Transformation is fascinating, especially when the change is dramatic and you can see it happen before your very eyes. That point was underscored to me this week by "Body Evolution" by Global Democracy, a video that was released two years ago, but went viral last week, when the model was identified publicly.
In slightly more than a minute, the video shows a model walking onstage, hair undone, no makeup, and then being transformed through makeup, hair, lights and, finally, photoshop. The latter not only removes minor skin imperfections, but makes massive sculptural changes to her body — resulting in larger eyes, longer legs, a leaner torso, longer neck, and smaller breasts. The end result bears little resemblance to the pretty but plain girl we saw at the start.
In other words, the end result is an illusion that cannot be attained. The transformation is not real, but fake.
"I think there needs to be a celebration of all different shapes and sizes," the 36-year-old model, Sally Gifford Piper, told "Entertainment Tonight." "One hundred percent."
The messages sent by such images throughout the media are ubiquitous and unrelenting. Just a few nights ago, before I saw the Body Evolution video, I pointed out an advertisement on the back of a magazine to my husband. The woman's arm was too thin and too long to be real, and did not match the other side.
While our society continues to create labels and categories for food that we ingest (organic, farm-to-table, etc.), we seem to be less concerned about the ideas and images that we allow into our heads. Possibly an "I'm not real" banner across every photoshopped ad would cause us to pause and, more importantly, limit their use.
While this video is a dramatization, its underlying message is real. The ads and images that our society sees are not real. Therefore, the potential desire(s) to either become like the fake images or to date the fake images are impossible to achieve. Unachievable goals can lead to a sense of learned helplessness, of giving up, of futility.
The opposite side of appearance is performance, attainment, and accomplishment.
"The Global Gender Gap Report 2013" was recently published by the World Economic Forum. According to its website, "The Global Gender Gap Index seeks to measure one important aspect of gender equality: the relative gaps between women and men, across a large set of countries and across four key areas, such as health, education, economics, and politics."
The index does not measure the absolute performance by gender, but rather the gap between men and women in specific areas within the country.
Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden are the top four countries in the index. The United States ranks 23rd — below Nicaragua, Latvia, Cuba, Germany, and South Africa. In two of the four areas, the United States scored strongly. We were first in "education attainment" and sixth in "economic participation." In the "health and survival area," the United States came in 33rd. In the "political empowerment arena," we dropped to a dismal 60th.
How are the Body Evolution video and Global Gender Gap related? A country that appears to value fake beauty above health and political involvement needs to pause and reflect on the values and attributes that are most important. Women and men need to understand, embrace, and promote the idea that by working together, we can be better.
Several organizations are taking portions of life and influence and focusing on them. Lean In (Business), The Representation Project (Film and Media), and Emily's List and Maggie's List (Politics). But there is much work to be done, and all can pitch in.
The disparity between the visual and social cues that women receive from the media and the outcomes represented by the Gender Gap studies makes me rethink my own journey and worry about that of my 14-year-old daughter, Maggie. How can we, together, begin to promote, watch, view, and spread the message that real is better than fake and that we can be better together, with the goal of — not pulling men down — but encouraging women to participate WITH men?
My conclusion is that there is work to be done, much good and needed work.
Jackie Gingrich Cushman is the co-author, along with her father, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, of the book "5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours." Read more reports from Jackie Gingrich Cushman — Click Here Now.