Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘awareness’

25 MARCH, 2010

Love Me: The Cross-Cultural Manufacturing of Beauty

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What Chinese noses and hairy Brazilians have to do with the Moore’s law of breast.

The “beauty industry.” The glaring oxymoron of this very term — standardizing and industrializing something that’s supposed to be abstract and subjective and “in the eye of the beholder” — aptly reflects its status as one of the most controversial yet ubiquitous facets of culture. We’ve all read about, heard of or seen first-hand the various disjointed manifestations and consequences of humanity’s unhealthy obsession with “beauty” — eating disorders, plastic surgery addiction, plain old nacrissism and social discrimination — but capturing the complete, wide-angle story of this cultural idée fixe is an incredibly ambitious task.

That’s exactly what photographer Zed Nelson explores in Love Me — a gripping, powerful series of images that capture the conflicting social, psychological and economic rewards and penalties of appearance obsessions.

Beauty is a $160 billion-a-year global industry. The worldwide pursuit of body improvement has become a new religion.

Elham, 19, and her mother, 55. Rhinoplasty 'nose job' operation.

Tehran, Iran.

The idea that blonde is best began as early as the eighteenth century when ethnologists, sociologists and English anthropologists such as Englishman Charles White began drawing up hierarchical gradations for mankind, starting with what were believed to be the lowliest — the negroes, bushmen and aborigines — to the yellow races and Slavs, until they reached the white race, thought to be the supreme species.” ~ The Observer

'I'm competing with men 20 years younger than me.' - Anthony Mascolo, 46. Liposuction to chin and abdomen.

New Jersey, USA

The book reveals the frightening commodification of beauty, both industrially and culturally, (did you know that ten years ago, reconstructing a woman’s breasts cost $12,000, compared to $600 today?), exposing the intricate network of transactions and businesses that govern it — the fashion, cosmetics, diet, medical and entertainment industries, with their powerful propaganda mechanisms and meticulous marketing plans.

‘Westernising’ the human body has become a new form of globalisation, with ‘Beauty’ becoming a homogenous brand. The more rigorously our vision is trained to appreciate the artificial, the more industries benefit.

Nose bridge prosthetic implants, to increase size of nose.

Beijing, China

Like it or not, we are judged, and judge, by appearance. Perhaps we are obsessed with the way our own bodies look because we know how instinctively judgemental we are of the bodies that we look at.

'I want to be thin. I was always very sporty at school. Now I am a skeleton.' - Fiona Harris, 44. Anorexic. 6.5 stone.

Winchester, UK

The body has, in a sense, become just another consumer purchase. Everyone can, in the spirit of our age, go shopping for bodily transformation. Banks now offer loans for plastic surgery. American families with annual incomes under $25,000 account for 30 per cent of all cosmetic surgery patients. Americans spend more each year on beauty than they do on education.

'Men's Health magazine (USA) hasn't had a hairy chest on its cover since 1995.' - Wall Street Journal

Copacabana Beach. Rio, Brazil.

From sexed up teenage club-hoppers to prison beauty queens to a brilliantly curated Alain de Botton quote, the book is a cover-to-cover gem that explores, with superb creative direction and a merciless confrontation with superficiality, the most uncomfortable fringes of cultural anthropology.

Ox and Angela, plastic surgeon and wife.

Rio, Brazil

Nelson’s introductory statement about the project is very much worth a read. Explore the collection online, or grab a copy of Love Me for the real deal of glossy-paged coffeetable indulgence.

On a tangential design-pet-peeve aside, it’s worth noting that Nelson’s site exemplifies everything that a well-designed, slick, navigable, share-friendly photographer website should be, combining the seamlessness of Flash with the link shareability of HTML, all delivered in a brilliantly architectured and user-friendly interface — a welcome break from the unshareable, nightmarish to navigate flashturbation dominating today’s photographer portfolios. Hat tip to you, Sir Zed.

Nelson is represented by INSTITUTE for Artist Management, where you can find out more about his work.

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14 DECEMBER, 2009

The Story of Cap & Trade

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What lurks beneath the buzzwords and how to digest the hard-to-swallow.

You may recall The Story of Stuff — Annie Leonard’s brilliant 20-minute animated film, dissecting the “materials economy” and dispelling a number of sustainability myths.

This month, Leonard and her team release The Story of Cap & Trade, an equally cunning, captivating and fact-rich look at COP15′s favorite sustainability solution. The engaging, fast-paced film probes into the hidden dangers of the proposed (non-)solution, from how the biggest polluters are exploiting the system’s loopholes to why climate Band-Aids like fake offsets don’t work, and exposes the dysfunctional reverse logic at the core of the concept.

A growing number of scientists, students, farmers and forward-thinking business people are all saying, ‘Wait a minute…’ In fact, even the economists who invented the cap-and-trade system to deal with simpler problems [...] say cap-and-trade can never work for climate change.

Though in this day and age, climate conspiracy theorists abound, Leonard’s film delivers a punchy yet sober account of an incredibly complex, multifaceted and little-understood issue — all in just under 10 minutes.

We like the idea of illuminating a political buzzword, allowing us common folk to digest the hype-coated serving of headline-worthy fluff. (We also like that the film puts its money where its mouth is and “recycles” some of the Story of Stuff footage, whether or not the wink is intentional.) Because without an open social conversation, there can’t be widespread understanding, which means there can’t be widespread action. And without that, COP15 is just a bunch of suits burning up jet fuel to spend a week in a Scandinavian hotspot.

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09 JUNE, 2009

In-Formed: Physical Objects as Data Visualization

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The other side of our silver platter, or what dinnerware and Africa have in common.

Data visualization is of special stature around here and makes frequent cameos — usually in the form of beautifully designed infographics or high-tech jaw-droppers. But designer Nadeem Haidary is creating a form of data viz so unorthodox and unexpected it constitutes its own genre — physical objects modified to visualize statistics about the activities they’re involved in.

The project, titled In-Formed, is part data visualization, part industrial design, part social awareness, exposing little-known facts designed to effect actual behavioral change by inspiring us to be a bit less wasteful.

It consists of three case studies, each embedding contextually relevant information into everyday objects related to the data.

Each prong represents the per-capita countries caloric intake of a different country. Each fork depicts the United States and three other countries ordered alphabetically.

[Statistics] may be striking when you first read them, but without context or placement in the physical world, they are rarely remembered and rarely change people’s behavior. What if this kind of information crawled off the page and seeped into the products that surround us?

The surface area of each of plate is proportionate to the food consumption in the region depicted on the plate.

There’s something incredibly powerful about infusing data with the physical reality it inhabits — an idea arguably pioneered by the incredible Chris Jordan, whom we’ve featured multiple times. It breeds a kind of visceral mindfulness missing from more traditional forms of data visualization — and, hopefully, that’s what makes the leap from awareness to action.

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