Even in our millennial plight to defy self-sabotaging social norms, (including but not limited to beauty) and to raise awareness that they are contrived and often convoluted and not necessarily the equivalent to attractiveness and happiness, I find that we leave a big component out of the conversation. We are still on a warpath against our bodies and our lives and our passions because the major decisions of our lives have almost been chosen for us, and choosing otherwise is incredibly difficult. We think we are living for ourselves, expressing ourselves using our “bodies as temples,” pursuing careers that will be lucrative and therefore give us stability and contentment, losing weight and pursuing physical appearances that will make us feel confident and proud of ourselves– but none of this has anything to do with us, and everything to do with how we feel about what other people will think about us. It’s the same concept of living based on the opinions of others, just taken to a different level.
In our jobs and homes and other things that people will compliment based off of how rich, successful and otherwise fortunate we are, “thank you” is always followed by what should be improved, and how cheap it was to do something, and how the job isn’t all it’s cut out to be, or complaints about the commute. Never just a “thank you” because we’re either trying to make sure people don’t hate us for being their perception of “successful” (which is something that really makes you think) or the cold hard truth is that we’re not happy in these roles and we naturally react like that because it’s how we really do feel. The same goes for physical appearances: I hear it from men and women, in all walks of life, at all ages, all the damn time. Someone will receive a compliment and respond either in disbelief or shock, and will respond with a list of reasons they actually don’t look that good, or you shouldn’t be that impressed: (cue the classic “oh, this old thing?” line). I see it not only within the confines of women wanting to be feminine and men wanting to be masculine, but also people who are gender-ambiguous, which pleads to the fact that the culture isn’t as focused on how men and women are presented but how that presentation makes us feel about ourselves.
So even when people are aware of the fact that our appearances (both physical and otherwise) are only shallow perceptions that we largely concern ourselves with for the sake of impressing other people, we still do so. Because tapping into that “survival of the fittest” mentality, choosing a mate based on what genes we’d like our children to also have, are things that are all largely natural and “normal” for humans. But the thing is, much like we are expected to defy our innate need to do other animalistic things, such as kill or whatever, we also need to realize that despite being in these bodies, we are not a compilation of organs at the end of the day. There is something more to us, and if you don’t take my word for it, all you need to do is start meditating a bit, or become more consciously aware of the fact that there is something else present within you. You feel your heartbeat, your lungs expand and deflate, but you are not the summation of these “living” things. You are being carried through your experience by them.
And I realize that all of this is very nice in theory, but in practice, it’s nearly impossible to achieve (right now) because our whole lives are bracketed around what we do for the sake of other people.
1. Simply getting dressed in the morning usually has more to do with how other people will see you than how you feel. We have full-length mirrors to determine whether something is “flattering” or not, because simply whether or not we feel good in something cannot be determined without seeing how it looks. We spend hundreds/thousands of dollars getting ourselves caught in the relentless cycle of consumerism and buying into their whole ploy which is: you are lesser. You need these things to be loved, beautiful, happy, content. All of this we know. But how much are we aware of it each day? How often do we choose otherwise? How often do we only defy those norms for what such defiance will say about us and what people will think of us doing so?
2. Which brings me to my next point: how often are the things we choose to do “for ourselves” ever legitimately so? Does losing weight make you happy, if you were at a healthy weight to start with? Yes? Why. Because what makes you feel happy is the by-product of what society has embedded in you to believe is worth experiencing happiness. Is your makeup routine or other grooming choices your way of expressing yourself, or your way of expressing yourself to other people?
3. When it comes to relationships, usually the first thing someone asks you about a new flame is what they look like, what they do, and where they’re from. None of which really says anything about their character. But it’s of these traits that we learn to choose partners, and get caught in the crossfire of people telling us we can “do better” when that whole concept is based off of other people’s opinions about someone that they don’t have to know intimately. It’s no wonder relationships fail so readily.
4. We choose colleges we can’t afford and majors we aren’t passionate about because we don’t think we’ll be successful otherwise. As though you have to be the top of whatever you do, you can’t just do it because you like it. God forbid you went into a career path that wasn’t about ties and suits and pushing paperwork for a pretty paycheck, but for being able to do something that you enjoy, that makes you feel a sense of purpose while you’re stuck with it day-in-and-day-out. This is important, and more than most people acknowledge, because the truth is that our careers are our lives, and the delineation between the two is a coping mechanism people entail for when they don’t want to believe that they’re whole lives are their soul-sucking job, but the truth is that what you do all day, every day, for years on end, really does make up most of your life. And so I can’t help but wonder, what’s better? To live within limited means and spend every day doing something you enjoy, or rack up debt and a nice house you can’t really afford to sit in an office doing something you don’t really like? (Hint: the nice house and other luxuries money can buy aside from basic needs won’t make you any happier. Just saying).
I really could go on, but for the sake of conciseness (which I’ve failed at thus far) I’ll just say that even when we make choices for ourselves, they’re really for other people, and it’s in this endless circus of acceptance-seeking and need for approval, we cheat ourselves out of happy, fulfilling lives. I don’t know what the answer is, I just see the effects of the issue playing out in my life, in friends and family member’s lives, and in the patterns in culture that we are creating as a whole. In fact, I’m not even sure it’s a matter of how our culture needs to change, but how we need to start choosing for ourselves genuinely, and allowing culture to take shape around that instead of the other way around.