Beauty © by Matt McGee

Mainstream media bombards viewers with images of airbrushed perfection, often sexual, in movies, magazines, and commercials.  Advertisers want to sell their standard of beauty and their idea that sex appeal matters in everything from clothing choices to mops, because that combination helps sell their products.  Pornography is only the most extreme version, in which idealized bodies and sexuality are the product being sold.

These images, whether you’re seeing them on a porn site or in a fashion magazine, are not real.  Nobody looks like that without hours of preparation by a team of highly trained professionals, careful choices of camera angle and lighting, and then many more hours of airbrushing, editing, and careful selection.  The flawless, slender girl in that video or magazine advertisement is a fake.  The actress or model who plays that girl probably looks very little like the finished product on the screen or page, especially in her everyday life.  That’s why we see all those “celebrities without makeup” headlines in the tabloids; when these people just look like people without the careful design, camera effects, and hours of editing, they are not much more attractive than anyone else.

Unfortunately, the images we see in the media can shape our expectations and standards of attractiveness, setting unrealistic, unattainable criteria for beauty.  We hear about this issue frequently in discussions of body-image and self-esteem issues, especially in women, but being bombarded with these images and standards can change not only how you see yourself, but how see others.   What you see in pictures and videos can all too easily become what you expect to see in a member of the opposite gender, regardless of realistic standards.

Pornography is especially problematic because of the way consumption of pornographic images acts on the chemical pathways of the brain.  With their effect boosted by the dopamine release you get from viewing porn, those highly sexualized pictures of fantasy perfection are more likely to be internalized as your own standard of beauty and sex appeal.  Internalizing this standard for the ideal, fantasy person can make it harder to enjoy real intimacy with a real-life partner.

After viewing photo after photo, or video after video, of flawless, fit, ideal models, most people find it difficult to look at their real partners without making a comparison, which is almost inevitable not favorable to the real, average human being.  In fact, a 2008 study in the Journal of Sex Research surveyed both pornography viewers and their spouses, and found that both the viewers and the spouses felt that porn use made the viewers more likely to be critical of their partners’ appearances.  This resulted in less interest in sex on both sides (who likes being criticized and compared to someone else, after all?).   Both the porn users and their spouses also said they noticed less “felt intimacy,” a sense of closeness with a partner.

It pays to be careful what kind of media you consume; porn is not good for your partner’s self-esteem or for your ability to connect with him or her.  Even when dealing with mainstream media, think critically about what you’re seeing, and remember that silver screen beauty is mostly smoke and mirrors.  Appreciate the person sitting next to you; love is the source of real, lasting beauty.

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