Make Me Over. . . . Please . . . .

Last night I asked our waitress if she was a student. She used to be. She just graduated after majoring in art and photography. Not sure about the job prospects in those fields, but she’s waitressing for now. When asked about her love for photography, she said she was trying to build a darkroom in her basement. A darkroom??? I didn’t know we still used those things in the digital age. Interesting.

That got me thinking about how photography has changed during my lifetime. Well, not even my lifetime. How about the last 12 years? I remember pointing, shooting, and waiting. . . to finish a roll of film (which sometimes took months) and for the prints to be ready down at the KMart. You know what else? I don’t ever remember complaining, being upset, or demanding the destruction of a photo of me that just didn’t look right. You know. . . an unflattering pose, face, or angle. Instead, we’d laugh. Sometimes those were the best candid shots we had!

Welcome to the age of digital photography. It’s an age with attitudes regarding what makes a picture good or bad thanks to an image-based culture that’s set ridiculous appearance standards, while giving us the ability to “snap” more pictures and even digitally manipulate those images to “tweak” ourselves into “perfection.” We even have cameras with lenses and viewfinders on both sides. It’s all added up into a world where “DELETE THAT!” might just be the most-used phrase in amateur photography.

This morning I’m teaching on teenagers, technology, and culture. One of the topics I want to cover is the new phenomenon of “fabricating self.” We used to do this in our imaginations, or in our correspondence with people we’d never met. Now, we do it with our cameras and computers. In a world where insecurity is epidemic and where adolescents go through an even more pronounced and tumultuous period of identity-formation (starting earlier, going later, more intense from start-to-finish. . . if the finish ever comes), the Internet has become an “identity fitting-room” where we try on multiple selves, make ourselves up, and reinvent ourselves over and over again. There’s been a kind of “perfect storm” that’s set the table for us to even manufacture multiple selves suited to each of the audiences we want to impress. One study from the Girl Scouts found that 75% of girls ages 14-17 agree that “most girls my age use social networking sites to make themselves look cooler than they are.”

Have you seen the satirical Adobe Photoshop video that’s gone viral over the last few days. I think it captures aspects of what’s happening well.

Mark Bauerlein, author of The Dumbest Generation, says that “the screen becomes not a vein of truth, but a mirror of desire.” Quentin Schultze says that “the digital world suffocates virtue by allowing us unbridled freedom to be all things to all people. . . to give ourselves over to the highest bidder or to the most persuasive master” (Habits of the High-Tech Heart).

The obsession with image in our culture is growing. It all reminds me of something a friend said to me almost thirty years ago: “You tell me who or what you daydream about all day, and I’ll tell you who or what your God is.”

One thought on “Make Me Over. . . . Please . . . .

  1. Thanks for your post. There is nothing new under the sun, but the idols that tempt us do seem to be getting bigger, shinier, louder, and easier to follow.

    Image has ALWAYS been an issue, but as a Christian female, I have typically chosen to fight the allure of a false beauty. I turned 16 in 2000. Before that, I had to fight the allure of dieting, plucking, primping, and make-up like all young teen girls, and with my parents excellent guidance, I mostly succeed in feeling comfortable in my own skin. But I was smart, and my dad (an early desktop publisher) had Photoshop on our computer long before it was common. Even pre-Facebook and pre-MySpace, I learned to doctor ALL my photographs. What I had been strong enough to avoid doing to my physical body, I obsessed over doing to my digital image: I “fixed” everything. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, and didn’t change my mind about it for years.

    Helping the next generation process and fight the allure of a “perfect” image is not a new challenge, but it is HARD, and getting harder all the time. My parents knew how to help me avoid eating disorders, but not how to help me stop using “liquify” on my photos.

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