The Modern Menagerie

Image Source: instagram.

By: Kelly Hughes

At times, the blend of intense boredom and distraction have me glued to my phone, scrolling hungrily through instagram profiles of click-bait people. They’re not real people. Real people don’t wake up in Miami at 8 o’clock in the morning to take their hundred dollar gym gear and perfectly groomed puppy for a light jog down exclusive beach resorts. Real people, if they want to keep their friends, don’t upload photos of themselves doing Yoga on the sacred sands of Tuscany with a face full of high-branded make up, as they practice gratitude and upload photos with captions; “Just be thankful. Life is a blessing. Cherish every day.”

If you haven’t picked up by now, this all isn’t real. Normal people don’t have make-up artists, or professional photographers following them around snapping natural looking shots of them in their bikini’s, plucking mangoes off the shores of Bali. They’d like you to think they do, but they really don’t. If you’re wondering why you can’t debut a messy bun, natural olive-looking tan and glowing bleach-white teeth when you get up in the morning, then it’s probably because you didn’t wake up in a $600 a-night apartment, sponsored by a brand who pays you to feature their tweezers on that tiny night shelf you can’t see in the photo. Or maybe you really do, do all of that and it’s just not working for you.

These people are (shock horror) models who work tirelessly to maintain an image that is carefully crafted to portray a see-through idea of beauty. They’re paid as much as $300 a pop to look like that, so I mean yeah if there was money in the making, maybe I would be motivated to brush my teeth and comb my hair to look presentable in front of the camera. But I mean they can’t tell you this because it’s supposed to look “raw” and “natural”, and maybe if you did just buy those $3.50 tweezers you could wake up like that too?

So what you must remember when scrolling and gawking through photos of unattainable, bankrolled, superficial beauty is that if you compare yourself to the models on your tiny screens, you will get stuck. You will get stuck in a cycle that forms the basis of an optical illusion. An illusion caused by a visual system that depicts a visual perception that differs from reality. Optical illusions use lights and colours that are misleading, deceptive and duplicitous. The eyes gather information from the image, processes it through the brain and creates a perception that actually doesn’t match reality.

So all the filters and photo-shopping and cunning tech work behind those thousand likes-photos is an example of images misleading our brains to perceive something that isn’t real. Click-bait people on instagram are optical illusions. You can never look like them because they don’t exist you just think they do.

They may not mean to feed into a life of false pretenses (buy this branded one piece swim suit and hey presto you have my size 4 body!) they do it because they’re paid to. It’s not personal it’s business.

However, businesses do have a social and ethical responsibility to behave morally to their customers. Businesses aren’t allowed to create misleading and false impressions or claims to consumers. There are laws in place to protect you from being mislead about the products you buy.

But the sale of false ideas is a sold-out product with a no money back guarantee.

The University of Sydney conducted a study of nearly 9,000 adolescences that revealed one in five teenage girls were starving themselves or vomiting up their food to control their weight.

Like a contortionist twisting and bending their body into dangerous and unnatural positions, businesses and institutions force women to weigh their worth against their weight, distorting the truth. They are responsible for selling women the idea of an optical illusion, hiding the truth of how the image really was made and how it should look.

At the tip of our fingers, technological advancements gave us google, and with googgle came social media, and with social media came a siege of easily accessible information. We are exposed to a myriad of apps, such as instagram, snapchat and facebook funneling portals of information that tell us if we lose weight we’ll be happier, that if we go to the gym and diet and eat portion size foods we’ll be healthier. But scientific studies or vigorously reviewed journal articles don’t back this information; it’s coming straight from the mouthpiece of a multi-billion dollar organisation imploring you to buy their products. It’s called advertising, and now more than ever, in a hungry 24-hour social media cycle, we’re inundated with false advertising or “fake news.” The more information we have, the more ways we find reasons to pick holes in our appearance, to question why we’re not good enough, not fit enough, not happy enough. We become trapped in a vicious cycle of optical illusions because we’re continuously presented images that don’t fit reality.

Our standard of comparison has shifted greatly over the years. When our parents and grandparents went to school, they would compare themselves to their peers and people in their workplaces. Now we’re pitted against the likes of photoshop, complete strangers that pop up on our instagram feed, celebrities we see through snap chat and images on social media that depict extremely unrealistic expectations of how we should look. It is a different, more aggressive form of personal comparison.

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Image Source: instagram

The social and cultural environment we live in that pins girls and women’s worth so directly to their looks means we’re not guaranteed a seat at the table if we don’t fit the required mould.

Deeply rooted sexism, misrepresentation, and blatant misogyny were key factors that derailed and seriously hurt Hilary Clinton’s chances at the presidency during the 2016 US Election.

In an interview with The New York Times, Clinton spoke candidly about how society uses misogyny as a weapon to hold women back.

“The idea that women have to fit certain stereotypes; that’s a weight around the ankle of every ambitious woman I’ve ever met. We get constant messaging our whole lives: You’re not thin enough, talented enough, smart enough. Your voice isn’t what we want to hear,” she said.

Describing the experience of a woman running for office comes with clear targets on your back she said.

“The moment a woman steps forward and says, ‘I’m running for office’, it begins.

“The analysis of her face, her body, her voice, her demeanour; the diminishment of her stature, her ideas, her accomplishments, her integrity.

“It can be unbelievably cruel,” she said.

A survey undertaken by the British Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years in 2016 found children as young as 3 were dissatisfied with their bodies. The findings also revealed this figure almost doubles as children get older, with nearly half (47%) of child cares witnessing body image anxieties in 6-10 year olds.

Psychologists describe the term “body image” as “a person’s perception of the aesthetics or attractiveness of their own body.”

Women’s appearances have been sold as commodities to advertising agencies for centuries. A 2013 attitudes survey by the Guide Association found 87% of girls aged 11-21 believe women are judged more on their appearance than their ability.

So who’s responsible for this?

And why are we snatching women down an inescapable rabbit hole that doesn’t offer any light?

Maybe, like me, you’re sick of seeing a square box idea of beauty, that comes in only one size and one skin colour.

What I mean is representation.

No one wants to eat Italian food seven nights of the week. If you serve just Italian food to your kids every night, they’re going to start screaming at you to cook a different meal. They’re sick of greasy pizza and heavy pasta. They want something different. They want more variety.

So you spice up your repertoire and start including Asian cuisines, Mexican dishes, Middle Eastern food, and soon your kids are happier because you’ve made an active choice to represent all kinds of flavours in your cooking, not just one.

I think you know where I’m going with this.

If you force feed society a single idea of beauty, society will interpret and then promote that template of beauty as the ideal one.

Advertising companies, fashion magazines and social media models are all responsible for selling you an optical illusion of beauty. What they’re selling you isn’t representative of the diversity and variety society realistically encompasses. They’re selling you an idea of beauty that sells. It’s money over matter.

Representation is integral to the link between self-worth and acceptance.

When Barack Obama became the first African-American president, he sent a message to all watching that your skin colour doesn’t determine your ability to lead a country. When Malala Yousafzai stood up to the Taliban in 2012, she sent a message to all watching that your gender doesn’t determine your right to an education. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white male on a segregated bus, she told everyone watching that she wouldn’t stand for racial discrimination. When Liu Xiaobo was detained in China for speaking out against an end to the communist single-party rule, he told everyone watching that your freedom is always worth fighting for.

When someone who represents minority groups speaks out against injustice and holds those accountable for inciting discrimination, fear or bias, they teach you a thing or two about self-worth and acceptance.

Advertising companies don’t have your self-worth and best interests at heart. That’s why it’s important to constantly challenge their carefully crafted ideas of beauty and educate those around you on the importance of representation in industries that make a living off Glass Menageries. The pursuit of reality through illusion is a part of the human condition. It’s inevitable to have self-doubt, self-esteem issues and ambiguity over our worth when we live in a society bombarded by image based illusion. The key to breaking through these fragile glass illusions is understanding their concept of “beauty” is transparent. When we bring representation into the mix, we shine a light on the industry and see when done correctly that it represents an entire rainbow of colours, not just one.

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