To BEautiful Or Not To BEautiful

March 19, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Paper Bag Portrait 1Photographer: Lisa Rodden Model: Lisa Rodden Stylist: Lisa Rodden Hair and makeup: Lisa Rodden Paper Bag: Stylists own Paper Bag Portrait 2Photographer: Lisa Rodden Model: Lisa Rodden Stylist: Lisa Rodden Hair and makeup: Lisa Rodden Paper Bag: Stylists own

Some years back I was travelling through Thailand and on the way back to the airport I noticed a billboard with a beautiful, pale, asian lady advertising some sort of cosmetics. Then I realised it was advertising skin whitening cream. It was like a massive 'slap in the face' realisation - now picture in your mind, as they do in the movies to someone acting hysterically - they grab them by the collar, shake them furiously and inches from their face yell "snap out of it!!", perhaps a bit of spittle might fly, then they slap them melodramatically across the face. That's how I felt. I realised then, just how blatantly and subtly and insidiously we are brainwashed every day by media and marketing into believing that, however we are born, it's not good enough. 

The reason this particular billboard advertisement was such a powerful message to me was not because it was impressive, funny or clever. No, it was because growing up in Australia, predominantly caucasion in the cities*, our billboards were full of beautiful, bronzed, caucasion women promoting skin tanning lotions. This is still the image portrayed by much of our media ie. tanned beach babes with long blond hair. So in one country they were promoting the exact opposite to what they were promoting in another country based on the dominant skin colour. The message in these ads was, no matter who you are, where you are, your skin is not the right colour. These days they're even cleverer and often have men in white coats to tell you how important their product is  for your health/beauty/well being. Their aim is to create a need by creating the idea that we as individuals do not measure up. 

Photographer: Lisa Rodden, Model: Lisa Rodden, Stylist: Lisa Rodden, Hair and makeup: Lisa Rodden, Paper Bag: Stylists own

If you want to use my images, please contact me for permission.

I am certainly not against good personal hygiene, even indulging in the nicer things if you're able, like moisturisers, makeup, putting on a pretty frock and getting your hair done etc. There is a certain satisfaction in taking time to primp and preen, even the animals do it, and I'm sure it's healthy for us to take time out to look after ourselves. What I have issue with is people being told that what they are born with is not enough. When are we going to learn to celebrate all the differences, not just in others, but within ourselves?! As we become a global society we are having a lot more conversations about accepting diversity and respecting one another but we're still not talking about respecting ourselves and HOW to respect ourselves. 

Now there's certainly a whole other discussion to be had around people looking after their own interests too much, but I'm talking about living selfully, not selfishly (yes I just created a new word :-) ). Selfully i.e.: being true to yourself, listening to your body and your intuition, loving your body and your mind and acting in the best interest of your body and mind for a more harmonious and healthy life (which in turn will improve the lives of those around you). It's a win/win situation - if you're happy within yourself, how can you be mean to someone else?

That means good food, exercise, meditation and surrounding yourself with good supportive people, etc. And trying to remember that all media is the result of someone's imagination with an army of stylists and makeup artists and lighting technicians and graphic designers. It's not real. It's hard enough to work on the basics of good health every day so why waste energies on the unachievable imaginary?

I was listening to a talk recently ** and was told a story of how we see a beautiful woman with a stunning figure, long silky hair and lovely long nails and we think "oh, she's so beautiful, what gorgeous hair, I want her/want to be like her" but then she cooks you dinner and one of her hairs is in your plate of food. It's a different story then - it's offensive "oh I don't want to eat this now, that's disgusting!"  and even worse if it's a finger nail in your food! The point being that beauty is not real. It's an idea and it's always changing. We need to start admiring and emulating good thoughts and actions. 

And to wrap it up - here is a beautiful speech given recently by Lupita Nyong'o (click here) that nails everything I'm trying to say. I'm sure my experience was very different to hers, but I know that as an impressionable teenager, I would spend 8 hours in a day at the beach, smothered in coconut oil, deep frying my mottled white skin in the Australian sun (with a hole in the Ozone layer) to try and obtain an unobtainable colour. I will no doubt end up with melanomas at some point in my life as a result (as will a lot of Australians of my generation). So how about we just start telling each other that we're beautiful the way we are and if we start behaving like it as a community, we might even start treating ourselves like we actually are.


Being an artist's blog, I felt I should create a piece to reflect my musings and so we have my Paper Bag Portraits. The humble paper bag has often been used to hide ugliness or shame. "I feel like putting a paper bag over my head", "He/she should put a paper bag over their head". It creates anonymity, a protective barrier between the individual and the viewer, blocks the 'windows to the soul', it's familiar and disconcerting at the same time. In these images, we can only get part of the story through posture and costume, and in covering the head we are unable to really connect with the person. It also means we can't make the basic assumptions normally made on first sight, which forces us to remain open to possibilities in the absence of information. This woman is still displaying emotions and vanity but is not defined by the vastly varied and subjective ideas of beauty.


* I'm sure that point could be argued - let me say at least that, in my experience, the majority of TV and media has, for the better part of my life, targeted caucasions, although this is thankfully changing and becoming more diverse and representative of our people.

** I did a Vipassana course (click here) which teaches an Art of Living (click here). This is one of the stories told during this course to convey a point (it's not verbatim).


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