Do you ever feel badly about yourself because of traits that are perceived from the outside? Your looks? Your body? The prestige (or lack thereof) associated with your career?
Yeah, me too. I think we all do it at some time or another. The evo-psych crowd will tell us that the tendency to judge on appearance is rooted in the drive to find the most biologically viable mate. There might be some truth in that, but it doesn’t explain our tendency to cycle through preferred body types and superficial characteristics like hair style, facial features, etc.
I think this is partly driven by what gives the appearance of economic viability – this would explain why tanned skin is popular in America in an era where tanned skin connotes the leisure to lie around becoming tan, but it was frowned upon when our society was more agrarian and tanned skin connoted hard outdoor labor. (Also, I’m aware this doesn’t touch on the commodification/discommodification of different inherited skin tones throughout the world – that’s a topic for another post).
But, on to my point. We worry about physical appearance and overall image. I’m pretty sure we, as humans, have been doing this for as long as we’ve had self-awareness. Probably Helen of Troy’s friends gave her the side-eye, wondering what she had that they didn’t have. “Keeping up with the Joneses” has been a driver of consumption for at least a half a century.
Advertisers know this, and manipulate our concern with externals to great economic advantage. I could almost argue that concern with appearance is the new religion, because like religion, it can be used to control people by making them feel badly about natural aspects of themselves.
We worry about appearances, but in reality, you live your life from within yourself, not observing yourself from the outside. You experience yourself, you don’t experience your appearance. And if you do experience your appearance it’s because you spend all your time in front of the mirror taking selfies, which is its own problem.
Yeah, some concern for your looks is useful, in that your looks can signal your compatibility with like-minded people, or your competence when you’re job-seeking, or, truthfully, your status when status is going to make a difference in how your day goes. I’m not suggesting that everyone burn their clothes and replace them with a wardrobe of sacks, or give up the finer points of grooming to return to the rudimentary habits of the other primates.
But, invasive surgeries or extreme diets to force the body into a particular shape because that’s the shape that’s all over the media this month/year/decade? I’m all for personal freedom, I guess, but I have to say, I don’t really get it. I don’t get the obsession with objectifying ourselves to conform with the current cultural blip.
I have a better idea. Our bodies will change throughout our lives. But, to love being alive – no one (not even gravity) can take that away.