Monday, 11 July 2016

Perfection- A Concept We Too Often Forget Is Flawed

Having returned from university for the summer, I was sitting at home scrolling through my Instagram newsfeed almost mechanically (a position I have no doubt many other students find themselves in) until a post made me stop and question why are we as a society constantly striving to look the same? Why are we made to feel inadequate and forced to change the way we are in order to align ourselves with a desired look which someone has coerced us into believing is the norm? The post I came upon was another reminder of the ways advertising and social media continually manipulates society and how sadly many young people are growing up hating the way they look, believing that they fail to fit the prescribed ‘look’ for their gender.

Two weeks ago, Greg James posted a picture on his Instagram (@gregjames17) of a billboard featuring one of Matalan's summer clothing wear advertisements. It depicts a blonde and brunette model, both in their bikinis posing in front of a serene, blue ocean. But the reason Greg James posted the picture, wasn't because of his appreciation for the advertisement itself, but because of the graffiti that had been done to the fashion line's advertisement. The speech bubble-style defacement reads: "You'll never be as hot as us, no matter what bikini you buy." Its wittiness reminded me of the many ways we are made to buy into the idea, and what many believe to be fact, that this certain look is achievable, simply through owning a particular piece of clothing; and thus we become slaves to consumerism.

It isn’t just on Instagram and social media that we are subjected to such photos, but on public transport, in the supermarket and even in the dentist waiting room with those often slightly disturbing posters of men and women having ‘the perfect smile’. We are so often attacked with bikini-clad women, or models with flawless skin, that we often forget to think about how every one of these photos is likely to be edited, adjusted and altered in a way that made them completely different to the original or, in other words, failed to show us what is real. I loved the way the defacement satirises the perfect, unflawed images of female bodies we are constantly subjected to in our everyday lives, and how idealised beauty is used so frequently to sell products. This facade of perfection used in fashion is something society needs to be made aware of more often, and most significantly reiterate its unattainability. 

From the moment we are born we are indoctrinated with ideals about what is beautiful for our particular gender and in doing so it becomes the norm. We are made to look at such advertisements and believe subconsciously that this is attainable, but this beauty or certain 'look' is not real. We forget that the photo shopping removes the body hair, the blemishes, the pigmentation, the scars and all the attributes that make a person real and most importantly, make us individuals. And in doing so we forget that the differences between us and flaws are in fact positive things, and are made to believe that to deviate from this norm will push you further from societal acceptance. Yet, we are conditioned to only aspire to one type of beauty, the beauty that in the advert many would deem as 'hot.' In the media there is a restricted amount of variations in body types, shapes or to put it plainly there isn't a large representation of real people. Yet, even so it is evident that when women in modelling who transgress the stereotypical size 6 body type, their positive efforts and role as an ambassador for difference in advertising, actually often marginalises women further. Many fashion labels have their own clothing lines, catering for women who often fail to find styles and clothes in mainstream fashion that suits their body shape. Yet Mango, for example, has their plus size range ‘Viola’ which caters for women from sizes 14-22; but by categorising this select group of women as ‘plus size’ they are made to feel inadequate and somehow they are failing to conform to the ‘standard’ size for women. They are marginalised from what the media conditions us to believe is the majority; women who are size 12 and under, yet we know this is not the case.

By aspiring to these size 6 models and even celebs, we set ourselves a path for the constant need for improvement; failing to recognise that nearly 50% of the UK female population is a size 16. This goal for one type of perfection and consumerism is turning our bodies into products manufactured and shaped by society, all of which lack individuality and originality, as everyone is essentially attempting to be and look the same. Women are made to feel that they somehow fall short when faced with such representatives. However, it is clear we should rightly and proudly accept that we will never look like the women in the adverts, or if we try to we risk living a life where we forget what is really important. Furthermore, we often forget that is isn't just women that are often killing themselves to look a certain way, but also men too. The 21st century has seen an ever increasing amount of steroid use among men and a rise in fitness fanatics; clearly showing how it isn't just women that are subjected to body-image pressures across various media platforms, and as a result often face psychological and physical health issues in relation to their bodies.

However, there is good news. More and more celebrities, models, Instagram famous users and online stars are coming forward and sharing the deception and tools used online and in the media to change the way you look and are raising awareness of the ways these damage self-esteem in audiences.  In particular, Iskra Lawrence a 25-year-old model recently made the headlines through drawing attention to the manipulation of photos, and ridicules the ongoing thigh gap trend. The model who runs her own website for women of all shapes and sizes, posted on her Instagram (@iamiskra) a photo comparison, showing how easy it was to attain this desired thigh gap simply through the posture or position you hold. The comparison shows her with and without a thigh gap, and the photo was posted with the following caption:

no thigh gap or thigh gap who cares. We all think we want different things and we should because we are all different, there's no wrong way just be the healthiest & happiest for you. I'll be the first one to tell you pics are all about good lightening and angles. Always remember social medias not real life never let anyone else's pics make you feel insecure about yourself. If you don't look like her and she doesn't look like you that's how it's meant to be. You are meant to be YOU no one else, your body is your home so love and respect it. When you look after it beautiful things happens #iskralawrence #everyBODYisbeautiful

Lawrence captures a message I feel needs to be felt and shared with all of society and particularly the younger generation.  They are growing up in a media age where they can gain access to an ever increasing number of images of bodies, and thus are more likely to suffer with body dismorphia (anxiety that leads someone to have a distorted perception of their body) in comparison to previous generations. She continually campaigns for the love of difference and variety, healthy living that isn’t focused on dieting and weight-loss and has even shared her own negative experiences in fashion and the extremes she was pushed to in the industry when subjected to body image pressures.

Fashion needs to stop being exclusive when it comes to body types, and we need to learn to love our differences and realise that the so called 'norm' and perfection that the models in the advertisement embody is flawed. We have been blessed with the bodies we have been given and I feel that there needs to be more of a focus on loving our bodies and the things that make us individuals. As well as this, I think it is sad that as a generation we don't place more focus on the character traits and little things that make a person beautiful. But sadly instead, there is an ever increasing focus on aesthetics and self-improvement, encouraging ways in which we can become more like others or a standardised being and less like individuals. 

For Greg James' post see the link below:

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