By Nadya Dimitrova
In an age when our lives are curated for online consumption, and we spend hours editing visual content with the sole purpose of getting more ‘likes’, the issue of body representation is one to take seriously. This article is a product of multiple conversations I have had with people who are still struggling with understanding their body and embracing the way it looks. What always came up in these conversations was their desire to change their appearance. Like a broken record, the line ‘I wish I was skinnier/fitter’ kept coming up, and that bothered me very much. At the beginning, I admit, I wasn’t entirely sure what exactly seemed off with that statement. Often, I thought that pure vanity was what drove people to think that they needed to change their bodies in order to be liked. Later on, when I got better educated on feminist issues, I realised that it is not vanity that makes us want to change our bodies, it’s society. This is my feminist take on body image, social media, unnecessary stereotypes, and LGBTQI+ norms.
As it is obvious by the title of the article, music has had a big impact on my life, and probably the life of many people. A lot of times, music has guided me in understanding the world around me and the way I perceive certain issues. The reason why I am focusing on music for the purpose of this article is quite simple – sexualised pop culture. Imagine every pop song video you have seen recently. What kind of bodies are represented in the visual? There are three stereotypes when it comes to female bodies: Caucasian girls are the ‘good girls gone bad’, or skinny, bleached blonde college girls trying to gain male attention; Hispanic, African, and Caribbean girls are expected to be sassy, curvy and feisty; Asian girls are portrayed as china dolls that are fragile and obedient. And there is only one stereotype when it comes to male bodies – a six-pack and an ego. Race and sexuality are central to the construction of an ideal that is fabricated and sold by the music industry. The fake features that performers are expected to flaunt in order to be liked and gain popularity and followers are honestly ridiculous. The altering of natural features creates a distorted image of what to aspire to for people all over the world. It also implies that looks are preferred vis-à-vis talent, which is morally wrong. Moreover, the representation of LGBTQ+ people, especially lesbians, is rooted in an hypersexualisation that generates unrealistic expectations.
The music industry has managed to convince young people that they are not enough the way they are. Pop culture has been altering society’s perception of beauty and has been putting forward an idea of perfection that is impossible to reach. Spoiler alert, nobody’s perfect! And it’s precisely our flaws that make us who we are. Last but not least, the body image that pop culture is pushing for is endangering people’s health. Starving your body until it fits into an unattainable frame someone else created is not the way to go. Your body was created in a specific way and serves a purpose. The square will never fit into a circle because the two shapes are entirely different, and they have been designed in a way that separates them rather than unites them. There is nothing wrong with that. We come in all shapes and sizes because our bodies are made in line with our geographic background. Trying to alter our appearance against natural law is not rational, let alone healthy.
Social media does not help either. We all know that there are people out there who spend hours carefully designing and curating a profile for themselves that fits so well with society’s idea of beauty, success and perfection. Male bodies are photoshopped into being fitter, female bodies look skinnier and conveniently, the stretch marks are removed. How is this even acceptable? We constantly change, body and mind alike. Why would you shame people for changing? Natural bodies should be celebrated, in all their differences and fluctuations. As to the issue of make-up, it is important for people to know that they should wear makeup because it makes them feel more like themselves, not because they believe that they should cover up imperfections.
What concerns me most is the implications of the implementation of prevalent norms built around physical appearance. The stereotypes are unnecessary and archaic, but they also drive further marginalisation of LGBTQ+ people. Society has not only built stereotypes about body image, but also about how sexual orientation should be manifested through clothing, make-up and behaviour. The members of the LGBTQ+ community are marginalised enough without having to contend with the stereotypes that are being imposed on them by social media and pop culture. On the bright side, while society continues to circulate stereotypes in one way or another, there are a lot of people fighting to break down norms and assumptions. Charlotte and Aislinn, two queer women who run Unite UK1, a LGBTQ+ blog, are among those who have tasked themselves with such an enterprise. Their recent campaign called ‘Breaking the norm’ sparked a conversation about the way sexuality is perceived and the expectations regarding its manifestation. Their work informed and inspired this article in the context of widening the topics covered and expanding it outside the LGBTQ+ community. It is time to break the norms and enjoy life by being unapologetically ourselves.
To wrap this up, I believe that we have a long way to go in terms of body image and self-esteem. It is important for all of us to remember that we were created in a certain way because of our genes and that our bodies are beautiful the way they are, not the way society wants them to be. It is up to us to spread positivity and to open up the conversation to everyone. Most importantly, we should not forget to practice self-love every day and to put our body needs before body stereotypes. The road to breaking the norm is a long one but taking it will be worth the time because it will ensure a more diverse and inclusive society, free of judgement, harmful stereotypes and misleading, heavily-curated social media feeds. Here’s to staying true to ourselves.
Nadya Dimitrova is a second year International Politics student at the University of Surrey.