One summer in middle school, I chanced upon a Reader's Digest condensed books volume that contained a treatment of Ira Levin's The Stepford Wives. All you highbrow readers may not know this, but the RD condensed-books treatment not only slices-and-dices chunks of text, it adds in art, just in case you like your chapter books with pictures.
For the Stepford Wives, someone had done a little photography and created before-and-after human-to-mannequin heads for all the women who were killed and replaced with robots. It was nicely creepy, and obviously made an impression on me, because in the past week, I've seen two real-life photography efforts that seem to mirror the desire to replace warm humanity with commoditized perfection.
The first was covered last week in Salon's chick blog with the post "Airbrushing the Baby." I swung by Pageant Photo Retouching to see exactly what all the fuss was about, and got my answer on this page. I prefer the natural look but clearly, there is a market for people who want photos of their children to resemble those ads for dolls that run in the USA Weekend supplement.
Then this morning, I was looking at Valerie Belin's untitled 2003 series, in which she photographed living models to resemble mannequins. Again -- a little frisson of unease when I checked out the pictures. I suspect that Belin's making a statement about the artificiality of "beauty" and how commoditized our definitions are, how ultimately dehumanizing.
But what ultimately strikes me about both is how very female the photo subjects in both sets of prints are. We don't see little boys being retouched to look less human; we don't see male mannequins. In the case of the latter, I would hazard a guess that it's because most people don't regard men as sales accessories to the same degree that women are. It seems that ultimately, to be female in the Western world is to learn how to deal with the fact that your natural appearance is not publicly/industrially permissible in a way that men's natural appearances are. It will be up to you to decide how to deal with that.