ZDF documentary "Insanely Beautiful": A little Botox

A new documentary about the beauty craze shows that the filter trend doesn't end on social media. She misses going beyond the known.

A woman with botox lips and lifted skin takes a mirror selfie.

The film wants to hold up a mirror to the obsession with beauty, but only delivers well-known platitudes Photo: VPRO 2021

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all? The ZDF documentary “Insanely Beautiful – The Cult About Appearance” by Bregtje van der Haak begins with the question, which is no longer only known from fairy tales. The unimaginative start runs through the documentary produced in the Netherlands, which in many places fails to go beyond what is known.

"You know you're a beautiful woman?" plastic surgeon Tom Decats asks his patient before he squirts away the "crow's feet," the small wrinkles around the eyes. He used to warn against the interventions. Today he only tries to give the best possible advice. Advising against the procedures would only result in them being done elsewhere under worse conditions. Because the beauty hype has reached a new peak.

ZDF Mediathek and Fri., 16.9., 8.15 p.m., on ZDFinfo

The two magic words are: Botox and filler. Botox for tightening. Filler for padding. Right at the beginning, an inventory is successful. It shows how widespread the use of filters is on social networks like Instagram. And that the filter trend no longer ends after the images have been uploaded. More and more people want to look like the edited photos.

But even the best surgeons cannot transfer filters into the real world. And to the chagrin of many, as is shown in just under 40 minutes. Because the emotional dependency – wanting to see your own self filtered – has also become a financial one: influencers who lose followers and stars who can only use their curves in the right places in music videos.

Documentation often only touches on important aspects

"Insanely beautiful" promises insights into the World of beauty madness in times of social networks. While she lives up to that promise, she often only touches on important aspects such as the dangers and consequences of the constant pursuit of beauty. And stays too long in places where other documentaries have done before her: with influencers, models and the fashion industry.

There is no question that they are the ones who play a crucial role in society's understanding of beauty. Still, the findings remain predictable: the norm in the modeling world is slim. The model world is not diverse enough. What is missing: a stronger focus on the fact that the problem does not only take place on the catwalks and in the operating rooms, but also in everyday life.

Discrimination based on appearance is also mentioned only vaguely. It has a name: lookism. In an up-to-date documentation on the subject of appearance, this should be stated more clearly. Expert and sociologist Sylvia Holla not only fails to name lookism, but also to look at the devaluation due to appearance intersectionally. Because it occurs together with other forms of discrimination.

sexism and racism are just a few examples. Holla ignores these aspects. And notes instead that the new ideal of beauty slim and curvy "for the white woman" is more difficult to achieve. Talking about ideals of beauty without naming whiteness as a European ideal of beauty raises many questions and is only picked up again by a black activist. Although this points to discrimination against people of color, it is unfortunately largely limited to fashion magazines, which need to become more diverse.

The documentary also suggests, in the form of sociologist Holla, that the ideal of beauty “slim and thin” used to be easier to achieve. Namely, by simply refraining from eating. It's harder today because of the curves. It is fatal to ignore the level of suffering and clinical pictures that arise as a result of “simply eating less”. The documentation wants to hold up a mirror to the obsession with beauty, but turns out to be a collection of sometimes questionable platitudes. It misses the opportunity to deliver real added value.

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