I wondered where previously I had seen girls walking as my nurses walked. I had the time to think about it. At last I realized that it was at the cinema. Returning to France, I noticed how common this gait was, especially in Paris; the girls were French and they too were walking in this way. In fact, American walking fashions had begun to arrive over here, thanks to the cinema.
More recently, philosopher Jean Baudrillard pointed out that it is not the actual people, but rather representations of people, copies without an original, that we imitate when we try to become like movie stars. In other words, I may want to look like Jennifer Lopez, but chances are that I will never see the actual Jennifer Lopez and if I did, I probably wouldn’t recognize her. What I want to be is like the images of J-Lo that saturate our culture and my imagination.
Not just advertising, but the film and TV industries have learned to deploy an entire array of technologies that make us want to look like people who do not exist in the real world. Coupled with this is a cosmetic surgery industry that promises to reshape our real bodies to make them look more like the two-dimensional ones we see on screen and on billboards. The result is a culture where many of us (and most women and girls) feel ugly.
But what to do? Have the state censor it all? Mandate cellulite, wrinkles and stray hairs? Probably not. How about the other plan of the Liberal Dems to create Media Literacy classes? It's a start. I'd hate to think anyone thought of these images as real people any more than we think Barbie represents a realistic version of a female body. Perhaps we could even take a lesson from Christian Orthodoxy for our postmodern, secular cultures and apply iconography to contemporary media. Within Christian Orthodoxy, images in icons are purposefully made skinnier and elongated to give them a more spiritual and less fleshy quality. The same is true with icons of our consumer culture. We want bodies, especially female bodies, that are elongated and very nearly inhuman. We long to escape emodiment for the purely pleasurable realm of heavenly consumermism: always looking perfect in the designer clothes we wear, always looking skinny even in bikinis, always looking young and desirable. It is a fantasy, a desire, an unreal representation of real bodies. In the same way that Orthodox Christians look at an icon of Jesus and know it has been altered, we ought to be able to look at an ad or a movie star and see that what is represented can only exist in the spiritual plane. Here in our fleshy real lives, bodies don't look anything like the ones we see in the iconography of film and fashion.