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We filter our selfies en masse online to make ourselves look better, but injecting fillers into ‘real’ lips and buttocks has also really taken off. Being beautiful has never been so important, because beauty pays! Living up to the prevalent beauty ideal has many advantages, not just in the dating market but also when looking for a job, accommodation and a network. But who decides what is beautiful? And how do you become beautiful according to the current norm?
The trend in fashion and advertising is more diversity and colour. And also on social media there is room for body positivity and plus size models. But is that the whole story? According to fashion activist Janice Deul it’s often limited to window dressing and gesture politics while the young, thin and white ideal remains as dominant as ever. Research also shows that beauty standards globally have grown to resemble one another.
Through the influence of social media and the growth of the service economy, appearance has become even more important. People invest more in beauty than ever before. In her book Perfect Me, philosopher Heather Widdows notes that the degree to which we submit to the prevailing beauty ideal is also changing: for many men and women the need to be beautiful has become a driving force in their lives, a ‘moral imperative’ which cannot be ignored. What will the beauty ideal of the future look like? And which beauty ideal suits a globalised, digital society?
‘Digital perfection trumps pure beauty’
Are we being taken for a ride or are we on the right track? Cosmetic doctor and researcher Tom Decates thinks this is just the beginning. He investigated Botox treatments undergone by women between the ages of 18 and 25 and saw a sharp increase. He doesn’t doubt the cause: social media and digital filters. Previously women had shown him a photo of a film star but now they have digitally altered selfies: this is what I want to look like! Where will it lead? When it comes to beauty, our digitally enhanced self easily eclipses our sloppy real body. It leads us to become more and more involved in an exhausting competition with our much more perfect digital self.
Continuing that train of thought leads us to fashion photographer Cameron James Wilson. He is the maker and manager of Shudu – a stunningly beautiful model with extremely long legs who only exists in digital reality and has hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram. Sometimes a ‘real’ model serves as body double but otherwise Shudu is entirely virtual, although indistinguishable from the real thing. Major labels and fashion magazines are eager to hire her: Vogue, Samsung, Forbes… Because why work with a real human model if you can make a digital beauty do anything you want?