Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Fake It 'til You Make It, Then Keep Faking It?

There is no denying that we live in a society that sends out a very confusing message regarding body image. The media is constantly full of images of celebrity skinny minnies, there are always TV shows telling you how to make yourself look more attractive, there are magazines that name and shame celebrities for daring to have a hair out of place and we also have programmes dedicated to getting people to lose weight. Yet at the same time we also keep being told that we should accept our bodies and make the best of what we've got. 

There is nothing wrong with telling people to accept themselves as they are, but it's not that easy. Especially when most of the images we see each day are of slim, trim celebrities, and it's easy to forget that the people we see in the media will usually be on strict diets, have personal fitness trainers helping them to work out for hours every day, and even then they will still have their photos touched up in Photoshop. A lot of us know this, but we still strive to look different.

[An] 80-page report was drawn up by MPs and Central YMCA, the world's biggest young people's charity, after a three-month public inquiry during which hundreds of witnesses made submissions.
It concludes that a toxic combination of the media, advertising and celebrity culture account for almost three-quarters of the influence on body image in society, yet the "body ideal" typically presented was estimated to be not physically achievable by nearly 95% of the population. - The Guardian
Personally, I don't think that it's just the media, advertising and celebrity culture that makes us want to change how we look. I think that some people have always been insecure and that way back before we even had the media people would still have looked at each other and wished they were larger or smaller, or had red hair rather than brown. The Egyptians were the first to cultivate fashion, so it's nothing new to want to change your appearance.

Many people seem to be shocked that this isn't just a girl's issue either.

The issue is no longer determined by gender, with body image now a major concern for boys and men as well as girls and women, the report concludes. Half of girls and a third of boys aged 14 have been on a diet to change their body shape, the document said, with youngsters exhibiting their parents' own anxieties. - The Guardian
This doesn't surprise me at all. Just because we are different sexes doesn't mean that boys and men don't also feel insecure. Men are also presented with unobtainable images in the media that they are encouraged to aspire to.

Katy Perry before and after Rolling Stone cover
We are being told that we must tell children that the images they see aren't real. That they've been fixed in Photoshop, and I think that's great. But I also think we also need to push for Photoshop to be used less, or at the very least for altered images to have a small symbol or tag line indicating that it has been Photoshopped.

I also wish that as a society we would stop rewarding people for just being attractive. We are always featuring these 'beautiful people' in the media, we have TV Shows dedicated to showing you how to make yourself look beautiful. I know that it is unrealistic, but I do wish that we could instead celebrate people for what they really are. I especially wish that we would celebrate people for their talents and their intelligence, not how they look.

A while back AA Gill criticised classical historian Mary Beard for being 'too ugly for TV' and he has also criticised Clare Balding and even in his 'apology' he said:

Some time ago, I made a cheap and frankly unnecessary joke about Clare Balding looking like a big lesbian. And afterwards somebody tugged my sleeve to point out that she is a big lesbian, and I felt foolish and guilty. So I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise. Sorry.
Now back to the dyke on a bike, puffing up the nooks and crannies at the bottom end of the nation. - The F Word
Shocking, and sadly, AA Gill won't be the only one who thinks along these lines, there are a great many people who think that it is okay to comment on how another person looks and that it's okay to make fun of someone for their appearance or sexuality. It isn't.

What makes me particularly annoyed about these examples is that he was criticising two very intelligent and talented women about how they look, not their actual work. Why does their appearance even matter? How often do we hear the same sort of comments regarding men? I can't think of any examples.


As a society we need to stop valuing looks over substance. It shouldn't matter what the person on your TV screen looks like. What should matter is whether they are doing a good job. Mary Beard, for example, is an amazing historian and her TV programme is fantastic and incredibly informative. That is the most important thing. I'm not saying we must stop caring about our appearance all together, I'm pretty sure that's impossible. What I am saying is that we should try to find something more important to care about as well.

This isn't just a Western phenomenon either, people across the world seem to have negative body images. In China it's not uncommon for women to stick to very strict diets, and sadly they often dabble in eating disorders, to maintain their figures, because their culture also prizes women who are small and slim, and this isn't necessarily because they have been influenced by our culture.

If we want to change the way our society is going, then we need to stop and have a good hard look at ourselves. We need to adjust our priorities, and teach ourselves and the next generation that you don't have to look perfect. That actually, most people cannot look like they do in the media. Even the celebrities do not really look like their photos.

We need to reward people for being intelligent and talented, not for just having a pretty face.

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