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Gauging Gestalt Thanks To A 3D Body Scanner

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After exploring of the surreal, sci-fi world of 3D printed cosmetics with Mink and the MODA, it’s only fitting to turn our gaze to new frontiers in image-capturing—after all, if a machine is going to be your personal makeup artist in the future, why would you settle for some plain old DSLR?

I recently had a chance encounter with a laser scanner—a handheld, quasi-stun-gun-looking device that reads the surface of an object or body and creates a digital map of it. This technology is most familiar to us through its application in CGI films and video games, but fashion has also been an early adopter through the work of digital artists like Reed + Rader whose portfolio includes hyper-realistic animated gifs commissioned by the likes of W and V magazines. Cara Delevingne, Binx Walton, Lara Stone, and several other high profile models were recently scanned for the futuristic February 2015 issue of GARAGE.

I’m no model; my scan was done just for fun, but it had some unexpected personal outcomes. After it was complete, I was able to see a scaled-down digital version of myself on a computer screen. This was pretty strange—sort of akin to being turned into an action figure or seeing both profiles at once in a three-paneled dressing room mirror (you know how odd that is—like you’re suddenly sitting next yourself at a dinner party). It made me think of a single, satisfying German word: gestalt. Gestalt can be interpreted in a bunch of different ways, but for our purposes here, let’s say it’s a person’s whole presence. This virtual mini-me was the closest I've come to getting a good sense of my everyday gestalt—how I stand, how I hold my head and shoulders, how my clothes fit, what my butt looks like in jeans, etc. This was equal parts fascinating and disturbing. I need to stand up straighter; I need to pull up my pants. Is my head oblong? were all thoughts that ran through my brain as my tiny, blue body twirled around on that vast digital plane. At the core of my observations was: Is this really how I present myself?

Though the scan was eventually trashed, I felt like I acquired an internal etiquette coach in the weeks that followed. I was regularly reminding myself to walk taller, to look more alive, to better fill up the space I inhabit. This kind of self-awareness is certainly not new terrain for us millenials—in the last decade we’ve been subjected to myriad TED talks about the power of body language; movies and op-eds on the subject of vocal-fry; trend pieces on personal branding, normcore, tattoos, facial hair, and all the other ways we might be screwing up or improving our chances at careers, first impressions, and generally productive futures. Our collective ruination by flat screens and Instagram filters is often the subtext of such editorial work; time to backpedal and consider the IRL audience is often the solution, but the scan helped me see that it’s more complicated than that when your audience includes you.

In the end, my biggest takeaway is this: It may be better to see grace as more self-derived than self-directed, to strive to be a body in motion rather than a still (or a spinning 3D body, for that matter). There many models for this, singular women like Fran Lebowitz, Grace Coddington, Erykah Badu, to name a few, who have the kind of presence that can’t really be duplicated and ought to be admired. For them, gestalt reads like evolution and, after all this scanned-self searching, that’s the way I think it ought to be. And so, I’m a work in progress, is what I’ve started telling the Miss Manners on my slightly slouched shoulder. The digital perspective has encouraged me to take the long view.

—Lauren Maas

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki. For more stories by Lauren Maas, click here.