The Visual Laws of Attraction -or- Lookism and Visual Culture

The Body Image in Everyday Life -or- Human Physical Appearance

As an adolescent and as a young man, I had a serious acne problem. No medications would help, needless to say my self esteem suffered as a result. Some of my friends had similar problems, we could non-verbally commiserate. Living and studying in Switzerland after I turned 20, I would go skiing in the Alps, there the sun would naturally dry my skin and my physical "outside" facial appearance would be one of being well tanned, and "good looking". The cognitive prejudice surrounding physical appearance, is what has been called "lookism", and is it pervasive in our everyday visual culture

Here is one dream that underscores the psychological point; 

Linda, 35 

I find myself in the home of my tennis pro (where I have never been before).  I know he is out of town and I have taken a load of laundry to wash at his house. I think that if he or his wife find me there doing my laundry there is no way that I can look good. I go back in to get my laundry and his wife is home. She looks angry, frustrated, stressed, hungover?  Dark circles under her eyes and unshowered. (I have never met his wife before in life and don't know what she looks like.)  I decide not to let her catch me but to come forward instead and be apologetic. I make up a story that my friend said I could use her washing machine and I got the address wrong and when I realized I came back to get the laundry. I apologized for the "mix up". She was more concerned that she couldn't find cigarettes than she was that a total stranger had come into her home and done a load of laundry. I left feeling relieved that my tennis pro would never know I had been there. I was also surprised that he had married a smoker since he was so athletic. I woke from the dream very anxious.  

Athletic Physical Attractiveness -or- The Hidden Persuaders of Beauty

Having seen the statues of "Adonis" and the "Venus de Milo", and da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" in Paris for the first time in the summer of 1970, the artistic and classical visual concepts of ideal physical beauty and attractiveness were part of my understanding of visual culture. The psychophysical "body image" plays a central role in visual culture and in our dreams. As the International Institute for Dream Research (IIDR) has shown, media has an inordinate and pervasive influence on the psychophysical formation of body image concepts and cultural symbolism. 

The age old romantic idea of the "athletic" is also found in the modern dream above. This psychophysical idea of the athlete also finds expression in another dream interpretation "The Arena of Masculinity". The iconic image in that theatre, as well as this one, is that of the body builder "Charles Atlas". Of course if you think about it, Arnold Schwarzenegger followed in the iconic footsteps of Atlas. Schwarzenegger had the good fortune to take over and capitalize where the iconic dream of Atlas left off. Athletes are showcased and given an award by a variety of sports organizations to pay homage to the excellence of the player of the year

Lynne Luciano "Looking Good: Male Body Image in Modern America", provides insight into "a journey through the world of male vanity." Luciano takes the reader on a guided tour of the changing American ideals (1950's-90's), ideas and commercialization via advertising's advertisements of a male's "self presentation" in visual culture. The fashion, grooming, fitness, drugs (steroids), enhancement, sports and all the other industries that promise to enhance the way we look, they all have their used their psychological tentacles to take cultural control over mind, body and dreams. The American sociologist Vance Packard "The Hidden Persuaders" reported about the depth psychological (read dream formation) problem of the subliminal manipulations of the public's perception by the culture industry's advertising, well over fifty years ago. 

In Luciano's own words; "But as commodities became increasingly central to defining self worth, men, too, would be pulled into the vortex of consumerism, warned by advertisers that the ‘wrong' look posed a threat to career, love life, and self esteem." These culture industry's provide men (and women) with the right tools for "Impression management" as Erving Goffman called it, for as price. This cultural beauty idea becomes a psychological obsessive fixation, it becomes a top priority and preoccupation in everyday life and in our everyday dreams. 

In "The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women" by Naomi Wolf, she argues from a feminist perspective, that beauty is a socially constructed idea employed in the psychological service of patriarchy. For Wolf, the cultural mythology of beauty assualts women in a variety of social fields, including; work, religion, sex, violence and hunger. In truth, the oneiric (dream) problem in Western society is no longer patriarchal for the most part, instead it involves the commercialization of women's bodies, and is dominated by what Fredric Jameson called the postmodern logic of late consumer capitalism. Many of the dream interpretations, both men's "Conspicuous Consumption in LA" and women's "Advertizing the American Dream" posted at the IIDR website, underscore the psychological problems. 

Wolf says as much, in her own words; "And the unconscious hallucination (of beauty) grows ever more influential and persuasive because of  what is now conscious market manipulation: powerful industries...have arisen from the capital made of unconscious anxieties, and are inturn able, through their influence on mass culture, to use, stimulate and reinforce the hallucination in a rising economic spiral." Luciano, Wolf, Packard, and Jameson are all pointing to the psychological "vortex of consumerism", which paradigmatically dominates the marketplace of ideas circulating at this moment in the visual culture of the global village. The IIDR is dedicated to make this marketplace visible for all to see.  

We can leave this dream on a few "Juvenalian" satirical final notes. The first person narrative of Linda's dream (note how most of the sentences in the dream's text, start and is organized by "I"...), portrays herself as the type of women who has been called a "home wrecker". Said differently, the dreamer has developed psychological tactics of a juvenile and deceitful "false self", who is driven by excuse making 

In the dream, Linda invades the private and personal space of her "tennis pro's" home and is doing her laundry there, using the false pretense of her "cover story" of a "mix up". Clear text, she only wishes, she could do her laundry there. What she finds and evidently wants to see (because this is Linda's dream), is what type of woman that she is up against. Linda visually imagines the tennis pros wife as a smoker, who has dark rings under her eyes, is unshowered, "looks angry, frustrated, stressed, hungover." How attractive is that. 

Linda wakes up feeling "very anxious". Why? Simple stated, she is feeling uncertainty about her conflicting cognitions of her "self image", and her pretense being found out as false and "fake", and the truth being revealed. In terms of "self comparison theory", Linda apparently is attempting to make herself "look good" and superior, and make the wife "look bad" and inferior, for whatever her ulterior motives are. It seems that tennis is not the only game being played, instead the game of "looks" appears also to be in play.



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