We recently took a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It was, in part, a chance for the family to see some cool stuff and, in part, a chance for Alex to see some ancient Egyptian art that corresponded to his history lessons. As I thought about how much detail I wanted to share about how the ancient Egyptians placed a lot of meaning into all aspects of their art (Thank you countless art history courses!), I realized that all of this editing of people’s looks for “important” projects has been happening for thousands of years.
Long before people wrote the program for Photoshop, Egyptians were smoothing out laugh lines from the faces of their kings and queens. If a statue showed anything short of smooth skin, perfectly coiffed hair, and well tailored clothing, the person may have been rich, but they certainly weren’t the king or queen. Didn’t that in some way amount to setting an impossible standard? Did people’s self-esteem crumble in the face of these statues and paintings? Or did they learn to say, “Wow! Look at that!” and then go on with their day?
One of the major differences between then and now is the number of “perfect” images the average person is exposed to. In an era where paper was precious and literacy was low, there were no magazines lining market shelves for the ancients to stare at while they waited to pay for their purchases. There was no internet or television with a constant stream of altered images passing in front of their eyes.
So what’s the point? Perhaps the thing we need to change is not our desire to present “perfect” images of people. Perhaps we need to change how often we look at them. Perhaps we need to turn off our televisions, buy fewer magazines, and interact with the real people and the natural world that surround us everyday. Artistically altered images have their place, but each of us determines what that place shall be in our lives.