Friday, November 03, 2006

Positive Feedback Loop

I attended a fitness model contest to support a friend who was entered. I always thought they should be renamed BDD Expos. I am generally quite skeptical of such competitions and have always considered them another example of North American excess. There is of course nothing wrong with pursuing a physically active lifestyle and watching what you eat to maintain good health. I simply wonder if even healthy activities become unhealthy when brought to extremes.

The world of the fitness model competition could be considered a positive feedback loop ecosystem. I find this subculture to be very similar to those of the cat fancier and the hot rod enthusiast. Over time a common set of aesthetic priorities are established within the group that push the creations further and further into various design directions. To win the favour of their peers and the contest judges the participant must continually push the envelope to create something that becomes increasingly removed from the aesthetic understanding of the outside world.

The cats become increasingly weirder to the point of being considered "ugly" and grotesque by the average person while their "beauty" is appreciated greatly by the initiates. Likewise, the "pimped-up" car can be startlingly bizarre and outrageous to my mother but "totally awesome" to the teenager next door. Any closed group of initiates seem to bring about this process of aesthetic evolution. We see it also within music fan cultures, whether it's speedmetal, jazz, or experimental electronic music. Within any internally competitive aesthetic group the innovation required to stay ahead is positively encouraged by the success of such innovation and this leads to further alienation of the outside observer.

So I found myself within a crowd of cheering observers and competitors positively feeding the girls on stage. It was eerily puzzling to realize that despite having in front of me a stage full of nearly nude fit young women it was hard to find any of them appealing. The natural response to physical beauty must have something to do with our intuitive assessment of health and the outside observer correctly assesses that something is amiss here. I believe we sense that this extreme stage of physical development is simply not healthy and as a result do not find it attractive. The initiate and the judges however gauge their opinions not on so-called natural physical responses but from abstract theoretical guidelines. So my friend did quite well in the competition and although none of us told her, almost everyone who knows her considers her to be a naturally beautiful girl who chooses to make herself unattractive in order to compete.

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