Labels, Pressure, Danger, and…Pigs?

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on December 10, 2016. 

Let me tell you a short (fictional) story that I find to be very powerful. It’s called Eye of the Beholder, and It’s taken from an episode of The Twilight Zone.

There’s a woman: a patient in some sort of holding facility. She’s been lying in a bed for a long time, receiving injections into her face. We’re told that she’s been removed from society, and the purpose of the injections is to make her “less ugly.” You see, she can’t be with everyone else, because she’s so ugly, compared to “normal” people, that anyone who sees her runs away.

She begs her nurse to take her outside. She wants so badly to get out of there, but her nurses and doctor refuse; telling her she’s just too ugly. She tries to escape, but the doctor holds her back.

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She negotiates with him, and he agrees to take the bandages off and see if her face has changed yet. IF her face looks normal, he’ll allow her to join society; but if she hasn’t changed, she’ll be exiled to a place with people of “her kind.” Ugly people.

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We wait in anticipation as the nurses and doctor strip away each bandage, one by one…And when her face is revealed, we notice that she is not what OUR modern society would label as ugly.

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But as the doctor yells, “No change!” Ms. Tyler gasps. The nurses and doctor pin her back, and we finally see what the “normal” folk look like:

She escapes their grasp, and they chase her through the hospital. At one point, as she’s running away, a projector screen literally pops out right in front of her. A newscast is playing of what seems to be the ruler of this vile race of people.fullsizeoutput_704

He’s passionately yelling, “We know that there must be a single entity of people; a single norm; a single virtue; a single morality; a single frame of reference! We must cut out all that is different, like a cancerous cell! We must conform to the norm! We must destroy those who do not fit in!”…Conform to what is normal

In the end, Ms. Tyler can’t escape. A man of “her kind” takes her away to the place where ugly people live.

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The End. Yep, that’s it. It’s really sad, but it’s an eye opening perspective on how we humans have created beauty standards. It’s also painfully relevant and parallel to the way we are in 2016. Why do I say this?

Well, first of all, this fictional story proves that beauty and ugliness really are in the eye of the beholder. In other words, WE (individual societies/cultures/large groups of people) determine what “beauty” is. Beauty is not a tangible thing that we can actually define one way. It’s ever-changing, and it varies from person to person. But each large group of people, in this modern day, typically holds to our own definitions of what beautiful is.  I bet when you saw that woman with the curly light hair, glittery eyes, perfect completion, and nice eyebrows, you thought she was beautiful. And I’m guessing you didn’t think the same about the pig-like people. You probably think they’re unattractive (or dare I say, ugly?). In that fictional story, however, they labelled Ms. Tyler as ugly, because she didn’t fit their standard for outer appearance.

Now, it’s obvious that we don’t send people to hospitals, put them on bedrest, or exile them to an island when they’re “ugly.” (Praise God). BUT, there’s some sad reality in that we (people of the western culture/Americans) DO have our own extremes:

(Let me take a moment here to say that the reason I feel so strongly about this is because I recently wrote a research paper about media’s effects on people. It was very enlightening. I also recently watched 3 documentaries about America’s beauty standards.)

1.We do have our own idea of what the ideal body types are. For girls, there is a pressure to be “thin, curvy, or physically appealing,” says Professor Richard Perloff, an expert dedicated to the studies of the effects of mass media. Boys have the “muscular, tall, lean, and ripped” shape to try to obtain (Perloff, 364-366). Some of these ideas about the body ideal come from media: distorted images, ads for health products, manipulative messages, and our natural tendency to compare. Other times, people (or models) can make us feel insecure. Either way, these ideas can pressure us to look a certain way or conform.

2. We use labels. We are really doing ourselves a disservice by playing with labels like beautiful, ugly, skinny, healthy, and handsome. All of these terms are relative, and they can make people arrogant or insecure. ESPECIALLY CHILDREN. In a survey reported on by the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA),

“of American elementary school girls who read magazines, 69% say that the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape. . . 47% say the pictures make them want to lose weight” (Martin, qtd. in NEDA “Facts”1). And one expert researcher who partners with the NEDA says, “more than half of 6-12 year-oldsare concerned about becoming fat” (Smolak, qtd. in “Facts”1). Also, Perloff says that children as young as three are already ascribing positive characteristics to being thin (363)!

These facts always make me feel sick. Kids are too young to be so concerned with their appearance! They’re more vulnerable and susceptible to believing what the media throws at them, though. And when they see us body shaming ourselves or hear us using labels, they’re going to catch on. (Young moms, PLEASE do what you can to prevent this).

3. We have plastic surgery. I just want to mention this for a second, because it’s similar to the story. I personally think it’s sad that we have surgeries for the purpose of changing our faces. It’s dangerous (deaths have occurred); and it shows to what extreme some are willing to go to, in order to look “better.”

SO, what’s the major point I want you to take away from this post? If anything, I hope the story I re-told opened your eyes like it did for me. I hope it helps you understand that beauty is a made up term, defined and viewed differently by everyone’s own mind. It’s also very dangerous when we assume that “beautiful and ugly ” equal “good and bad,” and that we should try to change our appearance to be more physically acceptable. I hope you will join with me in being careful with labels, and do your best to teach the younger generations that media is distorted.

Thank you for reading this. Let’s embrace what’s on the inside. Let’s embrace the unique beauty that each of us has!

References:

Perloff, Richard.Social Media Effects on Young Women’s Body Image Concerns: Theoretical Perspectives and an Agenda for Research”. Sex Roles, vol. 71, no. 11, pp. 363-366.

The National Eating Disorders Association. “Get the Facts on Eating Disorders” National Eating Disorders association.org. 2012, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-facts-eating- disorders. Accessed 20 Nov. 2016.

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