Geographically, my blog entries make less and less sense each time. I wrote about Thailand when I was in India, finished my India entries at home, and now I am about to polish this post while waiting for my bus in Berlin.
I saw a lot of beautiful people there. Let this sentence be the connecting one to what I am about to reflect on. It’s still on what I did in Nelijärve, Estonia, and it’s in fact about something that reaches you no matter how safe you think you are. (Wow, what a cheesy sentence; the yellow press would be proud of me).
So one of the topics we have been discussing during our youth exchange project was how the image of beauty is usually presented – enforced, to be more precise – in the media. I’m not even gonna try to summarise what we’ve discussed, yet it’s a good opportunity for me to combine several ideas I’ve been meaning to blog about.
Let me begin.
One of my first, let’s say, intellectual adventures – I like this expression coz I didn’t have that many real ones – I had in Thailand was in a supermarket. I was innocently searching for a body lotion and besides the confusion that the Thai language itself was causing there was even more of it. You see, every package seemed to have the same word that I would be seeing later on body washes, face creams, and even hand creams.
It said WHITENING.
Whitening… Whitening…Like…in to ‘make something whiter’?
The answer to that nonsense question of mine was indeed ‘yes’. I soon learnt that the whole beauty image here was based in pale doll-like complexion. No wonder my Thai colleagues would carry umbrellas on their – ridiculously short – way to the school canteen, while I myself would use every minute in the sun to soak up that tan.
My question was: why, whyyyy is pale skin considered so beautiful? And then, if you shortly ask the same question about tan skin, you are suddenly reminded about the rhetoric nature of both of these inquiries. One makes as much sense as the other. That is, both make absolutely no sense. Same goes for adoring a close-to-anorexic body type, emphasising the importance for men to be “manly”, or – especially according to certain slightly absurd ads – establishing a relation between having perfect hair and your future husband inviting you for a coffee right away.
Where does that sense come from then?
Well, one of the sources of narrowly-defined images of beauty would be without a doubt the media itself. Or, let me use a more politically-oriented term, the media apparatus (to use this concept here was absolutely unnecessary here but I simply felt the need to show off a bit. Perhaps it’s the combination of Berlin heat – almost as nice as in Nelijärve – and German beer – way better than Estonian one, sorry! – that is taking its toll).
But so. Media was the factor that my new friends and I were analysing in Estonia. Once again, unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, depending on the reader, of course), I can’t squeeze every interesting point we made then into a single blog entry. However, one utterly scary thought crossed my mind then:
OK, it’s not thaaat bad to look at the images with which we are constantly bombarded and say ‘screw you, society, how come you’re making me want to be that skinny? I want to be able to enjoy my beer and chips without guilt or fear of not looking like the women in any magazine’. That is, you can trace the origin of that voice in your head always pointing out to your imperfections that no-one in ads or TV shows seems to have. You trace it, you see it’s in fact the media itself and not anything from your real life, and then you can politely show it the middle finger. You may still complain that there is a big gap between you and the “better you” that you will become one day, but at least you understand that a big part of that “better you” is a projection that’s not even yours necessarily.
At the same time – and this is that utterly scary thing – you might not even realise that there is a voice to be traced! In my opinion, there is a huge difference, and a very dangerous one, between thinking ‘screw you, society, for making me want to be that skinny’ and ‘I want to be really skinny’. In both cases the same unhealthy wish remains, but in the second case, you see, it becomes naturalised. There is no why anymore. The voice seems to be your own.
This is, to my mind, some hard-core indoctrination. It might not be telling you to vote for a certain party, but it’s telling you to do some other stuff. Ah, the beauty image: when you think about it, it’s not even about what I want to be. It’s even more about what I should want to be.
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In Berlin now, in Thailand some months ago and just like in Estonia some weeks earlier, the same interesting rule applies (at least in my head): the rule of forgetting the image of a traditionally-beautiful person.
The perfect jaw line, certain eyebrow shape, pronounced cheekbones… Everything the media points to us and in a teacher-like way explains that this is beautiful – there’s just soooo much more, c’mon. During the past years, I was lucky enough to have met so many people with such interesting combinations of features that would not be necessarily considered traditionally-beautiful. And yet, these were gorgeous people – from both outside and inside. It would be beyond absurdity if any of them looked into the mirror every day thinking what they see is somehow not enough.
Nothing new for me to write here: the media wants you to worry about your looks; whole industries are based on the insecurities we’re constantly reminded we should have. However, for me personally, what would be ever more worrying than the fact that I have a messed-up skin and extra kilos is if my friends cared about it. Now thaaat would be messed-up.