We’re living in a time where image is everything.
Let me rephrase.
No matter the time in which you lived, image has always been everything.
The Roaring Twenties saw the ‘finger wave’, the 30s championed pronounced cheekbones; the ‘wasp’s waist’ was all the rage in the 50s; bushy moustaches ruled the 70s; double-denim in the 90s, and the rise of fake tan accompanied the turn of the millennium. Throughout these endless trends, one thing has remained the same: the way in which one looks has always reflected the way in which one is perceived and thus treated.
(SIDE-NOTE: I speak, mainly, from the perspective of women. In fact, one woman. Just little old me. I wish to avoid making sweeping statements that are universally applicable, that’s not what I am intending to do here. Rather, I hope to drive forward a conversation, based upon my own experiences as a female in her body, whilst potentially resonating with those who can relate).
I started writing this post as a response to what I shall now and forevermore refer to as, ‘#AdeleGate’. I assume no context is needed but in case you’ve managed to escape the media frenzy, I’ll fill you in. Adele lost weight and the human race lost their shit. I could sit here all day and let my fingers loose on how weight is not a way in which an individual should be defined, described or commemorated, nor is losing weight a demonstration of good health. However, I’ll spare your eyes and my poor keyboard. That wouldn’t be fun for either. Whilst beginning to write, I realised that this speaks to a much larger problem, if you’ll pardon the pun. We, as humans, are so desperate to belong that our desire to conform to society’s standard of beauty is as ingrained in our upbringings as learning to walk or how to ride a bike.
I recently read an article that questioned where these seemingly ‘innate’ opinions surrounding bodies and appearance come from. It asked you [the reader] to think about where this notion of commenting on someone else’s appearance originated and subsequently where these thoughts have later been reinforced. To me, it simply emphasised the way in which we rely on appearance to form our social structures. My personal memory, albeit a little silly, took me back to first school (‘primary’, for most). More specifically, ‘Kiss-Chase’. A pretty harmless game, one might argue, until you are the person who isn’t being chased by anybody. To this day, I distinctly remember a young boy, running as fast as his little legs could go, only to glance behind him and find no-one attempting to catch and smack a smooch on him. Whilst I agree this may seem a rather frivolous example, it still speaks to the idea that the brains of five, six, seven-year-old children are already peppered with appearance-based inclinations.
In a world that celebrates conformity, we are expected to champion difference. And therein lies the problem. We’re living in a society that is underpinned by a seemingly inescapable juxtaposition. Women are praised for “embracing their curves” by the same people who cry in the mirror, squashing their rolls together. Women are demonised for being “too thin” by the same people who idolise celebrities whose bodies are a projection of unhealthy eating habits and excessive drug use. There is a falsity in the compliments we give others as they simply reflect our own biases and opinions. I struggle hugely with the idea of ‘self-love’. Self-love is riddled with societal standards. You’re either confident in yourself because you are a conformist, or because you defy said standards. Either way, you’re using this model as the norm to base your opinions off of. What I think would be a better achievement is if we could abolish these measures altogether. How? I haven’t quite worked that part out yet (unhelpful, I know!).
I am cautious to sit here and write that we should not be commenting on the appearance of others as I believe that is an unrealistic feat. Also, it’s pretty sad. I’m not suggesting that you should never leave a “Gorg!” on your best friend’s latest Insta selfie, nor am I insinuating that society’s issue with appearance will be solved if we simply stop talking about it. Quite the opposite, actually. If we are able to formulate how and why we feel obliged to look a certain way, then perhaps we can start reversing centuries worth of demands and ideals that future generations may not have to endure.
We can break the cycle. We just have to work together.