Beauty and the beast
by Jesse Hove
In our advertisement-driven culture we are constantly being told what to wear, how to look and are fed unrealistic and sexualized ideals of what makes humans beautiful.
Dove, a company that sells body products ranging from soap to shampoo has long been on a campaign to show people how the beauty industry is manipulating our perception of beauty. In one heart-wrenching commercial, we look into the face of a young girl who is constantly being assaulted with media images demanding she be thinner, get bigger breasts and have smoother skin. Dove makes the suggestion at the end of the commercial that we need to talk to our daughters before the beauty industry gets to them.
Ironically, Dove is owned by Unilever, which also produces another popular body product for men: Axe body spray. In the Axe body spray commercials, culturally diverse and beautiful – yet generally indistinguishable – women flock in hordes to any young man who sprays himself with the product. I don’t necessarily fault Unilever for playing both sides of the fence, this is what corporations do. They make money in whatever way is legally possible. My concern for humanity’s well-being is that our isolated culture has trapped us into letting advertisement shape who we are, instead of being shaped by our roles in our communities.
And while I think Dove is doing wonderful work trying to break down the cultural norms that harm individuals’ self image, I wonder if they are indirectly continuing to feed the self-absorption that permeates our society. Both Jesus and the Dalai Lama see the problem that comes when we are self- centered. Jesus comes at it this way: “Why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you.”
The Dalai Lama looks at it this way: “Being self-absorbed has an immediate effect of narrowing one’s focus and blurring one’s vision. It is like being pressed down by a heavy load. If, on the other hand, you think more about others’ well-being, it immediately makes you feel more expansive, liberated and free.”
The corporation feeds off the isolation of self: the more you focus on you, the more apparent your deficiencies become, and the more you will need to buy that new lipstick or body spray to feel good about yourself. But when we are engaged in an authentic life-giving community, our needs become the needs of others and our triumphs become the triumph of that community.