After Thoughts

Alice Purnell


Issue 53
Spring 2011

I recently watched a programme "Beauty & the Beast" and was struck by the way in which this culture of youth, beauty and "celebrity" has created a realty shallow world in the UK, following the deplorable media push from the States towards "aspiration" and shallowness.

It seems nowhere in the papers or television, or education are people encouraged to develop the idea that a contented inner life is only possible if we escape this aspirational tyranny.

If a person is disfigured (like Susan in the programme with awful facial disfigurement because of cancer) or looks unusual in any way, do humans have to follow the insects and beasts and try to destroy those who are different?

Why does a man have to be tall and strong, or a woman have to look young and beautiful?

Yes, there is a Darwinian rational for this, a potential mate is chosen by all creatures on the basis of display, finding the fittest: so strength, youthfulness, fertility and suitability as a possible parent are factors in the mating game. But humans are not spending 90% of their time looking to procreate during an entire life course.

Even if men do think of sex a lot of the time, we all need to exist, think, feed, work, develop, communicate, in practical or even in loving and caring ways, that have nothing to do with the mating game.

Appearance concerns us all. Shallow stereotypes become models of perfection. The fashion police start at school, even judging another kid if they are tall, fat, wear specs, have red hair, are of another race, have a funny twitch, or even the wrong trainers, I pod or mobile phone! Teenagers become anorexic or bulimic, they self harm. Bullies pick on the underdogs to hide their own inadequacy. Homophobic and transphobic bullying and crimes are only a part of this trend.

It continues despite those excruciating Television shows where the unusual is paraded as a freak show, like the unfortunate people who are conjoined twins or who have suffered dreadful diseases or injury, some man and woman and especially the teenagers stare and make remarks that are inappropriate, hurtful or even phobic crimes.

This ignorant evil mindset needs to be addressed; we after all are supposed to live in a diverse society.

I have counselled trans people who are in a state of self- rejection because of a lack of physical perfection, sometimes too afraid to step outside for fear of this form of abuse. It simply will not do, work is needed in the schools and to change attitudes and behaviour also the superficial media obsessions with what they call "celebrity" and youth culture needs to grow up.

Indeed many who have suffered abuse including trans people seem to collude with a society that finds this sort of thing acceptable, by hiding away in fear or by buying into the cosmetic surgery thing and absurd consumerism and daft diets to try for perfection. The biggest mess to try to sort out is inside a person's head. It surely is a mistake to be too self critical or self absorbed, or for that matter self centred.

If self-absorption gets in the way of personal development as knowledge of self as a sentient person of worth, value and respect, then the inner person needs to do work as much as the exterior that they show to the world. Beauty is not skin deep. Be glad you are yourself, do not concentrate too much on image and don't hide away. Learn to walk tall, to resist the media and the bullies and strive to be strong, gentle and kind.

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