It starts with constructions of beauty. Magazines, advertisements, and other media outlets continuously promote a responsibility to upholding a standard of appearance. Women especially face harsh criticism more often than an acknowledgement of their selfhood, detached from their looks.
Through television, music, and social media, we are constantly told how to improve our image whether it is through the use of makeup products, the sculpting of one’s body, or the promotion of popular fashion trends. Such images place more importance on a better look than on a better individual.
This image-obsessed culture infiltrates the minds of students, adding stress to their already tense days as they strive to achieve the unattainable. High school superlatives – usually geared towards the “popular” sector of the student body – are celebratory by graduating students, but seem to negatively impact those not recognized.
Through this superficial ranking of looks, many students are subject to criticism as their peers search for the “best eyes,” “best hair,” and “best smile.” After speaking with multiple high school seniors who did not become candidates for a superlative, I learned that many felt left out as they questioned their own appearance. Even students who were regarded as “attractive” on campus stressed on maintaining the favored “look.”
Standards like high school superlatives cause worry and stress in people as they struggle to measure up to certain perceptions of “beauty.” However, by comparing ourselves to an unachievable vision of what it means to be “beautiful,” we are never satisfied. Due to social pressures – from superlatives to magazines – people struggle to obtain ideal, impossible images that are usually altered. Although people are aware that advertising firms and magazine companies photoshop images to remove “imperfections,” they continue in an endeavor to become “perfect.”
Buzzfeed’s “Watch four women react to being Photoshopped into cover models,” underlines the insignificance of appearance through the women’s realization after viewing their edited images. Initially, the women were excited to see their flaws disappear, to end a chapter in which they felt unconfident. However, after seeing the pictures, these women realized that “once you take away your imperfections, there’s not much left of who you really are.” This powerful quote confirms that image is just a small aspect of who one really is, and no matter how hard one struggles to measure up to the appearance of a photoshopped model, it is simply unattainable as the model in the image does not exist.
However, this fact does not slow down people’s comparisons to those in the media. As reported by a 2013 study conducted by social psychologists J. Kevin Thompson and Brent J. Small, it appears that the more one is exposed to media that depicts thin bodies as the “ideal,” the more they disapprove of their own body. In addition, according to The National Institute on Media and the Family, around 50% of young American girls are dissatisfied with their body image, and by teenhood, 78% of girls grow unhappy.
Although females are predominantly influenced by these impractical standards, they are not alone. Males constantly feel the need to improve their body type as various clothing stores feature models with carved abs and chiseled jaws. On top of that, social media sites such as Instagram and Tumblr add to these appearance standards by praising males who fit the ideal image, like “Alex from target.” Males who do not fit these ideals are left in the shadows to work on themselves until they have achieved this image – through both personal and social acceptance – and then they themselves can go on to critique others.
When was the last time you judged someone based on his or her appearance? Chances are, probably today. In fact, I am also guilty of this judgmental behavior. At times, I forget about a person’s character as I have come to rank it secondary to their looks. In response to Meaghan Ramsey in “Why thinking you’re ugly is bad for you,” I do not remember the last time I complimented someone’s character. In truth, I do not remember the last time I was complimented on my character. Most of the compliments I seem to receive occur when I make an effort to glamorize my appearance. This indicates that, as humans, we are more concerned with looks than character.
By worrying about vanity over character, we become obsessed with looking a certain way, resulting in eating and psychological disorders. In addition, we become victims of image-obsession and feel nothing more than dissatisfaction along every struggle to achieve “beauty” and “perfection.” In various television shows, there is always one character who is simply unhappy with their appearance. Because of these concerns, they fail to come to terms with who they are and fall subject to scrutinizing themselves for their insecurities. In “Skins” (season 1), it was Cassie. In “Gossip Girl”, Blair Waldorf. In “The Office”, Kelly Kapoor.
It is time to stop having such characters to identify with. There are bigger issues to tackle. As a whole, we must stand up to our image-obsessed culture by both not becoming a product of it and not reproducing it. Just as one should not judge a book by its cover, one should not assume that an individual’s appearance determines who he or she is.