Four-year old little girls dressed like a cross between Tammy-Faye Baker and a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. Miss Elderly USA having filler painfully injected into her seamless lips. A beautifully fit male and female couple whose sexual organs are Ken and Barbie joints rather than real anatomy. The juxtaposition of an anorexic model and the morbidly obese Gabourey Sibide of “Precious” fame. These are just a few of the images you’ll see when you visit the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City that hosts a photographic installation called …
…from now until November 27th.
Needless to say, as a person who blogs under the pseudonym THE WOMAN FORMERLY KNOWN AS BEAUTIFUL, the cult-ure of beauty is on my radar. And while I don’t think I’m a slave to beauty, I admit I have blind spots where the pursuit of perfection has made me its bitch, hence my interest in this particular show.
I’m not a museum person. I tend to find them boring and wonder when I’ve stayed long enough to go eat a grilled cheese sandwich in the museum cafe. But I was immediately engrossed by the interactive experience of this installation. The space was small and serpentine, easy to manage, simple yet stimulating.
I started with the Digital Gallery, a comfortable, open space with two large screens and plenty of round leather stools where I could sit to watch a fascinating 30-minute documentary film that enlarged upon the themes of the photographic exhibit. Photographers Lauren Greenfield (who produced the intense documentary THIN about eating disorders for HBO), Melvin Sokolsky (a fashion photographer) and TYEN (who has worked for the House of Dior for 30 years) were interviewed about their take on beauty and its impact on culture.
Being the mother of two daughters I was particularly engrossed by interviews with a number of teenage girls struggling with the constant barrage of media images promoting an unattainable perfection.
Being a Woman-Of-A-Certain-Age I was fascinated to see the lineless portrait of 60-something model Carmen Deli’Orefice followed by an interview with her in the unretouched, age-appropriate wrinkled flesh. Ah the subliminal deviltry PHOTOSHOP wreaks upon we vulnerable consumers.
I laughed at Jamie Lee Curtis’ iconoclastic rants about the Hollywood youth obsession and loved being taken backstage at a fashion show to see one model weeping in pain from the bleach on her eyebrows and another model descended upon by an absolute phalanx of beauticians like flies on dung.
After the documentary I went on to carefully peruse all of the photographs, some of them shocking, some of them funny and some of them beguilingly beautiful. They were organized by theme: What Size is Beauty? What Color is Beauty? Pageant Culture. Androgeny, The Marilyn Syndrome (alas poor Lindsay Lohan the poseur), The Model Industry and more.
I’m not sure what I derived philosophically from the exhibit…yet. It got me pondering my own relationship to beauty. I recently had a brow-lift and blepharectomy. My first foray into plastic surgery. After healing I’m quite happy with the results. I no longer stare at the extra flesh on my lids that came with aging. But it hasn’t stopped me from woefully pinching my extra tummy flub or trying to hoist my neck behind my ears with my index fingers.
I left the show with more compassion toward myself because, despite the fact I’m supposed to be a discerning adult, I’m not immune to the constant advertising and pop culture bombardment. Like so many women (and men?? But that’s another discussion) it has left me in a state of mild, droopy self-dissatisfaction.
The show isn’t appropriate for children under the age of 12 because some of the images are disturbing and some of an adult nature, but I do think it’s a show that would inspire meaningful conversation between mothers and their teenage daughters. It will certainly bring more self-awareness to the impact of the images we see.
This was not a sponsored post. Simply an adventure I had that I want to share.
The Annenberg Space for Photography is located at 2000 Avenue of the Stars, Century City 90067. It resides in the CAA building. Parking is off Constellation.