The Art of Perception // Alyssa Gutrich

They say that one thing can look like something entirely different if you only look at it a little bit differently… The Canadian flag looks like two men yelling at each other, or it looks like a simple flag with a maple leaf.


Last year, when Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were the talk of social media day-in and day-out, Angelina Jolie was the object of criticism for her large facial features and strange beauty. Around that same time, a photograph of Angelina began circulating the web.

The photograph shows an upside down image of Jolie, which looks normal at first glance for her “red carpet” look; however upon second glance, you are able to see that despite your first appraisal, the image has actually been digitally photo-shopped to flip her mouth and eyes upside-down. This image is only one of several examples that have reinforced the need for a second glance when we look at anything, because of the ease in which our eyes can deceive us.

Crazy as it may seem, photographs are not the only place in which our stubbornness to believe first impressions is revealed… Shocking, I know. Imagine walking into your favorite department store; picture what you see- the walls that are covered with what seems like an entire color spectrum of beautiful material, racks upon rack of shoes that make you want to cry with pure desire, and the marble floors that give it a kind of subtle elegance.

Porto Cervo
Porto Cervo- Miu Miu Addict

Now look at it from a different angle…

That same department store that we venture into every month or so, perhaps more often, is actually not that impressive but it changes our perception based on how it presents itself. Department stores may be intended to empty our wallets, but they are also a perfect representation of how subtle changes can entirely alter our perception or view of something seemingly ordinary.

The clothing of the walls disguises the warehouse walls, and the marble floors reflect the light from above and make you feel like you are on a catwalk: full of confidence and beauty. Though it may not seem like all that much thought goes into the organization of the store and its layout or design when we first walk in, all it takes is a moment of simple thought to realize that our lives are surrounded by things that are aesthetically pleasing covers, and have created in us an intense drive and desire to be aesthetically pleasing- or dare I say “beautiful,” ourselves.

Whether we realize it or not, our lives are comprised almost entirely of comparatives- and our appearance plays a huge part in that.  The media and our surrounding environment subliminally exude an emphasis and importance on aesthetics when it comes to the way we look and how we go about obtaining (or maintaining) our appearance. However, it is through our abundance of faith in a world full of corruption where these messages have the power to deceive us; we often become incapable of perceiving the world and our lives for what they have to offer.

In my first quarter at Santa Clara University, I was suddenly shell-shocked to see so many different people in one particular corner of the universe. Even more so, I was surprised to see that an overlying similarity exists: the beauty culture that takes over our societal structures is not region-specific because it was clear to me that all of my peers felt the repercussions of its constant influence.

Hannah Sanders @hannahsawildparty
Hannah Sanders

Growing up, it is hard to imagine being affected by beauty pageants; if you don’t participate in them- seems simple right? But coming to Santa Clara, I had the growing concern that our insecurities must stem from something greater than purely social comparison to our peers, but to something fundamentally flawed in our society. For this reason, I chose to research something from our nation’s history in which could have had a nationally epic effect. We mistakenly think that American society is comprised of baseball and homemade apple pie; however these recollections are minor in our modern culture of beauty, food, and health. We often overlook a key aspect of our culture that was brought to light with the debut of the Miss America pageant, which demonstrates the aesthetic and physical ideal of the American Dream (“Supporters”).

Over the years, the Miss America pageant has come to stand for the scholarships distributed and the gorgeous women who compete; they defend themselves by claiming that they help to promote a healthy image for beauty and a role model for the emerging generation (“Supporters”).

Andrea Reiher
Andrea Reiher

However, even a brief survey of my peers demonstrated the negative effects of the beauty culture on my generation. Though we may not be a “Toddler in a Tiara,” that is not to say that we are not affected by the messages portrayed through the pageants themselves: we have been taught that in order to be beautiful, we must be thin, flawless, and virtually perfect in every way- and we allow that ideal to live on because we perpetuate it with our concession (Wilson). We may not like the way that our society views us, but we have allowed our perception of ourselves to be drastically influenced by those impossible standards.

In the past two years, high school and college students throughout the United States have become enamored by the idea and complexity of the lives that are portrayed in the ABC Family Show, Pretty Little Liars. As a freshman in my second quarter at Santa Clara University, I chose to do a comparative analysis of the similarities between our societal structures and the teen TV drama, where I discussed our constant drive towards pleasure (“Human Brain”).


Aside from critiques about the unlikelihood of a teen murder-turned TV Drama, our society functions like a modern-day soap opera, and Pretty Little Liars is simply somewhere we can direct critique when in reality we could be making the same censures about the state of our own lives and our constant yearning for power and the dramatic (Bellafante). The escape into the pseudo-reality of television shows allows us to momentarily see the world a little differently, or in other words allow us to perceive things through a dramatic and extraordinary lens (Stasi).

We tend to live by the cliché that “the grass is greener on the other side,” and think that somehow by changing something, we will become more extraordinary than our current state of self. As humans, it seems like we are biologically inclined to want to maximize aspects of our lives; and as a Type A personality, I am often judged for my organization and tendency to strive for perfection. I have to consciously remind myself to be thankful for the blessing in my life, rather than wonder “what if…” What if I were thinner? What if I were blonde? What if I didn’t feel this anxiety about the way that I look?

What if?

I know that I am not alone in this thought process, because no matter what your personality type, it’s difficult to discern reality from fiction when we are immersed in a culture where appearances are so vitally important.

As a part of my Critical Thinking and Writing class at Santa Clara University last quarter, I was asked to reflect on something that angers me; instead of writing about a daily hassle like traffic, I chose to write about when people have a lack of perspective in their lives. When it comes down to it, a number or one bad day does not define our lives, so we should not react to spilt milk as if the world is coming to an end. For that matter, asking “what if” only leaves us in a constant state of doubt, selfishness, and dissatisfaction. There are times in our lives where we become so engrossed in superficial and egocentric concerns that we lack the ability to see the beauty and light instead of viewing the glass as half-empty. In perspective of the bigger picture, our lack of perspective has been known to cloud our judgment and render us incapable of understanding the optimistic perspective of our outward surroundings.

Works Cited:

Bellafante, Ginia. “A Teenage Wasteland With an All-Seeing Eye.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 07 June             2010. Web. 6 Mar. 2014.

“Figure-ground (perception).” Wikipedia. Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia, n.d. Web.

“Human Brain Appears “Hard-Wired” for Hierarchy, April 23, 2008 News Release – National Institutes of Health (NIH).”        U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 23 Apr. 2008. Web. 06 Mar. 2014.

“Leaky Squid.” Leaky Squid, n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2014.

“Miu Miu Addict – Miu Miu Addict.” Miu Miu Addict – Miu Miu Addict. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2014.

“Pretty Little Liars.” Web log post. WordPress. FlavorWire, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2014.

Reiher, Andrea. “TV Ratings: Miss America Pageant Up; ‘Sunday Night Football’ Leads the Night.” TV Ratings: Miss            America Pageant Up; ‘Sunday Night Football’ Leads the Night. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2014.

Sanders, Hannah. “Hannah Sanders @hannahsawildparty Instagram Photos | Webstagram.” Webstagram. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2014.

Stasi, Linda. “Not Just Another ‘Pretty’ Face.” New York Post Not Just Another Pretty Face Comments. The New York              Post, 08 June 2010. Web. 06 Mar. 2014.

“Supporters – Child Beauty Pageants.” Child Beauty Pageants. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2014.

Wilson N, Blackhurst A. Food Advertising and Eating Disorders: Marketing Body Dissatisfaction, the Drive for Thinness,          and Dieting in Women’s Magazines. Journal Of Humanistic Counseling, Education & Development [serial Online].              December 1999;38(2):111-122. Available From: OmniFile Full Text Mega (H.W. Wilson), Ipswich, MA. Accessed                      February 4, 2014.


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