Are We All Living On Shell Beach?

There’s a great movie called “Dark City,” and I don’t want to give away a plot point, but basically the idea is there’s this place called “Shell Beach” that some people are trying to find, and ultimately this place they’ve been searching for and dreaming about, this place that they think will solve all their problems – well, it isn’t exactly what they think it is.

I feel that pretty much describes everything around me these days. In today’s newspaper there was a story about the new film, “Surrogates.” Bruce Willis plays a cop in a futuristic society where everyone lives through surrogates – who of course, are younger and more beautiful than their “real” selves. In order to make Willis’ surrogate character look younger, the filmmakers used a combination of makeup and digital manipulation of the images. This was done to make the film plausible, but when the reporter asked if this technology might be used on other actors – not for a particular plot line but to enhance their beauty – the person being interviewed basically said something to the effect of (and I’m totally paraphrasing here), “Duh!”

It’s no news that almost every image we see these days is doctored in some way. A while ago there was a story about a Redbook cover photo of singer Faith Hill that was extensively retouched. (Scroll down slightly to see the “before” and “after.”) Sometimes it’s a combination of Photoshop, a ton of products, and an entire team of experts, as demonstrated in “The Evolution of Beauty” video from Dove.

It’s everywhere, this kind of manipulation. My husband is a sound editor/engineer, and a friend of his recently worked with a group known for their amazing vocals. The friend spent the last week “Auto-Tuning” their latest recording. “Auto-tune” is a program that digitally corrects pitch, making the performance “more precise.” More “perfect.”

But I wonder – what’s so great about “perfect?” My husband and I saw a commercial recently on TV, and for the life of us we could not figure out if the woman on the screen was an actual human being, or if she was a computer-created image. She was beautiful. Her skin was absolutely flawless – she was perfect. Too perfect. It was disconcerting.

When I see all this perfection around me, it makes me feel I’ve failed somehow. When I read about other people with their seemingly “perfect” lives – their many accomplishments, their many possessions, their achievements and successes – I feel somehow less. I know I have a rich life – I have friends, I have love, I’ve done things in my life. But I don’t have a perfect body, I don’t have an amazing career, incredible talent, or a stellar record of accomplishment. I’m just … normal. And it seems that’s not good enough these days, because all around me people are getting Photoshopped and Auto-Tuned and manipulated into some kind of perfection that to me, isn’t really perfection – it’s robotic and scary.

Why are we so obsessed with being perfect? Do we think that looking perfect on the outside means that we’ll feel perfect on the inside? Bad things happen to us. Sometimes we do bad things. We make mistakes. We don’t always win. Even celebrities, with their money and fame and beauty experience loss and disappointment and sadness in life. Their album isn’t number one. They don’t get a part. They get sick. They get old. They die. Does being “perfect” make any of that easier for them?

I don’t like being manipulated, and I don’t like being mislead. I’m tired of trying to achieve someone else’s definition of perfect. I’m tried of thinking how I look, how I sound, how I live is not good enough. I’m tired of trying to find Shell Beach.

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One Comment on “Are We All Living On Shell Beach?”

  1. Editor says:

    You’re preachin’ to the choir over here. I’ve been blogging about aging recently, and posted that I will not cover my white hairs. I got some virtual raised eyebrows there.

    You caught me on a particularly rebellious night where I am perfectly disinterested in perfect (or even appropriate) – I’m heading to an event and decided not to change out of my jeans. To add injury to insult, I’m wearing comfortable shoes. I am banking on feeling more comfortable in inappropriate clothing than I would in appropriate garb. It’s a theory I’m finally going to test.
    I don’t own a tv (hallelujah) so I’m wrestling primarily with print perfection most of the time. I regard it as art, not reality.


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