distribution of body satisfaction of women not exposed to the ultra-thin media ideal. The black line shows the mean shift in body satisfaction found in women exposed to this ideal [the shift is to approximately the 39th percentile].
Another ways to conceptualize effect size is as the percent of non-overlap between the two distributions. The d [-.28] indicates a non-overlap of approximately 20% between the two distributions. This relationship is very crudely illustrated below.
Internalization of the Thin Ideal
23 studies examined the relationship between media exposure to the ultra-thin models and the internalization of the thin ideal. The effect size was small to moderate [d = -.39 with a 95% CI of -.33 to -.44], accounting for an approximate shift in the mean from .50 to .65 and to a percent of non-overlap of approximately 26%.
Negative Eating Behaviors/Beliefs
20 studies examined the relationship between media exposure to ultra-thin models and negative eating behaviors and beliefs. The effect size was small to moderate [d = -.30 with a 95% CI of -.24 to -.36] accounting for an approximate shift in the mean from .50 to .38 and to a percent of non-overlap of approximately 21%.
The primary limitations of this meta-analysis are:
to date, studies include mostly white subjects,
more prospective studies are needed, and
the impact of the thin media ideal on other variables, such as obesity and self-consciousness, e.g., should be explored.
Prospective studies are still needed in order to fully understand the impact of media exposure on each of these variables. The experimental studies show a direct causal short-term effect and the correlational studies show a similar real-world relationship. The prospective studies are needed to clearly show the strength and causal direction of the long-term, real-world relationships. Preliminary prospective studies suggest that the media does have some causal role.
Grabe, S, Ward, L.M., & Hyde, J.S. (2008). The Role of the Media in Body Image Concerns Among Women: A Meta-Analysis of Experimental and Correlational Studies. Psychological Bulletin. 134, 460-476.
More information about Dove’s “Onslaught” is available at: http://www.campaignforrealbeauty.com/home.asp