Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
The pastor then went into a discussion of temptations that (especially) men face in being confronted with the images of our culture (e.g. the magazine rack at the convenience store, the checkout display at the grocery store, and so on). And he brought up the fact that the images are often doctored. They are the result of, not only hours of hair and makeup work, but also extensive image retouching via Photoshop or other software. In effect, they are pictures of nobody at all - images of people who do not exist. And his point was that we are tempted to trade the real life beauty that is often right before us for something fake, fabricated, false. To highlight the point, he showed this video during the service (well worth a look):
Of course, the point can be expanded, as the video indicates. Young girls are repeatedly exposed to these unrealistic images, and meant to feel self-conscious for their realistic features - features often beautiful in their own right. As a father of three girls, I made the point of showing it to my girls myself, and reinforcing the fact that they are being fed lies by our culture.
There is a strong classical tradition that calls people to seek after the triad of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful (bonum, verum, pulchrum). They were seen as being in relationship to one another; indeed, the Judeo-Christian tradition sees the three culminating in the Most High God. In this case, however, truth is sacrificed for the sake of beauty, and the results are as might be expected: the happiness of real human beings is affected - impaired - by the commercially-driven aesthetic quest unbridled by the truth.
Liberal feminist author Naomi Wolf commented on a similar situation in her New York Magazine article of 2003, "The Porn Myth" (warning: contains some explicit language). Commenting on anti-porn activist Andrea Dworkin's predictions, she argues that Dworkin
...was right about the warning, wrong about the outcome. As she foretold, pornography did breach the dike that separated a marginal, adult, private pursuit from the mainstream public arena. The whole world, post-Internet, did become pornographized. Young men and women are indeed being taught what sex is, how it looks, what its etiquette and expectations are, by pornographic training—and this is having a huge effect on how they interact.
But the effect is not making men into raving beasts. On the contrary: The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.” Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.
Interestingly, looking at the tragic effects of pornography has given Wolf a measure of respect for traditional religious belief and practice. She writes
I am not advocating a return to the days of hiding female sexuality, but I am noting that the power and charge of sex are maintained when there is some sacredness to it, when it is not on tap all the time. In many more traditional cultures, it is not prudery that leads them to discourage men from looking at pornography. It is, rather, because these cultures understand male sexuality and what it takes to keep men and women turned on to one another over time—to help men, in particular, to, as the Old Testament puts it, “rejoice with the wife of thy youth; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times.” These cultures urge men not to look at porn because they know that a powerful erotic bond between parents is a key element of a strong family.
"And feminists," she continues, "have misunderstood many of these prohibitions." She goes on to describe a very different approach to sexuality inspiring "a feeling of erotic intensity deeper than any I have ever picked up between secular couples in the liberated West." If we hold up sex as something sacred, and allow that to inform our practices - the way we dress and otherwise present ourselves (I think there can be different manifestations of this, not restricted to the particulars of Wolf's story) - it can be transforming to our relationships. Wendy Shalit came to the same conclusions in her excellent book A Return to Modesty.
Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. If we are willing to re-unite these old friends, and are willing to call upon the views of traditions that pay them tribute when it comes to the human form and countenance, then perhaps we can avoid some of the perils of modern culture. We may be surprised to find out just how satified we can be with what is real and right in front of us.