The “Real/Fake” Bind

As we start talking about cosmetic surgery and contemporary makeover culture next week, you might want to check out this post over at the blog Jezebel. Hugo Schwyzer talks about authenticity advertising, exemplified by Dove’s “real beauty” campaign, and the difficulty of navigating society’s nearly unattainable beauty ideals without being labeled as “fake.” As Schwyzer points out, the way we often talk about beauty and plastic surgery implies that you are supposed to be concerned about your appearance, but there’s some sort of line which you must take care not to cross- if it’s obvious that you “care too much” about your appearance and work too hard to stay thin, then you are no longer authentically “real.” So the goal is to appear effortlessly beautiful. This reminds me of a scene in a TV sitcom from my childhood, Full House- when Aunt Becky teaches D.J. how to use make-up, she says the secret is to make it seem like you’re not wearing any make-up at all. So, as if working to appear beautiful weren’t difficult enough, you also have to take care to conceal the work that goes into it. The fact that this scene has stuck with me all these years speaks to the power of its message. Perhaps, of course, this type of medial information was especially important for me because I received little to no maternal guidance in this realm. In any case, the suggestion that the work of beauty must be concealed stands in explicit contrast to Meredith Jones’ argument that makeover culture actually insists on revealing the work being done. We’ll have to talk about these contradictions in class next week.

FYI: This post may be woman-centric, but that’s not to say that men don’t have similar concerns, as Schwyzer also asserts. But it seems that the pressure to be a “real” man is often less tied to the body’s appearance and more to certain gender-normed behaviors.

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