Identikit Hot

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How the media uses technology to create unrealistic images of women


"Our interest is in the appearance of sexiness, not the existence of sexual pleasure, passion isn't the point... Hotness has become our cultural currency, and a lot of people spend a lot of time and a lot of regular, green currency trying to acquire it. Hotness is not the same thing as beauty... Hot can mean popular. Hot can mean talked about. But when it pertains to women, hot means two things in particular: fuckable and saleable."
Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs, describing the "hot" look.

Go into any newsagent and you will be confronted with hundreds of images of women staring back at you from the covers of magazines - except they bear only the most distant of connections to the human beings who once stood in front of the studio cameras.

Instead we see an identikit image parade of models and celebrities looking "hot". They are all so manipulated they may as well be completely computer generated.

It doesn't take a genius to connect the distorting and alienating effects of being surrounded by such unattainable and unrealistic images to statistics such as the shocking fact that between 1992 and 2004 breast jobs increased by 700 percent in the US. Our society still judges a woman's value on her looks.

As Dr Dubrow, a surgeon on a US reality TV show called "The Swan" - which takes women and makes them look younger - says, "The younger girls think that beauty is raised cheeks, a higher brow, big breasts and fuller lips." This shopping list of required attributes coincidentally matches the ways women's images get digitally retouched.

Revealing this process of deception with the aim of reaching and educating young women about sexism and the media, Forsman and Bodenfors design agency have produced a project called Retouch for the Swedish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs.

Using the device of an interactive magazine cover you can compare "before" and "after" versions of a typical retouched cover model to see how retouching artists construct the "hot" look.

Forsman and Bodenfors say of the project, "The media world is becoming increasingly fixated on appearances. And the number of tricks used to achieve the increasingly exaggerated ideals is growing. Many models have plastic surgery and even more are retouched so they appear to have bigger breasts, smaller stomachs or fuller lips. We wanted to show how easy it is to change someone's appearance in this campaign."