Overcoming Feeling Alienated By Lack of Representation
If you know me, you would have probably heard me talk about representation before, and the lack of it. As young people we are so impressionable. Most 13 year olds are on their phones before they learn how to play. At work last week I did an 11 year olds make up for her birthday! 11 years old! My point is that as a society, we spend most of our time looking at manipulated images and selfies and adverts that have been made to sway us. And as a viewer, if you are constantly seeing these images - particularly of beautiful women and men who do not look like you in the slightest - and you see that these women and men are praised for being the epitome of beautiful, you will subconsciously begin to think that there is something wrong with you.
At least, that's how it was for my friends and I growing up. I wrote a brief article for our zine all about my feelings towards the lack of representation. It was going to be kept exclusively for the zine, but I feel that it's important to spread awareness with as many people as possible. Here is what I had to say
Self image is something I think that deep down, I have always battled with. Particularly when I was younger. I could never quite attain pretty. Could never quite grasp it. I could try diets and yoga and straightening my hair, but I still never quite fit the mould. I never looked like what pretty was. Note how I say what pretty was – pretty is always changing. There is always a new look which is much more desirable than before. Young girls taking notes on thigh gaps and knobbly knees, waist trainers and big hips with small waists, plump lips, no make up, full faces of make up... it's never ending. And completely unattainable. Society's high standards of pretty are so unreachable; nobody will ever be able to achieve it. And if they do, it won't last for long before the next trend of pretty comes waltzing in to replace it. Placing our happiness on something so inconstant and fickle is a disaster waiting to happen.
The industry of pretty is exclusive to us all, no matter who you are or what you look like. However, western culture from the beginning of time has always favoured western features more than others, and this has not changed even today. Fair skin, blonde hair, blue eyes... you get the drift. The diamond race. For me; a young black girl that couldn't be further away from that imagine, finding self acceptance was difficult. Wherever I went, I couldn't escape the fact that the pretty girls never looked like me. The pretty girls were never black (with the exception to Rihanna, and other light skinned models with green eyes and blonde hair.) I remember even going through a phase of wearing green contacts for a year because I believed it made me look more pretty. It wasn't just me, though. I watched my other best friends who were also of colour struggle with their identities. Comparing themselves to other white girls in school, or the models on Instagram – all these images that we felt like we couldn't escape. Where was the representation? All of our favourite protagonists in films never looked like us. All of this definitely played an unconscious role in the way we saw ourselves.
It wasn't until I was older, and society started to become more clued up that I was able to start loving myself. My friends and I sought out to follow women on social media who were like us – black and bold and beautiful. I followed girls with crazy fashion sense and girls who were not filtered down to perfection. Making a conscious effort to make sure that the images I was seeing on a daily bases were ones that set off positivity in me left a dramatic impact on the way I saw myself. And it's not just people of colour that have this struggle, with feeling alienated from the beauty industry. It's a lot of us. Barely any of us can attain it. At our recent female empowerment photo shoot, we talked about comparison and plastic surgery. From our conversations, and just the day in general – I realised just how different we all were. Not one girl at the shoot looked the same. We all had different body types, hair types. Our features were all spread out differently. And each and every one of us was undeniably beautiful. All of this different beauty materialised in such a variety of ways; a representation of the universe itself. How could you compare the beauty of a flower to the beauty of the ocean? Or the sun to the moon? In the same way, we should not – and cannot compare our own beauty to the beauty of others. It is all subjective.
We were created the way we were, for whatever reason you want to believe. That's up to you. But undeniably, we are given what we have got, and we are fine that way. It is society that makes us believe we are wrong. It is representation, and the lack of it. Of course, we are so much more than the way we look. True beauty stems from within; we all know that, but in a society that is so obsessed with image, this can sometimes feel irrelevant. In order to take back our power and to find self love; we have to stop putting certain types of beauty on a pedestal. Stop idolising trends. Instead, find what empowers you. Take what works for you, and run with it. Embrace yourself. Make your own version of beautiful. If you don't like your natural hair then dye it any colour under the sun – wear a wig, do you! Play around with make up and colours that make you feel alive, don't just follow the trends of the bloggers and the make up artists that tell you what to do. Be yourself. Be authentic, please your soul. Lets create a vision of beauty that is so diverse that the younger generation is so broad and interesting that no one has to suffer for being who they truly are.
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