Western culture, particularly, is pervaded by media, print, radio, television, film, Internet. We are bombarded by images of airbrushed faces and bodies, constantly told by advertising that we are not enough, we do not have enough, we are not happy. Advertising subtly and not so subtly tells us every day that we must buy more, do more, be more, change ourselves, our surroundings, our cars and their oil, support one cause, sign this petition, boycott this, and on and on it goes. Much of this media, if not all, exists because we consume it, and we consume it because it exists. What are we consuming?
Last night, I attended Paley Center‘s PaleyFest 2014 panels for “The Originals” and “The Vampire Diaries.” Maybe that sentence makes no sense to you because you’ve never heard of PaleyFest and you don’t know what “The Originals” or “The Vampire Diaries,” hereafter “TVD,” are. Stay with me here, I’m going somewhere, I promise I’m not here to fangirl it out over the actors or the shows.
As I listened to the screaming girls in the audience (and shuddered a bit), while I was amused, I was also deeply saddened. These shows give great story, engaging acting, too, but what the audience seemed to be screaming for the loudest were the “prettiest” of the actors on stage. Show the face of Ian Somerhalder (pictured here with Julie Plec)…
…or Daniel Gillies…
…and you were guaranteed a round of piercing screams. My goodness, the screaming. During the screaming, a lot of the conversation on stage became inaudible, which was a bummer. When the creator of “The Originals” and co-creator of “TVD” Julie Plec was speaking, there were times where I heard other people nearby complaining about it. They only wanted more of the “pretty” people, the actors, and they got somewhat restless when Julie was talking at any length. Julie and the producer and executive producer who joined the panels received a modicum of applause; the writers in the audience got a smattering, which increased a bit when one of the “pretty” people gestured for the audience to improve upon it.
What struck me last night is something that has been in my consciousness for a long while, but has been building in importance and urgency more and more lately: Every single person has worth and value and beauty and deserves kindness, and it has absolutely nothing to do with anyone’s outward appearance. You have worth and value and beauty and deserve kindness, and it has absolutely nothing to do with your outward appearance.
Our culture judges so heavily on the outward appearance and fleeting impressions. We as individuals fall into, grow into, are taught into patterns of approval or disapproval of others based on outward appearance. This haircut is/isn’t cool, we’re told by our society. This clothing style is/isn’t cool. We judge people based on a single photograph, based on a facial expression. We have letter grades for celebrity fashion and people who make careers off of how they dress other people, judging how other people are dressed; we have shows like “What Not To Wear” and “Fashion Police.” We have sites like People of Walmart where one of the main purposes seems to be making fun of people particularly because of how they are dressed. We have Buzzfeed lists aplenty, like this one for the “ugly face challenge, telling us what’s gorgeous and what’s hideous.
We’ve become immune to the preposterousness of this idea that attractiveness equals worth, that “pretty” people have more value. #NotBuyingIt, as Take Back Beauty would say. These things are all so fickle. We change our clothes. Our hair grows, we lose it, we cut it, we cover it. We lose weight, gain weight, stay the same weight, get stronger, get weaker, get older. External appearance has very little to do with internal humanity; external appearance is incredibly changeable. As shows like “The Swan” (barf) and “Extreme Makeover” have taught us, pretty much everything about our external appearance can be altered surgically or otherwise.
For example, when you judge someone’s clothing, what are you really judging? Their fashion sense? Their poverty? Their whimsy? Their stylist? Their budget? Your judgment of a person says nothing about who that person is at all; it only speaks to who you are. The external appearance may be an easy target, but that doesn’t make it okay for it to be a target.
The haircut you have, the clothes you wear, your body — none of these things define you. You are more than a body; you have worth and value and beauty and deserve kindness. You are worthy, valuable, beautiful, and deserve kindness. Every single person you see or meet is a person. Every single one of us has worth, value, beauty, and deserves kindness. Our eyes may be windows to the soul, but are we using them to look for the souls in other people?
Every time we make a judgment based on a person’s external appearance, we do a disservice to ourselves and to that person, perhaps to humanity at large. We’re judging things that simply don’t matter. So, let’s stop it. Let’s refuse to make or tolerate so-called “jokes” at others’ expense. Let’s stop reveling in other people’s outward appearance and our perceptions of it. Let’s stop being cruel from a distance or otherwise just because we don’t like this outfit or that body type or that person’s teeth. Instead, let’s build a world that’s more accepting and inclusive and that values true things, not just “pretty” people. Refuse to stay in the habit of judging people on things that don’t matter. Refuse to accept negative judgments of other people that are based on outward appearances. Stop judging yourself or other people for these external, fickle things. Start showing kindness to people because people matter.