Friday, September 16, 2011

Societal Expectations of Beauty/Intelligence

Some days societal expectations squeeze us like a mighty fist until we are wrung dry of everything we have and have nothing left to offer. In our sorry states, we come home and we give our parents shit and they call us moody. We have crops from the perceived beauty and reputation patrol huffing down our necks and commanding us to obey and then we have homework creeping around the corner. We are teenagers, the most hated age group and one of the hardest to deal with. Toddlers and elders are hard to deal with too but at least they are cute and sometimes pleasant; teenagers are simply acne-ridden monsters stuck in the in-between and we rarely offer happy moments.

Maybe it's just me but it seems that ever since the age of technology, these societal expectations have become increasingly stricter and harder to achieve.

A few events in my life have happened recently that has made me feel like this has been becoming more and more important to address.

I'll start with beauty first, because it seems like the most obvious and pressing issue. Despite the fact that it's been talked about a million times, it's still all just talk. Everyone still hates their body with the exception of a few fortunate souls, and quite frankly it's still pretty freaking obvious that the media still wants us to feel that way and will continue to make us feel that way for its own profit.

Society's first rule concerning beauty is that you are supposed to take pride in your looks and try to reach a certain ideal particularly if you are a girl (though that isn't to say that guys don't feel that way too). Yet at the same time you are supposed to never get there or at least never admit to getting there. The reasons for this are fairly obvious. Insecure people do not want you to get there because misery loves company and your happiness and/or prettiness makes them jealous (some of those people will try to tear you back down). Also the cosmetics industry wants us to feel sucky about ourselves so we keep buying their stuff. This is a vicious, vicious cycle

Beauty is a social construct and pretty much objective. This should seem fairly obvious, but lately it seems that more people have been forgetting it (including myself). The definition of beauty has been changing over time and will probably change again. Fat, pale and busty used to be in but now it's made almost a complete U-turn. Today it's skinny, busty and tan (although this has been becoming less and less important over the years, it seems). Being as these models today are so skinny, it might even be that little to no boobs are in. So if it's not concrete or defined, can't we create beauty for ourselves? If we can define beauty for ourselves, can't we make it to fit our body's looks as well as those of others and learn to love each other better? Nope. It's not that simple. For most of us, it will take a long, long time for our definitions of beauty to become more realistic and to become closer to loving our bodies. If it ever happens.

Beauty is a social construct, like I said. It's a way of thinking and it's a way to cast people into boxes. It's a way of thinking. I've come to realize that no matter how much I try to be "pretty" I never will be. Whether my body actually physically comes close to fitting societal expectations of beauty or not is irrelevant. Because if I fix another flaw, I'll find another. And another and another and another. Making your body "prettier" is only fixing a symptom and not the actual problem itself.

It's hard to love yourself when all you know how to do is tear you down and all the people around you only know how to tear themselves down.

A couple days ago, it was noted by a former friend that I was wearing make-up (I say former because I have decided to keep my distance from her due to her past behavior. It's not necessarily something that has been agreed mutually by us but made only by me. This isn't a topic I would like to publically get into, however). I made this decision over the summer because it makes me feel better about myself and more empowered. She made a comment about how it looked as if my lipstick was caked on too thickly. This particular girl has a way of making subtle passive-aggressive comments so that while others and even you yourself might consider them mean, they do have a way of making you feel like shit. No one else really responded to it, except for my one other friend who kind of came to my defense and said it looked fine. A few months ago, I would have taken this to heart and tried to take some of it off earlier. But then and there I simply thought, Fuck you, {insert girl's name}. It was not a problem with me but one with her (as well as stuff she did in the past. Again, a lot of that is stuff for a diary entry not a public blog post).

A friend of mine shared to me that something similar happened to her too, so this isn't a rare occurrence.  It happens all of the time, I bet.

So what I would like to tell her or anyone else who faced something like this a few days ago too (I've also been bullied too so that ties into there) is that that kind of behavior is not okay. It shows a problem with them, not with you. And when you go home and find yourself in front of the mirror crying about it, that isn't okay either. When someone tears into other people, it only reflects them and not anyone they hurt. They are making the problem worse and not better for themselves, though it may not feel like that when they do it. The only way we can fix this is if we confront what we and others think of beauty head-on.

Beauty isn't the only constraint that I face in my daily life. Another societal expectation, at least with teenagers, is one concerning intelligence though it is much more subtle.

You can't be too smart but you can't be too stupid either because if you are either than the teasing is merciless (though unless social issues come along with it, it is easier to be less intelligent than more so). You have to have good grades and be in at least one honors class but God forbid you actually show off your intelligence or admit to it. Intelligence is important but at the same time it isn't.

I am smart, at least in the way that most people have defined intelligence. More so than the average person and certainly more than the average teenager, I suspect.  I'm not supposed to say that because it sounds arrogant but it's true. My intelligence is a natural result of reading and writing as many things as I have so I believe that I have earned the right to say that. However as I say this, I do recognize that there are plenty of others who are still much, much smarter than me and that many of those kids go to my school. Some of those kids, unlike me, didn't even have to work for it (is it still intelligence when you had to work to get there? I don't know). Yet, while my rational brain knows better, I can still berate myself and make myself feel stupid very easily. Or feel too smart when I answer questions.

I think that people feel a lot of pressure in that regard too. Like beauty, it concerns feelings of inferiority and of how people think of us but it is more of a tightrope with intelligence.

"Society" and "the media" are broad, abstract terms. "Society" is you and I and everyone else you know and love. You are a part of society as am I and together we can change the way people generally think for good. When you think badly about yourself or another person for a stupid reason, YOU are perpetrating exactly what you are criticizing.

When you think about it, how important is it? Beauty and importance have very little importance really except for how highly we place it. Intelligence is only important in terms of how it gives you an advantage and how you can use those abilities for the greater good, though hard work and determination are much more important and will get you much, much farther. You can only do so much to change either. Something you CAN change and something that is becoming terribly underrated in society is being a good person. It's not just in the regards of being kind but it's in the regards of being giving and of being caring and of just generally being helpful. In the long run, people will end up responding much more to this even if it doesn't seem so at first. I think that would go a long way into fixing this problem and also creating a better world.

Maybe one day I can teach my children to love themselves more than I do and maybe they'll listen. I hope so.

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