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The Beauty Paradox: how we learned to love everyone but ourselves

The past ten years have seen massive advances in beauty and diversity. When Dove launched the Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004, it sent shockwaves through a media landscape where putting non-models on billboards was practically unheard of. Dove’s Real Women became the icons of a new awareness of the power of healthy role models.

But, as recent research conducted by Dove and Canvas8 revealed, in 2014 a beauty paradox is at play: despite increasing tolerance, women are still their own worst critics. In fact they’ve become even worse critics. Our survey results show women believe society to be more accepting of different shapes, ages, disabilities and ethnicities today than ten years ago. And yet more than a quarter describe themselves as unsatisfied with their appearance, up from 21% in 2004.

So why is this happening and how will it evolve? We identified four behavioural trends that drove the evolution of beauty from 2004 to 2014 and left us living with The Beauty Paradox.

From Be This Way to Born This Way
With the internet expanding the canvas for self-expression, beauty shifted its focus from establishing rules to expressing individuality. Beauty icons who sit outside of conventional ideals sprang up throughout the decade, from Beth Ditto to androgynous model Andrej Pejic.

Pick and Mix Creativity
Technology put creative tools in the hands of everyday women and gave them access to an eclectic range of influences. Scrapbooking sites and photo-sharing apps have made eclecticism and experimentation second nature, and seen mainstream beauty shift from conformist to creative.

Beyond Skin Deep
Beauty in 2004 was focussed on a glitzy, paparazzi-driven idea of surface glamour. Economic uncertainty and social media encouraged a reassessment of values; a multi-dimensional ideal of beauty emerged. Beauty icons like Cara Delevingne are celebrated as much for their character as their model looks.

Life On Display
In 2014, we are more visible than ever. 65% of the UK public own smartphones, and 31 million are Facebook users. Where once we consumed media, now we are media.

What will beauty look like in 2024?
Due to advances in technology over the past decade, our media landscape has been reorganised – and enabled a reassessment of what we celebrate as beautiful; one that’s still evolving. And yet, at the same time, smartphones and social-media have undeniably intensified our relationship with our own appearance.

If enlightened beauty ideals are opening our minds to a more expansive idea of beauty, it seems they still have a way to go if they are to combat the inevitable self-consciousness and criticism that comes with life lived constantly on display.

Find out how these trends will evolve over the next ten years in the full report at Canvas8.com


Why less is more when we chat online

In a world of hyper-busyness, stripped back interaction has become the norm – from the cultural phenomenon of emojis to the preference for texting over calling.  And through the launch of smartphone app Yo, yet another layer has been added to these minimal forms of communication. This is a social platform where users can say just one word: “Yo.” Yet with one million downloads so far, is it as stupid as critics suggest?

When people message each other, they tend to text fewer people often. “Part of the reason the volume of text messaging is so high is because a lot of exchange is just, ‘This is what I’m doing, this is what I’m feeling’,” explains cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito. “This is transmitting the message: ‘I’m here with you, I’m connected to you’.”

It’s this desire to connect on even the smallest level that is drawing people to Yo – the same thing that drives the success of emojis. They enable people to establish a “virtual co-presence,” explains Huffington Post tech editor Bianca Bosker. “Using emojis, in a sense, is like a hangout online.” There’s now even an emoji-only social network. “At the zero level, below text, there is still significant communication possible,” adds Jaan Tallinn, co-founder of Skype. And a growing number of messaging apps and services are working at this zero level.

Anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski describes this type of interaction as ‘phatic expression’. It’s communication that performs a social task rather than transmitting information. Perhaps this is the kind of interaction apps like Yo provide – a simple reminder that someone is thinking of them.

Read more like this at Canvas8.com

Why Beats is winning the World Cup

When Sony gifted all 736 World Cup players with headphones, it was with the idea of more than three billion people watching across the world. Instead, players wore the Beats overheads they already own, leading FIFA to ban Beats from the stadium altogether. Which is unfortunate for Sony, since it reportedly spends as much as $50 million on the FIFA partnership each year.

It’s becoming an irksome issue for official sponsors. Rumours circulated that competitors in the Sochi Olympics were asked to hide Apple logos to respect Samsung’s partnership, while beady-eyed internet users pointed out that during Alicia Keys’ reign as a Blackberry spokeswoman, she was tweeting from her iPhone.

In the digital age, the way to grab the attention of those six billion-odd eyeballs is less about how much you spend, and more about how you spend it. “When fans see World Cup athletes wearing Beats in their downtime, it has as much impact as seeing them lace their Adidas [boots] or sip a sponsored beverage,” says strategist Ellen Petry Leanse. “Maybe more, actually.” When Neymar stepped off the bus wearing Beats in the Brazil colours, or Suarez hung out with teammates with a pair hung round his neck, the association with the World Cup was far stronger than it ever would’ve been had they been paid to wear them.

And FIFA’s attempts to stamp down Beats’ air time only makes the brand seem cooler. “Coolness is a subjective, positive trait perceived in people, brands, products, and trends that are autonomous in an appropriate way,” explains a paper by Caleb Warren and Margaret C. Campbell. In other words, ‘cool’ is about violating rules the people deem unnecessary - like being told which headphones you’re supposed to wear, for example.

Read more like this at Canvas8.com

Instacartel: life online as a Mexican gang member

The internet is celebrated for empowering the individual, albeit spurring a culture of oversharing in the process. Yet while in the West this equates to documenting dinner on Instagram or one too many tweets about Game of Thrones, in Mexico, young cartel members are harnessing social media to intimidate targets and post selfies with AK-47s.

Last week, Mexican Kim Kardashian lookalike and suspected cartel queen Claudia Ochoa Felix was outed in the media for affiliations with the infamous Sinaloa cartel. From reclining amongst a gang of masked gunmen with a red-lipped pout, to posing cross-legged in a skin-tight mini dress balancing an M16 across her knees, her Instagram account – from which her photos have now been deleted – was unapologetically incriminating.

But while she – and many of the young people involved in cartels – seem to be using social media to document the highlights of their lives, there are more sinister uses for it, too. From sending messages to rival cartels (like the Facebook beheading video posted to scare the Gulf Cartel in late 2013) to keeping locals in line, social media has become so integrated into daily life that many see it as no less subtle than carrying out criminal acts in the flesh. Look no further than the ‘weed4sale’ and ‘purpledrank’ hashtags American drug dealers use on Instagram, or the fact that the Yakuza’s most notorious family has launched a PR campaign complete with a recruitment website.

But the social media presence of Mexican cartels is the product of a unique set of factors, not least of which is the rapid adoption of online – there are now 35 million Mexicans using the internet regularly. “You’ve seen an increase in this kind of thing as Mexico has become more wired,” explains Shannon O’Neil, senior fellow in Latin American studies for the Council on Foreign Relations. “The members of the drug cartels are younger. It’s a demographic very comfortable being online.” And with a notoriously lax law enforcement (police officers are paid just $9,000 annually), subtlety isn’t seen as a requirement for lawbreakers – online or offline. As O’Neil aptly notes, “if they can drive around Ciudad Juarez with an AK-47 hanging on their door, why should they worry about posting on Twitter?”

Read more like this at Canvas8.com

The ‘spornosexual’: is this metrosexuality on steroids?

When David Beckham wore that sari and sported those haircuts, he became the poster boy for metrosexuality – setting it in stone that a man who moisturised was the new normal. Now, the aesthetic has evolved into a hypersexed version of itself which is less about good skin or the perfect outfit, and more about self-objectification.

From UK telly favourite Geordie Shore to Joseph Gordon Levitt’s cinematic deconstruction of pornography in Don Jon, these bicep-kissing, v-neck-wearing, fake tan-toting balls of testosterone have become demonstrative examples of the modern man. Mark Simpson – the man who coined the term ‘metrosexual’ 20 years ago to refer to a well-groomed man inclined to spend time and money on his appearance – calls this new incarnation of sex-obsessed, self-obsessed macho man the ‘spornosexual’.

By the end of 2013, the men’s skincare market was worth more than £58 million. Not only were almost half of men regularly moisturising, but record numbers were using cleanser, facial wipes and eye gels, too. Meanwhile, traditional masculinity is ladled on thick and heavy via social media feeds flooded with ‘gym selfies’ and the ever prevalent – and increasingly popular – heavily tattooed aesthetic. As Simpson aptly notes, this new generation is what it would look like if “sport got into bed with porn while Mr Armani took pictures.”

Read more like this at Canvas8.com

Are robots getting smarter or are humans dumbing down?

With the news that a chatbot named Eugene Goostman has been able to convince a number of people that it’s a real person, researchers are calling this achievement ”one of the most exciting moments in the field of artificial intelligence.” In reality it’s not that big of a deal, but it does tell us something about those judging Eugene.

Some have suggested Eugene’s success could be put down to British politeness. Apparently, the judges, who were all based in London, were told that Eugene was a 13-year-old boy from Ukraine, and that English was his second language. Considering the test was only five minutes long, it’s hardly unsurprising that only a few were so bold as to call the boy a robot.

A more robust explanation – perhaps they just weren’t paying attention. Eugene is not a piece of super-smart technology. In reality, it’s just a piece of software cleverly designed to fool humans – ”making use of psychological smoke and mirrors”  – just long enough to pass the test, according to software engineer David Auerbach. Rather than displaying intelligence, the software launches a series of “ploys” that skirt over its limitations, almost like a magician performing a sleight of hand. It’s simple misdirection – and all that it reveals, says Gary Marcus, a professor of cognitive science at NYU, is “the ease with which we can fool others.”

So why were those judges so easily fooled? While they may have wanted to be done with the blasted Turing test, which has haunted AI researchers for six decades, the likelihood really is that they just weren’t paying close attention. As Nicholas Carr in The Shallows explains, the human capacity to focus has been replaced by a culture of scanning and skimming in a constant state of distractedness, rather than mindfulness, where our communication is terse, short and functional. In a world where text messages are the dominant means of human-to-human interaction, it’s unsurprising that we can be easily be tricked into thinking a robot is a person.

Read more content like this at Canvas8.com

Why did Beyoncé and Jay-Z spend millions on a fake film trailer?

At first glance, the newly released promo for Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s ON THE RUN tour looks like the trailer for an action movie. A high octane romp through Bey and Jay’s gun-toting, cigar-smoking, bra-revealing exploits as outlaws. A-list names pile up on screen as a litany of the musicians’ famous friends make cameos. Don Cheadle looks bemused. Sean Penn scowls. Emmy Rossum takes aim. As the credits roll, RUN the movie is declared to be ‘Coming Never’. But the ON THE RUN tour is coming – to 18 dates in the US and Canada this summer. And even without the hype from the trailer, tickets sold out in minutes.

So why all the effort? Beyoncé, arguably more than most, is wise to the power of treating her fans to premium content. The surprise release of her visual album last year, complete with 17 brand new music videos, ensured maximum attention and broke sales records, even without a run-up campaign.

Video content is more powerful than ever. And while the unestablished are desperately looking to create viral, attention-grabbing clips to propel their face around the web, names as big as Beyoncé and Jay-Z are expanding their roster of original content as a way of maintaining control over their brand in a media landscape where attention is easily fragmented. As Frank Schirrmacher put it in The Age of Informavores, “we have not enough attention for all this information. Darwinian selection starts, and attacks ideas themselves: what to remember, what not to remember, which idea is stronger, which idea is weaker.”

And when – as the recent leaked CCTV footage of Jay-Z being attacked by Beyoncé’s sister made clear – you are just as likely to end up all over the internet for the wrong reasons as the right ones, it makes getting in first with the most attention grabbing (and on-brand) content you can muster more important than ever – whether that’s the video for a new single, or just the promotion for a tour.


Read more content like this at Canvas8.com


Does being vegan mean you’re a slut?

Whether you’re gorging in KFC or speaking at length about the latest paleo diet, the people around you are likely to make certain assumptions based on your diet. “People are driven by their symbolic needs,” explains Charlotte Biltekoff, author of Eating Right in America. “Food choices aren’t really about nutrients. They’re about the meanings attached to those things.” What people choose to eat often speaks volumes about who they are, and apparently if you’re a vegan, it means you’re sexually available.

Of course, this is an exaggeration, but the increasingly sexualised image of veganism is more prominent than ever, causing concerns over whether veganism in itself is being devalued. From the cover of vegan cookbook Skinny Bitch – emblazoned with an image of its blonde-haired author in a low-cut tee – to Become a Sexy Vegan Beast and Skinny Bitch in Love, the themes of sex and thinness are more distant than ever from the core beliefs which underpin traditional veganism. And it’s seeping into other industries, too, with the once spiritual act of yoga driving a multi-million dollar market for sexy sportswear.

And in order to reach a male audience, the term 'heganism' has also emerged: what vegan blogger Corey Wrenn aptly describes as “protecting masculinity by otherising that which is feminine.” While cook books and recipes cater to this market, the problematic nature of gendered veganism – thinness and sexuality for women, health and well-being for men – highlights the everyday sexism (and unnecessary sexualisation) that brands like Elle and Channel 4 increasingly attempt to combat.

From Twitter to WhatsApp: how social is too social?

"Look up from your phone, shut down the display. Take in your surroundings, make the most of today.” While this may sound like a Dr Seuss rhyme, it’s actually a call to action by British filmmaker Gary Turk. In an emotionally charged video, Turk urges people to unplug from their smartphones, turn off social media, and have a real conversation with the person in front of them.

The five-minute video raises questions about how much of our lives we spend online, and the impact it’s taking on the real world. “I looked around and realised that this media we call social is anything but,” he continues. “When we open our computers it’s our doors we shut.” And with almost 20 million views in just over a week, the video has been well-received, tweeted by everyone from tennis player Andy Murray to American Idol winner Jordin Sparks.

An obsession with the latest gadgets and apps keeps us preoccupied at all hours of the day, whether walking down the street or riding the bus. In turn, a growing number of people are growing concerned at the strength of this digital tide. More than a third of British adults admit that they’re “highly addicted” to their smartphones, while research shows that heavy smartphone usage is ruining many people’s personal relationships.

This disillusionment with technology has led many to seek a solution. While Los Angeles chef Mark Gold offers diners a 5% discount in his restaurant if they dump their digital devices at the door, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema will throw anyone out who dares use their phone while the film is playing. In the US people are even paying for expensive retreats to escape technology. The aptly named Digital Detox invites people to eat vegan food, practice yoga and keep a journal about being offline.

And while it’s been critiqued as “a cheesy poem [presenting] an overdramatised strawman argument”, Gary Turk’s video does provoke debate over the benefits of living in an age of hyperconnectivity. While it might be a little sentimental, his depiction of an over-connected online generation is resonating with these “robots” across the world.

Read more content like this at Canvas8.com

How KFC is appealing to our grossest appetites

Bacon, two types of cheese and a slick of the Colonel’s secret sauce – all squashed between two fried chicken fillets. KFC’s Double Down isn’t so much a sandwich as a deconstructed heart attack. And it’s appealing to our grossest desires for spectacular, unapologetic indulgence.

KFC –  in trademark comic style – released the Double Down for the first time on April Fool’s day, 2010, explaining that it had “so much 100% premium chicken, we didn’t have room for a bun.” It quickly amassed a cult following built on a mixture of fascination and disgust. YouTube videos of people eating the Double Down multiplied online. Stephen Colbert ate one on his primetime TV show. The New York Times memorably described it as “a new low”. Now, much to the disdain of food critics, it’s being resurrected for the US market.

Health awareness shot up after the millennium. Between 2000 and 2008 the number of Americans actively seeking information about healthy eating doubled. The rising popularity of health trackers and fitness apps appeals to a desire (and the pressure) to crack the formula for a life of optimum wellness. And as ‘junk food’ evolved from part of everyday life to something approaching a cultural taboo, even fast food chains rushed to cram salads onto their menus.

And yet, in the face of the pressure to eat your five, seven or even ten a day (if you’re French), drooling over extreme junk food has become something of a spectator sport. The internet has developed an (un)healthy obsession with bacon in all its greasiest forms (sample Buzzfeed headline: ‘17 Mouthwatering Bacon-Wrapped Snacks You Need To Try’) and stunt foods like Pizza Hut’s Hamburger-filled crusts and Burger King’s bacon-sprinkled ice-cream sundae are a surefire route to media buzz and online chatter.

It seem that foods that refuse to apologise for their grossness are enticing – or amusing – a generation all too familiar with being told to watch what they eat. And KFC are more than happy to harness power of grossness in an occasionally puritanical landscape, as they continue to build their brand around a kind of ironic anti-aspiration. Their Go Cups were designed for cup-holders, to make gorging on dinner in the car as comfortable as possible. And their latest promotion is ‘Chicken Corsages’ for Prom; so you can impress the teen love of your life not just with flowers, but a greasy bucket of hot wings too. Perfect.

Read more content like this at Canvas8.com

Is ‘password’ really the best password you can think of?

In 2014, ‘123456’ overtook ‘password’ as the most commonly used password. And despite vigorous debate around personal information and online privacy, the most imaginative new entry into the world’s most used passwords in 2013 was ‘111111’. When breaking news on Monday brought viral bug Heartbleed to the world’s attention, the conversation was reignited once more. It’s another reminder that – menial as they sometimes seem – passwords are some of the most important secrets people keep in the modern world.

Heartbleed has been described as many things: from “the biggest security threat the internet has seen” to “a ‘holy shit’ moment”. It’s a flaw in the most widely-used online encryption protocol – the open-source project OpenSSL – which is responsible for ensuring information is protected against prying eyes.

With log in details the most at risk, Heartbleed has forced many to reconsider how secure their passwords really are. Aside from an inability to think up secure passwords, a third of people use the same password for every site. If people still take such a simple approach to their online security, should they be concerned about security leaks?

Even before the security bug, one study suggested that 80% of all online security incidents could be put down to weak passwords. “Because humans are so predictable, we’re also pretty lousy at protecting ourselves from the pitfalls of predictability,” explains psychologist John M. Grohol. “We tend to choose things like passwords based upon easily-memorized components — the word “password” or some combination of characters that a 4-year old would pick.”

In a post-NSA world, people are more paranoid about privacy than ever, and this human inability to develop truly secure passwords has opened the floor for alternatives. While PayPal is incorporating biometric payment confirmation, tech startup Nymi has introduced a bluetooth-enabled wristband which unlocks car doors and smartphones simply by reading the unique pulse of the owner’s heartbeat. Motorola’s even developing a ‘password pill’.

As the average Joe increasingly adopts hyper-secure smartphones and encrypted communications, perhaps the password issue is next in line – whether it means developing better codewords or scrapping them altogether. Either way, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that for those that really want to defend themselves, security starts at home.

Read more content like this at Canvas8.com

The glamour of domestic abuse

Prejudice, poverty and plastic surgery: Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani has never shied away from controversy when deciding on cover stories. The latest contentious cause? The April 2014 cover story – titled ‘Horror Movie’ – features well-dressed depictions of domestic violence. Perfectly made-up women swathed in Prada and Valentino cower from sinister, masculine silhouettes and wield bloody knives in the aftermath of assumed acts of self-defense. Like the subtext of the video for Eminem’s ‘Love the Way You Lie’, or late-’80s adverts depicting women in coffins, women stuffed into bins, women with bruises, has the image of abuse become a media trope?

"Violence towards women has never been so hard-hitting, so reminiscent of a horror show," explains Sozzani. “The intent is to raise awareness of a horror that must be condemned!” Taking inspiration from the heroines that populate Hitchcock-era cinema, attention has definitely been drawn – though whether it’s directed at the social issue or just the magazine is up for debate.

Outraged readers have taken to the internet to decry the spread for trivialising violence, and using it to sell products. “Domestic abuse is not in vogue, no matter how you style it,” tweeted Style.com. But is there really such a thing as bad publicity? As journalist Michael Moynihan notes, “outrage isn’t about values, it’s about marketing.” Look no further than Miley Cyrus – all it took was twerking with a dwarf and publicly dissing Sinead O’Connor to get her a number one album and a music award.

The combination of anger or disgust – whether from Miley’s tongue-waggling or brands misrepresenting complex issues – mixed with the anonymity of online can trigger “fan outrage”, comments psychologist Dr. Ali Mattu. As more fans rally together around the subject, outrage spreads until someone makes an opposing point and opens a dialogue.

Of course, many argue that this dialogue is targeted at the magazine itself – that, like serial ‘shocktervisers’ American Apparel or Benetton, Vogue has found a way to exploit social issues to generate buzz. But isn’t it still an opportunity to talk about about domestic violence? Worldwide, women aged between 15 and 44 are more likely to die as a result of domestic abuse than cancer, war, malaria and traffic accidents combined. As journalist and former model Jenna Sauers notes, “fashion reflects the wider culture, and ours has a lot of work to do.”

Read more content like this at Canvas8.com

Wu-Tang bring the pain to ‘fake’ fans

Somewhere in the depths of Marrakech, a single disc holds the next album release from cult hip-hop collective the Wu-Tang Clan. Enclosed in an extravagant case – intricately engraved silver and nickel crafted by British-Moroccan artist Yahya – the album makes a statement about what it means to be a music fan in the digital age.

And let’s face it – even the music itself has been devalued. While the Pirate Bay evolves and adapts against every block that’s placed on it, Spotify users make artists just $0.007 for every track played. Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is the Wu-Tang Clan’s response to this. Like the case it resides in, the album is intended to be truly one-of-a-kind, and will eventually be put on sale for a seven-figure sum. “We’re making a single-sale collector’s item,” says RZA. “This is like somebody having the sceptre of an Egyptian king.”

The reception to this decision has been mixed, with an incensed group of fans already in the process of crowdfunding cash to buy the album and prevent any “rich asshats” getting hold of it. But ultimately, it’s a statement about how music is consumed in comparison to other more physical art forms. “The idea that music is art has been something we advocated for years,” explains RZA. “Yet it doesn’t receive the same treatment.” The album will even “tour” galleries and museums, where dedicated fans can pay up to $50 to “view” it.

Yet Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is more than just a unique way for the group to turn a profit: it’s a way for them to forge deeper relationships with their most committed fans. In the age of the internet, fandom is easy: a Facebook ‘Like’, Google search and playback of a couple of YouTube videos. “[Identity] can be begged, borrowed or stolen,” explains youth consultant Ruby Pseudo. “Simply ‘Liking’ something is not always enough.”

Once Upon a Time in Shaolin isn’t one for these internet-based pseudo-fans. Only those prepared to track the album’s progress, turn up to a museum and pay the required fee earn true credibility. People harbour an inherent desire to communicate who they are, and by weeding out ‘fake’ fans, the Wu-Tang Clan give their most dedicated listeners social currency with which to do this. That is, of course, unless someone leaks it…

Read more content like this at Canvas8.com

Is flight MH370 the last mystery of the digital age?


Was flight MH370 hijacked by terrorists? Did the pilot kill himself? Or was the whole plane swallowed by a black hole? When Malaysia Airlines reported that they’d lost contact with the Boeing 777 – which departed Kuala Lumpur on March 7th – it didn’t take long for the internet to respond. Uninformed speculation fuelled wild accusations and conspiracy theories, which unfolded in the following days like an erratically-written TV show.

A pilot came forward with the more believable theory of an electrical fire, backed up by a number of situational factors. But the disbelief that an entire plane could simply go ‘off radar’ buffered a frenzied media storm. Psychologists point out that people are inclined to see ambiguous events as the product of someone’s intentions rather than as accidental. And in a technological world, where everything is measurable and transparent, the prospect of a whole plane disappearing along with 239 passengers is unfathomable. As journalist Scott Mayerowitz aptly notes, “there aren’t supposed to be any mysteries in the digital age.


With so many sources adding their voice to the narrative – from the population of Reddit to Courtney Love – establishing the truth is harder than ever. The World Economic Forum has flagged up this phenomenon as “a global risk of massive digital misinformation which could wreak havoc in the real world.” And there are real victims: consider Sunil Tripathi, the 22-year-old who was falsely accused of orchestrating the Boston bombings by millions of online spectators.” False information is particularly pervasive on social media,” agrees Walter Quattrociocchi of Northeastern University in Boston. “It fosters a sort of collective credulity.

As the story of flight MH370 continues to unfold before us, fresh speculation won’t be far behind. But it’s worth noting that the amount of shares a theory has won’t always align with how plausible it is. The truth has become a proverbial needle amid a haystack of shrewd, satirical and misinformed voices, but a healthy information diet can make all the difference between understanding and ignorance.