How would you define ‘pretty?’ It should (in theory), mean many different things to different people. In reality though, it’s fair to say that society’s interpretation (or misinterpretation) of it has led to a very skewed view of it, and, as YouTuber Em Ford explores in her new video, the consequences of that are more damaging than any of us could have expected.
Just as provoking as her 2015 ‘You Look Disgusting’ film which has received over 29 million views on YouTube, it takes a hard look at women’s relationships with their appearance and the roles that the media and brands play in shaping them. “I set out wanting to discover if today's 'beauty standards' are to blame for the way we see and feel about ourselves,” says Em. “From visible skin conditions such as acne, scarring and birthmarks, to sharing why representation is so important in the media and society. This is a heartbreakingly real picture of how 'beauty' is measured, and if it’s truly ever achievable.”
In the video, Em collaborates with a Professor of Human Brain Research to test something that has never been scientifically proven before - whether the brain’s reaction and our emotions can be affected by images that show models wearing makeup, without makeup and when they're retouched.
The pictures were shown to women who had visible skin conditions such as burns and vitiligo while they had MRI scans to track their brain activity. The results provided a shocking insight into how deeply the images affected them. Activations that are usually only seen in traumatised people were seen - some were even likened to those experienced by sufferers of PTSD. Similar responses also occurred when the women were asked to shut their eyes and visualise what ‘beautiful’ was too, showing just how far-reaching their impact can be.
By shedding light on the psychological effects today’s beauty standards can have on women, the project provides a much-needed call-to-action to the media to broaden their definition of what ‘pretty’ is. “I’ve worked with every major beauty company in the world, and this video is telling them that they are all the problem,” comments Em. Perhaps addressing the language we use for certain products could also help (such as 'cover-ups' when talking about foundations for example, which suggests that we should be hiding our skin issues). There’s a lot of work to be done, and a change won’t happen overnight. However, as long as those in positions of influence such as Em, continue to spark healthy conversation and debate in the area, we’ll be making strides in the right direction.
Watch the full video above.