Saturday, March 15, 2014

Where Did All the Ugly People Go?

Living in an Ever-More Demanding World

God bless the Middle Ages. True, the life expectancy of a peasant was 35 years, but at least they did not wake up every morning remembering how ugly they were.

Think of it: one's entire span of humanity might just be the 100 people in your village. Mirrors were rare, and who wants to stare into a bucket of water to see your own face? You just didn't worry about it. Being hungry or getting eaten by a wolf --- the Black Death of the 1350s was a great thing for the population of wolves in Europe --- yes, these were the things one worried about. I really don't think a single peasant for the past few thousand years woke up asking, "Does this hay rake make me look fat?"

This was on my mind today because I go in the mail my members' magazine from the Norton Simon Museum of Art. They're having a portrait show open soon. That's fine, but look at the cover image:

Whoever this young man is, he's somebody the camera has fallen in love with. It's a tribute to the portrait maker's skill here, and the lighting and so on are textbook perfect. It's a very striking image, no doubt about it. But even the Norton Simon must feel that the need to boost their visual presence, since surely, there must have been other shots to use. They did not have to go for the prettiest boy on the block. Who can compete with him? He's perfect. Not so long ago, he would have looked more like these four guys.

Yet now, these days, beauty is normal for us. We see it everywhere. Magazines like Men's Fitness or Cosmo have one message they tell us over and over: however you are now, what it is that you do, you're not okay. Your face is not okay, your tummy is not okay, your cologne is not okay, your bedroom technique is not okay. Buy this product, read this article --- however you are, you must change and try to become closer to perfection.

This flirty tableaux from Vogue Italia is typical of many ads which show us people ten times more beautiful than we ever will be.

Did I miss something? When did People magazine secretly re-brand itself as Beautiful People magazine?

What a voracious beast beauty can be. Whatever happened to all the ugly people? They have been banished from public display. Even if we buy ever kind of shampoo in the world, wear only the finest couture, still, even so, every day the clock ticks and we grow older, older. We will never be young enough, rich enough, thin enough --- or so the magazine covers promise us. Helen of Troy was the most beautiful woman of her era (if Homer is to be believed) and look what came of that: the Trojan War and the death of thousands.

Wouldn't it be nice to banish all the mirrors in the world? True, we might have trouble combing our hair, but that's what hats are for.

This has come up for me as a problem because in Language Arts, we are trying to build up our website inside the larger campus home page. One of the things we want is a directory with room numbers, phone extensions, academic bios. Each staff member gets a picture and an entry.

We have decided not to make any visual distinction between tenured instructors and the adjuncts who may do identical work but usually for less money.  Instead, we are all here in alphabetical order inside of disciplines (Foreign Language, Speech Communications, Reading, and so on). There will be 98 entries when I am done ---- name, photo, email address, and so on.

The photos have been fun to take and most people cooperate readily. Yet I have had some resistance, too; for some of us, photography causes tension, even outright panic. To have your picture taken is to admit to yourself that your beard has some gray in it finally, or that you are indeed the weight you think you are. Few of the 98 folks I have shot have been happy with themselves straight out of the gate. Many of us feel that need to apologize or in some way "change'" in order to be presentable.

Gosh, what a sad thing that is.

In actual fact, we have a tremendous diversity as a staff, and with that, a great range of beauty, charm, brainiac super power, grace, and life. True, the Norton Simon museum may not use us on the cover of the members' magazine, but I have yet to see anybody who isn't really fabulous in one way or another.

Here are some recent shots of Language Arts adjuncts taken for this directory project:

Dr. Robinson, Journalism --- she is in charge of helping to relaunch our student paper, the AVC Examiner. Her dissertation focused on Community College Leadership and Policy Studies. Rumor has it that she is going to be nominated for Adjunct of the Year.

Mr. Horner, English. He has published a book titled Creative Ideas for Teaching Youth the Bible. He has two Masters degrees and a Divinity degree.

Ms. Perez, English. She was kind enough to race like heck from her day job at Eastside High School, home of the Lions, to make it to AVC for our afternoon photo session. She was also able to fill me in on what our colleagues at College of the Canyons have been doing.

Ms. Willers, English. She was previously an adjunct but this year is on contract as full-time. At fashion shoots, the production team brings a wind machine to keep the model's hair blowing in the breeze. Here in the Antelope Valley, we don't need a wind machine, we just have to step outside and we can get the same effect.

While I do not yet have all the 98 photos of staff members that I will need, I do know we won't need any PhotoShop magic or airbrushed perfection.

Unlike what the newsstand magazines tell us, each of us is already exactly fine as is.


The AVC Blog is curated by Charles Hood, Language Arts, and he can be reached at This blog does not represent the views of the Board of Trustees or the District as a whole. To leave comments, you need to be logged into some kind of blogspot or gmail account, or so it seems. Sorry about that: it's just how the system is set up. Hood also can forward comments if you email him directly.