From my classes on aesthetics, I remember learning that the Greeks created classical beauty. Their ideal beauty called for harmony, equilibrium, symmetry, and mathematically perfect proportions.
Ever since then, we’ve all been trying to fit into one model or another. Society always imposes a standard which is created to be an ideal, pursued by all and achieved by a lucky few – or, at certain times, only by the gods or by extraordinarily enlightened beings.
I can’t be sure, but I believe that no era in human history has been free of an aesthetic standard. (If anyone finds one, let me know! I’d love to study it.)
As communicators, we love this concept, and ever since the Mad Men days we’ve been working to replicate and propagate that ideal in advertising. We’ve helped to instill the idea that people should be perfect, harmonious, balanced, unfailingly happy and pretty. Their houses should always be clean, their shirts should never be wrinkled, and their hair should always be glossy.
Aspirations. That’s always why we didn’t show life the way it is, but the way it should be. Someone taught us that people didn’t like seeing themselves, and that we should always show the way they dreamed of living. Which, incidentally, was always the same dream for everyone.
Beauty has always gone through trends and fads, but they’ve always been linear. One ends, another begins, and the latest imposes a new standard. The saying “so last season” mirrors that line of thinking perfectly.
But let’s admit, as designers and art directors, that living under an aesthetic standard is comforting and safe. It’s easy to know that you’re beautiful, follow that publication, follow that designer, follow that trend, and job done. There’s the example for you to emulate.
But in practice, those standards are impossible to attain. Because life is imperfect. You need to hit the genetic lottery to get just a hint of that beauty. Not even Gisele is the Gisele from the magazine cover. And that’s sad.
When we pay all that attention to what’s “beautiful,” we wind up throwing a huge spotlight on what’s “ugly.” Because if one thing is considered beautiful by a given standard, something else has to be ugly, and rejected.
But, thank goodness, our perspectives are undergoing a huge shift. We’re starting to accept our imperfections, and that’s incredible. At a time when technology makes it possible for us to be utterly perfect, imperfection has become beauty. And that means that ugly ceases to exist.
Aspiration has given way to inspiration.
Inspiration is when we use real examples, true beauty, where the viewer can actually identify with content. Where we can see ourselves.
We creatives have a job.
Art directors, designers, creative directors, communicators, directors of marketing, producers, directors, costume designers, stylists, we’ve all got a collective task before us.
It’s our responsibility to forget the word “ugly” and start making more room for beauty. For all kinds of beauty.
I’ve been trying my hardest to look more and see more beauty around me. I’ve been paying more attention to what draws my eyes, and I like what I’m seeing. This past summer was marvelous for us women. I saw countless real bodies finally revealing themselves. Anitta’s music video, where she proudly shook her un-Photoshopped butt, was a landmark. Magazine covers featuring older, gray-haired women have encouraged me to think about the concept myself.
I’m turning to new standards, facing myself to find a new way to express myself when I evaluate and speak about aesthetics as a creative director. Today, more than ever, I find myself using words like authentic and true.
Because “ugly” is an outdated concept.