Elena Rossini spoke to The Cut today about her upcoming documentary and I’m tempted to start a global slow-clap for this new filmmaker. Rossini has just completed The Illusionist, a documentary that dissects the way in which global cosmetic advertising has created an impossibly high beauty standard. And, tell you what, it’s exactly the kind of documentary that we need right now.
It’s not a secret that most of the images that we see in magazines, on billboards, and in commercials have been photoshopped, airbrushed, and generally perfected to appear attractive to the consumer. Advertisers want people to find their images beautiful and enticing: if they make the claim that the idealized image of beauty is only achievable by using the products that they are selling, people will have a reason to buy their products. Unfortunately, this ideal is often young, Caucasian, and thin — what happens to the people who naturally don’t live up to those standards?
Rossini argues that people affected by this standard aren’t just women addicted to fashion magazines — the issue goes far deeper than that, and there’s no escaping the “illusion” of beauty that permeates our society. As described by the documentarian herself:
Even if you don’t own a TV, just going out and walking around you see billboards that are airbrushed so much, and magazines — most public spaces are so saturated that even if you do have an awareness that there is an illusion going on there, not seeing alternative representations of beauty of bodies still has a very insidious effect… It’s almost like pollution — like visual pollution.
When only certain types of people are perceived as beautiful and attractive, it puts the rest of us in a world in a situation that doesn’t recognize their beauty. If the world doesn’t show examples of your type of beauty, it’s awfully hard to see it in yourself. I don’t have to tell Gloss readers that negative body image is a major concern in our society, and that it can lead to serious issues like eating disorders, self-harm, and other health issues. If advertisers are constantly telling us to look a certain way (and that we can achieve the look we desire by purchasing their products) then we need films like Rossini’s that teach us to challenge their notions and criticize the images that we see carefully.
You can watch the opening of The Illusionists below.