“The inventor of the mirror poisoned the human heart.” -Fernando Pessoa
We all know that first impression matters, that’s why we care so much about how we look in the eyes of others. For many centuries we have been experiencing huge pressure to look good, a duty to be beautiful, but with the introduction of the internet, digital photography and now selfies the pressure has grown tremendously. Every time we look in the mirror, we tend to pick something up that’s not quite right with us - in comparison with others! It becomes dangerous when the “examples” are even further manipulated to create a false impression of ”beauty”, and may lead to some serious consequences.
This week we talked to Janisha Patel, a student at Kapiti College about her “Barbie” photographic series and her views on the issue of body insecurities and how that can damage our mental health.
Janisha, tell us about your project, where did the idea come from?
At the beginning of the year (2019) I was binge watching America's Top Model. After a few seasons, I started to realize a sort of pattern when it came to what was considered beautiful and what was not. Of course, it was the usual skinny, tall, 0 fat body type that the judges looked for. I thought about how this affected other young girls and if this standard was expected of them.
I was looking through Instagram one day and saw a post about a girl who felt so insecure about her appearance that she began to starve herself and undergo plastic surgery to be more ‘beautiful’. I remember reading, “If I was prettier and skinnier, people would like me without me trying to be someone else, like the other girls”. I kind of just scrolled past and thought to myself, “I know that people have insecurities, in fact, everyone does but I didn't know that girls would go as far as starving themselves in order to be prettier for others”.
This was mostly where my motivation and inspiration to take these photos came from.
The Barbie doll has mostly represented the typical standard of beauty in this generation for younger females. This is important to me. Maybe not to everyone, but I find it unacceptable for young girls to feel like they need to care about how they look in order to get social acceptance or to simply be liked by society.
Do you believe this issue existed 10 or 20 years ago? What do you think is contributing to the growing "desire" for young girls and ladies to change their appearance?
Yes, I believe the issue did exist 10 - 20 years ago. For centuries women have been expected to act and look a certain way. Throughout the years these standards have obviously changed but there are still many of the same similarities between then and now; to be skinny, tall, have tan skin, and a symmetrical face. The biggest influence to this 'desired look' is most definitely modern day media. Everywhere online you see that the most famous people have undergone plastic surgery to define, or completely change their appearance. I feel that girls look up to these women and want to be like them so it also encourages them to want to change how they look.
Do you think photography plays a role in this? What role and how does it contribute to self-confidence?
Yes. Massively. In every photo taken of models, they are photoshopped. Even though the model is the perfect skinny figure, she is still photoshopped in order to look 'more appealing' for the audience, an audience of young girls.
Young girls are so influenced by a fake image, a body that is considered 'perfect' will still be photoshopped to look 'even better'. This does not contribute to 'self-confidence', it lowers self-confidence. Young girls don't feel comfortable in their own skin because they don't look like the models they see in the media.
By Janisha Patel
Do you think women are more under pressure than men? Did you come across similar issues with guys who wanted to change how they look (lifting, starving, surgeries etc).
I do feel like there is more pressure on young females to change the way they look in order to get 'liked'. But there are definitely men that face the same issues. Maybe not all men will go as far as plastic surgery, but I definitely know that there is a pressure of being/looking more 'manly'. I’m sure the term is 'toxic masculinity', to define that simply; men are expected to act more 'manly' as well as look it too. This pressure can lower self confidence, and lead them to make changes to their body.
Instagram recently announced they will be hiding number of likes and will prevent showing some topic-related ads to people under 18. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think it will help solve the problem?
I think it's a good idea. What's the point of likes anyway?! I mean, it's a great way to show how many people look at your photos and determine whether they like it or not but that's exactly the problem when it comes to young girls - Everyone wants to be liked.
What was your thinking process with your Barbie doll photos where they have flowers instead of a head?
I removed the head of the Barbie dolls to symbolize that most people will only look at the body rather than the face. The flowers symbolize femininity.
Do you plan to continue working on this topic in the future?
Probably not alone. I would love the opportunity to work with someone to make more art surrounding this topic but I don't have much planned in the future as it stands.
If you were the Editor in Chief of a modern fashion magazine, what would be your guidelines for photographing models and looking after their well-being?
I would promote natural beauty and a healthy lifestyle. Models should just be themselves and promote who they are rather than who they want to be or how they are expected to look.
What would be your recommendations for fashion and portrait photographers? How can we use photography to change the way things are at the moment and help boost people's confidence?
No more photoshop when taking photos of models. It's good to use photoshop to enhance the best parts of a photo rather than completely changing it to make things look 'appealing'.
I guess we need to stop putting out a false image of models, fashion, and photography. I do feel as if things are beginning to get better in terms of the modelling industry. We can't force self confidence in people, but we can promote it.
With the amount of appearance-focused media that we are exposed to we are constantly taking in messages about how we “should” look, and what appearance means.
Everyone wants to be liked and appreciated. Photography is a tool and when we see it has been used in the wrong way – for self-destruction, criticism, or in other negative aspects of life we, as photographers, can use our power to turn things around and show people how beautiful they really are. Let’s share #photographyforgood and create a positive change.