A bit of a mix of blog post and poem today to talk about beauty and society (Wednesday is Poem Day!). I’m continuously fascinated by society’s expectations of what we – particularly women, but men as well – should look like. Well, fascinated and incredulous. Somewhere along the line we’ve reached the point where our appearance becomes more important than who we are on the inside. Does anyone else find that insane? How can my bust and hip measurements determine my worth if you don’t know anything about me? How can the shape of my nose mean more than my sense of humour or the length of my legs surpass my intelligence or my weight outshine my kindness? This is an aspect of our society that seems to be growing every day, rather than being kicked to the kerb (which is where it should be going); everything in our lives is about appearance. It’s how we sell products the world over, from Pepsi to Omega and everything in between. It’s how we decide who to follow on Twitter and like on Facebook and chat to in a bar. Appearance, and society’s understanding of what ‘beauty’ is, dominate close to every aspect of our lives and it is sold to us as being the most crucial part of who we are.
News Flash: how you look should not be important. You are born with the size of your mouth or the height of your cheekbones: they are given to you for free and you haven’t done anything to earn them.
Why should anyone be placed above anyone else for how they look? Opinion on physical appearance is so arbitrary: you like men with dark hair, I like blondes; you like narrow men, I like men who have muscles; you like men with moustaches, I like men who are clean-shaven. Yet apparently one of these is better than the others: one of these items that you didn’t work for and has no bearing on who you are as a person, determines whether society sees you as worthwhile or not.
It’s ridiculous. It’s laughable.
You only have to look at famous and internationally renowned British historian, Mary Beard. She is well-published, knowledgeable, funny and I have a sneaky feeling that, even though I’m an English/Writing Major, she is actually one of my heroes (check her out – either on Twitter, or through the article link below and let me know what you think). But an article appearing in the New Yorker in late 2014 (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/01/troll-slayer) discusses how she has been taunted and mocked for her appearance throughout her career both by television critics and on internet noticeboards. Why? Because she is in her early to mid-sixties, doesn’t dye her hair, dresses how she likes dressing and is happy with how she looks. Other than the fact that some of the comments on the net are Roald Dahl-esque and thus somewhat hilarious (such as “a vile, spiteful excuse for a woman, who eats too much cabbage and has cheese straws for teeth”) this is stupid.
What is wrong with us??
This is a woman who is absolutely brilliant in her field. And all some people care about is that she doesn’t conform to society’s ideals of beauty. How can this be what we live in? We idolise models and people who are famous for being famous (ala the Kardashians) and we sneer at people (who are consistently living an intelligent, meaningful and honest life) if they fail to subscribe to what we consider ‘acceptable’
I got a bit off track here, but that’s because this poem thinks about the effect of societal concepts of beauty and the pressures they’re putting on people of all ages, in all walks of life. I’ve taken the opportunity to play with spacing, lineation and font in this poem to have a look at its effect on meaning and interpretation and would love to hear your thoughts.
Our Modern Beauty