I don't know how I missed it but this past February, BuzzFeedVideo posted something amazing. I think it was meant primarily for women around Valentine's Day. It's a video, short in length but long in impact. In it, four "real" women are made up, dressed up and glammed up, then shot by professional photographers. These sorts of queen-for-a-day, make-over shoots certainly aren't novel; they show up periodically on day-time talk shows. What was different was what happened next. Pictures was chosen to be then further photo-shopped, turning the images into the kind you'd see on a magazine cover.
Imagine if you could see a picture, photographic evidence, of what you've always wanted to look like but could never pull off. Bumps and bulges and rolls magically vanished. Wrinkles erased. Skin scrubbed. What remains is you, a picture-perfect you, as only digital reimaging can accomplish. Sounds like a dream come true.
At least, that's what you'd think. Statistics are all over the map on how many people are dissatisfied with their appearance. Depending upon the year, the gender, the age and specific body part, I've seen anywhere from 30-something percent to over 90. Whatever the real numbers, which undoubtedly change constantly, I think there is a static undercurrent of discontent about appearance in our culture. Maybe I'm skewed because I work with eating disorders, but I don't really think so. Take an informal survey and ask 10 people you know whether or not they're happy with the way they look. Start with yourself. I think you'll find a high percentage of shrugs and frowns and "I wish" statements. Historically, women have been harder on themselves than men but men still look in the mirror in the morning and linger over something we wish wasn't there.
The four women in this video were no different. With an undertone of weariness in their voices, at the start of the video, their comments wove a common thread, as they talked about always wanting but never attaining, creating a harmonic chorus of defeat. Never attaining, that is, until this opportunity came along to be painted and primped and plumaged and pampered, personally and virtually.
I found myself mesmerized by their reactions to seeing their dreams come to life. Upon opening their eyes -- which they were instructed to close, as if waiting for a gift -- and seeing their virtual images on the iPad, one laughed nervously; another could only say, "Wow," while another just nodded; the last said "Oh, my God." But there was no cheering, no fist pumping, no high-fiving, no "I look great!" Instead, their initial reactions were ones of disbelief and then, amazingly, of loss.
"I feel like it doesn't even look like me."
"I think because I know myself, this looks really different."
"Why would you want to make someone look so different?"
"I don't even know who that is."
"Seeing yourself change and your identity change, it's pretty shocking."
"There's not much left of who you are."
"This is how I've always wanted to see myself but, now that I see it, I'm, like, questioning why I ever wanted to look like that."
I had to wonder how many hours each of these women had spent over the course of their lives wanting to look like that. I've worked with women in counseling situations who have been unable to go a single day, since early adolescence, without worrying about and, for some, despising their appearance. I've also known a fair share of men, usually getting older, who do the same. Women seem to grieve for who they never were, while men seem to grieve for who they thought they were.
Ironically, it was in seeing themselves "perfectly" that these women embraced their imperfections as an essential part of their identity.
"Instead of looking at other things and trying to aspire to look like something else, we should just be comfortable in who we are and just try to be our best selves."
Our best selves, not our perfect selves.