Look But Don't Touch

Recently, I had the privilege or misfortune to see the BBC documentary Alesha: Look But Don’t Touch. The show follows Alesha Dixon, singer and former member of girl band Misteeq, who sets out to expose the promotion of an idealised body-image, particularly the feminine figure in the beauty and fashion industry,  including the effects this has had and is having on the culture and the self-esteem of people.

While I can readily agree with most of what was said, there is one thing that bothered me while watching. The presentation was completely one-sided. It was so completely one-sided it appeared to have presupposed the conclusion; the industry is at fault, and something – we know not what – needs to be done.

During my training in Visual Communication for my Bachelor of Design degree this issue was something I was confronted with. Knowing there was a distinct possibility that I might end up performing tummy-tucks and face-lifts, etc. with Photoshop the ethical issues were something I had to wrestle with. Moreover, as a theologian with a bent for cultural critique, I see the need to be even-handed and not emphasise one side over another.

The problem can be expressed in these two penetrating questions; Does the idealised image of bodily perfection come from the creative designer and/or advertising producer, or does it come from the consumer? Does an image conform to a pre-existing ideal in culture, or is an ideal created new and adopted by culture?

We were taught of a never-ending circle;

1) Industry feeds culture,
2) Culture feeds industry.

The documentary focused on the first, but completely ignored the second. This is a “chicken-and-egg system.” That is a system with mutually dependant components – in this case culture and industry. Neither can exist without the other. As such no blame for any effect can be laid entirely at the feet of one or the other.

From a biblical worldview perspective, the reason for the downward spiralling problem can be correctly diagnosed and equally attributed to both the culture and the industry which are composed of fallen creatures. That is people are existentially in a state of estrangement from God, their essentially good nature corrupted with sin. Ultimately it is this marred human condition which is responsible for the idealised image of perfection, the ever increasing need to seduce consumers, the low self-esteem of those who consciously and unconsciously imbue it, and then are deceived into placing a higher priority on appearance than what should be.

Christianity can furnish the self-image of individuals and communities with lofty resources. That man looks on the outside, but God looks at the heart, thus eternal value is pegged to the condition of ones inner life rather than outward appearance. That Male and Female were made in the image of God. Their creation was the crown that made a good thing “very good.” Christ loved us, even though we were in a fallen, sinful and repulsive state of existence, so much he gave his life as a substitute for us. And in Him alone are all the deepest needs of the human heart fulfilled.

It is no wonder the program had no solutions forthcoming. Alesha could not diagnose the problem.