Ženy Pro Měny (International title "The Beauty Exchange") is a provocative Czech documentary film about the effects that the beauty industry has on women in Prague. I highly recommend it to anyone, man or woman. Though none of the ideas are new to most thinking people, it is important to observe the very real human impact that the beauty and fashion industry has on the lives of a few women, representative of all ages.
At its core, the film seems to be more about Consumerism than Feminism. When women, influenced by commercial TV and magazines such as Cosmopolitan or Vogue, spend all Saturday morning in a beauty ritual (lotions, nail polish, teeth whitening, hair), then all Saturday afternoon shopping for new clothes which are barely distinguishable from the clothes already lining their closets, what we are witnessing is pure and simple Consumerism. When these same woman, influenced by much more of the same, purchase diet products, become anorexic, or have breast augmentation surgery, what we are seeing are the absolute sickest extremes of Consumerism.
While such a woman is pursuing some vague notion of beauty, the irony is that she will only appear beautiful to a partner who is every bit as infected with the Consumerist / Materialist mindset as she is. Maybe he's driving an Audi Convertible, wearing clothes from the same mall she shops at, spending his days plotting how he can buy a home theater system he cannot afford, and flexing his muscles in the mirror while listening to Jay-Z.
And together, when these two humans-turned-product-of-commercial-culture meet, their conversations will be every bit as interesting as some endless reality TV-Show...occasionally interrupted, just as on such a show, by distracting advertisements. This happy couple will get married (spending far too much on the wedding), buy a house in the suburbs and two new cars (well before they can afford it), and begin a lifetime of resentment caused by small-minded, petty arguments about money and who can buy what, when.
Still, we are meant to believe that commercial media is harmless. To argue that advertising is harmless is to argue that it is ineffective. We know advertising works (sells people products they otherwise wouldn't buy) because corporations continue spending an enormous amount of money on them.
Advertising is only harmless to the individual who isn't exposed to it. We're not going to stop advertisers, but we can stop exposing ourselves to advertisements. I don't smoke, because I understand the physical harm done by the chemicals and components in cigarettes. Similarly, I don't watch any commercial media because I understand the psychological and health risks cause by the consumption of junk-information. Whether we are Liberal, Feminist, Progressive, Green, Conservative, Pro-family Values, Christian, Muslim...in fact if we stand for any cause at all, there is one thing we should be able to unite on. The first thing we need to do is rid ourselves of advertising.
It isn't as hard as one might expect. Avoiding advertisements is as simple as avoiding commercial media. It is entirely possible to simply not watch any TV channel, listen to any radio station, or read any newspaper or magazine which contains advertising (yes, I'm even talking about the New York Times...it's rubbish). What you are left with is a huge variety of independent or not-for-profit sources of content -- blogs, web communities, films, MP3's, podcasts...plenty of content which one finds is much more worthwhile. I've lived this way for about 3 years now, and what I found after tuning out the commercial media is that nothing is actually lost, only gained. Only by removing the corporate advertiser's mind-control censorship of our information can we begin to explore authentic ideas and authentic thought.
To expose yourself to commercial content is to turn yourself into a product rather than a human. To watch a commercial TV show is to become an audience. You, as the audience, are the product of the TV station, who sells you to advertisers. You are just one more individual who is allowing yourself to be tricked so that someone else can make a few pennies on you...profoundly disrespecting your humanity and selling bits and pieces of it to the highest bidder for no good reason at all.
Ženy Pro Měny is a brave documentary film created by some intelligent young women in Prague. It is meant as a message from women to women. But, to me, it is also a plea to turn against commercialism and, more specifically, advertising.
By the way, an even more compelling documentary, in fact the de facto standard when it comes to understanding media propaganda, is Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky. Watch these two films and your life will never be drastically improved.