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« Monday at Berkeley | Main | Looking Back at the Witnesses »

February 21, 2007


Isn't that simply a bad question? Deception implies the conscious decision to speak falsely about some matter. Our eyes do not deceive us.

As for the wider question implied in the post, does our culture deceive us? Perhaps it 'sets up' certain standards of beauty (though we need to be careful not to reify culture), but I do not think that it is a question of it being deceptive (again, careful not to reify culture). It does, indeed, show us beauty in a particular form, albeit restricted. Perhaps we can say our visual culture is "deceptive" because it actively restricts beauty to this limited perspective, it does not legitimate other kinds of beauty. This question might be worth looking in to (though I still think it is somewhat suspect): it is certainly true that culturally the 'beautiful people' (according to this valuation) are given particular opportunities, get more attention in certain contexts. But it is also true that these contexts are only a limited part of the full extent of human activity, secular or religious, for which this understanding of beauty is irrelevant. Perhaps we should speak about the valuation of these contexts in contrast to others rather than 'deception'--it is the over-valuation of some contexts over others.

Either way, the issue is ultimately our (every one of us) relation to that standard. The question should be do I (whatever 'I' is reading this) enact a particular valuation of beauty that is similarly restricted or facile? Ultimately it is an issue of what we value, not 'deception.'

Kevin, that was an awful lot of mumbo jumbo. That fact is, beauty has been very narrowly defined in our culture, at least in terms of feminine beauty. The instances of anorexia and bulimia are testimony to this fact. What passes for beauty in magazines, billboards and movies does not exist in nature. It is artificial. Yet women are made to feel like it's the standard they must live up to and men and conditioned to look for that standard. I think it is very damaging to both men and women and our society in general.

Idealized representational standards have been with us at least since ancient Egyptian civilization. Prior to photography most things started out airbrushed. We should be careful to not attribute to our culture that which is universal. It is useful to doubt all and question everything.

P. S. Memo to Steve: Oedipus had second thoughts.

"It is useful to doubt all and question everything."
Do you doubt and question your own post above?

Hi Daniel, I will admit that have no certainty about Oedipus but I couldn't resist. I have no doubt about the existence of other cultures having canonical standards dealing with visual representation, etc. as we have clear evidence of such.

I would like to add this mini-documentary to the discussion. (Only 7.5 minutes) It moves the discussion to a cross-cultural question and, I think, is very thought provoking. Considering the director is 17 years old, this is a work to be commended.

In a word...OBSESSIONS.

Steve, thank you for the link and your comments. As the first female to respond, I appreciate your response of wanting to limit your exposure and retrain your visual senses. I often have wondered how these visual distortions of physical beauty standards have affected my two sons (high school and college age); are they being set up to be disappointed or to overlook a truly beautiful young woman who doesn't match these flaunted images?

I feel so sorry for young girls and women today. I remember feeling inadequate and unattractive decades ago because of the beautiful, flawless skin on magazine covers and in movies. The pressures today must be exponentially immense for young females having to constantly compete with these images.

Kudos to Dove for exposing the myths, and especially to Steve for setting the standard for a male response.

Wow. I meant your WHOLE post, even the very statement, "It is useful to doubt all and question everything."

The question of whether this phenomenon occurs throughout history or across cultures is irrelevant. The advertisers clearly have the intent to deceive. The important question is the one Steve brings up. How can I avoid accepting the deception as reality? It will be impractical to fully eliminate these lies from our experience, but perhaps we can limit them. Maybe during this Lenten season, we could fast from some of these inputs by avoiding TV, magazines or some other forms of media that foist these images upon us so regularly.

Alan writes:
"It is useful to doubt all and question everything."

Well, I doubt and question that.

Of course, i doubt and question everything, and on reflection, since truth and lies are mentioned, I have to wonder if we are dealing with motes and beams here. When dealing with truth, air brushed pictures should be among the least of our concerns. As for standards of beauty, they are far wider than in the 1950s.

Mr. Aronson - do you believe truth exists - and if so - who defines it ?

You're going to love this one:

courtesy of :

Hi Alan, experiential feedback is a good start.


Old news - saw that a while back.

I'm still curious - you reference truth in many of your remarks - what is it and who defines it - at least in your view ?



you’re married right? Yes, you should limit your exposure to images. Statistically men reported less amorous feelings towards their spouses when asked to flip through picture books of beautiful women before taking a survey about their marriage.

As a former graphic designer and a master photoshop user, I loved that video. What you see on newsstands is more tantamount to a piece of art than a photo these days. I can make anyone beautiful with proper photography and photoshop. As Cindy Crawford said, “Even Cindy Crawford doesn’t look like Cindy Crawford in the morning.”

It is sad that beauty is so important, but I think beauty is so important because beauty is so important. i.e. the goal of every hunk of life on the planet can possibly be summarized as:

Try my best to replicate better versions of myself

Attractive females of breeding age are able to fulfill this goal better than unattractive or older ones. Ovums go bad in her 30’s. The probability of birth defects goes exponential. If all men were always sexually attracted to women in their later 30’s, the whole planet would indeed eventually be retarded, statistically speaking.

Further noteworthy, people with symmetrical faces have been shown to be more medically and (curiously) more psychologically stable.

Clever marketing by the makers of Dove. It is tragic how many ads are made for the sole purpose of making people feel unattractive. Just glance through any magazine for women / girls and count the hundreds of messages say, "If you don't have this, you won't be happy."

For a moment there, I thought that the Earth might have broken free of it's orbit. I read a post written by Alan Aronson that I actually agreed with.

Fortunately, he concluded his comments with a self-refuting statement that allowed me to save face.

Personally, I think it is more than a little demeaning to men to assume that they look at a billboard and then set that as the standard for beauty.

The billboard model is a fantasy not unlike the Barbie doll. Do you really think that men don't understand this? Come on, give us a little credit.

Madison Avenue is using fantasy to sell it's products - big surprise. Have you ever seen the commercial for "Bod" men's spray where washboard-abbed 20 somethings play volleyball in the sand while women giggle and lust from the stands? I giggle myself when I see that ad. Usually accompanied by an eye roll and a "give me a break." It's the same reason the Big Mac always looks better in the picture than it does on your red plastic tray.

Marketers can only control our attitudes if we play by their rules.

Hi guys,

Paul, I agree, but, the problem is that the marketers do control (influence) our (culture in general) attitudes.

Alan makes a good point in the universality of the existence of an ideal representative standard. However, now-a-days, we are more effective at using that standard to influence the public.

I have to agree with Tony, that it is wise to limit our exposure to images (including T.V. of course) because they do have an effect on us. I think it is interesting that the effect Tony noted was that of dissatisfaction.

Like Neil said, "If you don't have this, you won't be happy."

As oppossed to "godliness with contentment is great gain." (1 Tim6:6)

take it easy,

"Paul, I agree, but, the problem is that the marketers do control (influence) our (culture in general) attitudes."

Only if we allow them to.

One of my favorite quotes about attitudes from Charles Swindoll:

"The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude ... I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you ... we are in charge of our Attitudes."

Hi Paul

I hear what you are saying, but the problem is we are only in control of how we will react, we are not in control of how other individuals will react.

Many (myself included) sometimes are, in fact, affected by them. It is a real temptation that causes real problems.

And I might add that we are (our culture in general) bombarded by them.

(Note images can be used for good or for evil)

take it easy,

Hi Todd,

It is my contention that everyone is responsible for how they react. I'm not responsible for how others react, and I can't blame other for how I react. Each person is responsible for their own actions and attitudes.

I have a trick that is more powerful than any advertising campaign devised by any Wall Street mogul.

When I find something offensive, I reach my hand out - and slowly twist the volume knob counter clock-wise until I hear a click. It works 100% of the time.

If I read my Bible correctly, there were problems with lust, greed, honesty, etc thousands of years before any slick mass media marketing campaign was ever designed.

Matter of fact, many times their situation was much more dire than ours today.

Conclusion: the problem is more with us collectively than with marketing images. Madison Avenue is just fulfilling their job description. If there wasn't a market, things would change overnight.

To put it bluntly, advertisers are giving us (collectively) what we want.

We can change how advertisers present their products most effectively by first changing ourselves.

Interesting - a sort of reform from the bottom up, rather than the top down. I hadn't really thought of it that way before. I guess my question, then, would be, does your proposal here obviate the responsibility of the media to not "fan the flames" - or at the very least, our resposibility to hold the media accountable to a standard?

Hi Paul:

Here is my "yeah but." Because I agree with your point about individual responsibility, and that the problem is with us (individually).

But it is percisely because we have a problem (as a people) that we need to be careful not to feed the problem.

Here is where I think I see things differently:

"To put it bluntly, advertisers are giving us (collectively) what we want."

See, I don't think this is entirely true. I think advertisers (Including T.V. shows and magazines) are restricted from giving us what we (collectively) want. I think we probably want more gratuitous sex, more gratuitous violence, more rauncy humor, etc.

In fact, I think "the media" in general want to stretch the envelope as far as it will go. And normalize the most bizarre behavior.

I think it is obvious that images (T.V., magazines, advertisements, etc) affect the way we think which in turn affects the way we act.

Therefore, it is reasonable, as a citizen, to ask if there are consequences for allowing certain images and whether we should restrict them or not.

For example, we no longer allow cigarette smoking commercials on T.V. Not because there is not a market for it, but because we see cigarettes as physically harmful. (Yet we allow alcohol advertisements)

We also restrict cussing on the radio (although I can't even listen to my local sports radio station with the kids in the car anymore) I'm not sure people understand why we restrict cussing but we still do. (Not for long?)

We also restrict pornography. For how much longer I'm not sure, because again, I don't think we see pornography as harmful anymore.

I agree that we must change ourselves, but I also think it is important to use the law and policy to restrain harmful behavior.

take it easy,


"does your proposal here obviate the responsibility of the media to not fan the flames"

Absolutely not, but think for a moment how effective trying to legislate what the media can and can not do has been over the past 35 years. Not very impressive is it? Standards slip every season. Turn on any prime time sit-com and I'll think you'll get the point. Bottom line: this method is not working. why not try another approach?


I read your comments and I think that we agree, but are coming at it from different angles. Maybe because I'm older and have seen trying to legislate the media as ineffective tool for lasting change.

The only campaigns that have worked (like cigarette commercials) have been promoted by the PC crowd and endorsed by the media at large. Do you think that group of people would get behind a proposal to reduce promescuity on TV? Don't hold your breath.

Here's an aside: if cigarette commercials were banned from radio and tv because they are an unhealthy drug, why are alcohol commercials still running? Alcohol is involved in most fatal car crashes and then there are the health problems. This seems inconsistent at best.

"I think advertisers (Including T.V. shows and magazines) are restricted from giving us what we (collectively) want. I think we probably want more gratuitous sex, more gratuitous violence, more rauncy humor, etc."

I agree, but I think that the reason they don't give us more is not because of the law, but because of money. They can always think of a clever way to get around the law.

Have you ever noticed that movies about sex never do well? Movies with sex in them may do well at the box office, but if they are on the subject of sex (Showgirls, X-rated movies) - they rarely do.

Advertisers realize this and don't want to step out of bounds with the public. Why? Because of the bottom line. That is my point.

The media has an agenda. They are going to press forward with it no matter how many laws are passed.

We can force marketers to change their strategies when we are willing to change ourselves.

Hi Paul

Thanks for the feedback.

I just wanted to clarify that I totally agree that it is inconsistant to keep alcohol commercials on T.V. It would seem that alcohol causes way more damage to our culture than cigeratte smoking. (I was attempting to point out the inconsistancy too.)

I was trying to point out that we do limit images in our culture.

I think we should: change ourselves, argue that the given changes are good for the culture, and implement the changes in actual policies.


"I was trying to point out that we do limit images in our culture."

I would rephrase that to read we try to limit images in our culture. Similar to how they tried to limit alchohol consumption during prohibition.

The problem is that what we are doing is not effective. If you doubt that check and see if there is a shortage of child pornography on the Internet.

I'm not saying there shouldn't be laws against certain images. I'm saying the methods used up to this point are not working.

At some point, you have to ask why and make a change.

That change begins with me.

Hi Paul

I think the laws against child pornography are effective. That is, if we didn't have laws against it, there would be even more of it. Of course they do not entirely eliminate it. No law does that.

What methods would you use to limit images?

What do you do after you change yourself?


Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

I am taking this single verse out of context, but I do think it stands on its own in much the same meaning as in its context. Paul says it as a reminder of how to remain God-oriented and holy as careful consideration of the listed things leads toward God.

Steve mentioned "not actively reflecting on them" I think that is part of the problem. I don't want to say that this is the whole problem. Different people have different reactions to different types of images and they may deem it best shield themselves or limit themselves and it is they alone who would know if that is the case, but I like to state that the value of an image is not entirely in and of itself. The reaction that an image evokes can be trained to an extent. The issue in this training then becomes whether one has an active or a passive role.

If a viewer takes a passive role, then beauty is defined by culture and sadly relegated mostly to a woman's physical appearance. Beauty becomes restricted to that which is sexually attractive in many instances. The truth about this situation is that not everyone can be physically attractive, drop dead gorgeous, and sexy to everyone. It seems that human beings naturally place an exclusive definition to "sexy." I am not one to argue that this is wrong because others are just as much entitled to their opinions as I am and frankly I agree for the most part. I will however acknowledge that this allows for some problems. Men overlook good girls as Karen mentioned and women are left with self esteem issues which can often manifest in eating disorders. The effect of passively taking in images can be rather profound. Men come to expect and demand physical beauty as though it could so simply be acquired and with a sense of entitlement. And I know women are similarly affected, I once had a female friend tell me that she had seen a movie that disappointed her because the leading lady wasn't quite as attractive as she had come to expect for Hollywood films. And, for the record, she is heterosexual.

If a viewer takes an active role, however, beauty is recognized in more places and in more abstract ways. Art is recognized for art and beauty is not demanded but rather recognized just about everywhere. I will not condemn advertising agencies and photographers for presenting what they do, for if the women and the images weren't beautiful by general consensus they wouldn't be presented. The issue then becomes retraining the visual senses as Steve noted at the end of his post.

Having well trained eyes has always been part of Christianity. In Matthew 6:22-23 Jesus teaches: "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!"

Jesus emphasizes the eternal ramifications in Matthew 18:9 "And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell."

Couldn't agree more with Alvin.

This is not a them problem as much as it is an us problem.

Marketers are fullfilling their job descriptions let's fullfill ours as Christians.

Hi Paul

Is affecting the culture around us part of our job description?


"I think the laws against child pornography are effective. That is, if we didn't have laws against it, there would be even more of it."

According to this definition, the prohibition laws were "effective."

I see what you are saying Paul, but why not say the same about rape?

Thanks Alvin for a great post.

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