Scary Beautiful

By Herman Manson (@marklives) Design Indaba 2013 Leanie van der Vyver, a South African designer who recently graduated from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, will be participating at the annual Design Indaba Conference (running from Feb 27 – March 1) as part of their Pecha Kucha initiative to give young designers a platform to talk withtheir peers.

She gained international media coverage for her graduation project, Scary Beautiful, which investigates and questions our quest for beauty and how this skews our view of our bodies. The video of the project, in which she made a pair of high heels whilst applying critical design theory, has gained millions of views. We tracked Leanie down before her talk to ask her some questions about the project.

What was the inspiration behind your ‘Scary Beautiful’ project?

Leanie van der Vyver: I worked in fashion for seven years and am well aware of the manipulation images in fashion suffer for a perfect result. I still compare myself to them [those airbrushed images] and other current beauty ideals.  My frustration with my own inability to over come these feelings of inadequacy was what brought Scary Beautiful in to fruition.

Trendhunter picked up on your work – pretty cool – but talks about it displaying the ‘grotesque side of beauty’. Was that part of the intention?

The conclusion of my thesis investigation was that people are not satisfied with what they look like and that perfection according to beauty and fashion standards has reached a climax. Humans are playing God by physically and metaphorically perfecting themselves. Beauty is currently at an all time climax, allowing this project to explore what lies beyond perfection. Scary Beautiful challenges current beauty ideals by inflicting unexpected new beauty standards.

It feels less like a fashion project than a comment on how we cosmetically alter our bodies?

I’m going to refer you to the introduction of my thesis: “Just being human is not good enough anymore nor has it ever been. What is very clear is that people are not satisfied with what they were naturally born with. Neither the prehistoric cave dweller nor modern man has ever considered the human body aesthetically satisfactory. It is human nature to want to be more than what we are, and from the beginning of time we have gone to extreme measures to express on the outside how we desire to be perceived. On the surface, we are physically turning into ideal dream versions of ourselves. Being born a certain way is no longer a life sentence. We can choose exactly who we want to be. What are the possibilities of this new God-like control we have over our bodies?

Right now you can truly become more than just yourself, more than human. It’s almost as if we have shifted from reality into fantasy. The sky is the limit when it comes to controlling our own image. Being online is considered a trusted version of yourself. We are behaving as if we have robotic extensions and we can now generate body parts and also have access to the technology to obtain super powers. We now have complete power over our own image and abilities. What is currently being done and where might these God-like powers potentially lead? “

What’s our problem with the way we look?

We have terrible impressions of ourselves fueled by current beauty standards.

Read more of our Design Indaba 2013 coverage here

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