Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bruno Mars and a Search for Beauty

I posted this on Feministing here but I thought I'd make it my first post here as well.

I don’t really feel the need to go into representation of women in the media because I assume that it’s something everyone knows about. I assume that everyone is like me and analyzes every song, music video, commercial, movie, TV show, advertisement, comedy sketch, and magazine that they see. Understanding the power structures and how intricate the representation can be, with gender, race, class, ability, and of course the skewed push for beauty and perfection. And then I realize that not everybody sees this, not everybody has been studying the things I have. And when I point it out in person or online, I’m told that I take things too seriously, that I invent the issue out of thin air, or that I’m a typical uptight feminist. I’m a firm believer in that a joke is never just a joke, like a music video is never just a music video, or an advertisement is never just an advertisement.

This is proving especially true in my latest vlog. I haven’t vlogged in quite some time but I’m hoping to pick it back up. Although I wonder if blogging would be easier – I never can keep my videos to roughly 5 minutes and under, which is usually people’s attention span for videos criticizing something, especially something they enjoy. Regardless, I can’t stand that song by Bruno Mars, “Just the way you are.” The lyrics are bad enough, but coupled with the video I feel it screams “here’s another typical image of what perfect is.” Except this time it doesn’t only give us a physical image, it gives us a mental state to shoot for as well! Having low self esteem, needing the guy’s validation for our beauty, and exactly what that version of beautiful/perfect is (thin, white straight teeth, sexual and sensual in all our movements- especially as a result of being “complimented”, full flowing hair, with makeup on, etc etc). If you’re interested in the video and song “Just the way you are”, check it out here. And if you’re interested in more detail of my analysis, check it out here.

Essentially he’s singing to an ambiguous girl and repeats things along the lines of “I tell her every day she’s so beautiful” “I know when I compliment her she won’t believe me” He talks of her eyes, her hair, her face, her smile/laugh. “If perfect’s what you’re searching for just say the same.” And in the video we see what this version of perfect actually is. She’s in a typical “come hither” pose through the entire video, quite thin, full of make up, etc.

Like I say in the video, the reason why ambiguous “girls” are looking for perfect is because there’s stuff like this telling us exactly what perfect is, both in our bodies and in our minds. People keep saying this song is beautiful and lovely and romantic, but I feel it just validates the low self esteem that is so rampant in our society, and so intricately linked to body image as well. We shouldn’t need validation from some external source that we’re beautiful, but it’s always reaffirmed that if someone tells us we’re beautiful, it’s a compliment, it’s a good thing, and it’s only a result of our confidence. I want everyone to see how they are beautiful, but the problem with this is that beautiful has been handcuffed to the idea of being attractive for/to someone else. “I’m beautiful, but only to certain people who find me attractive. People who are attracted to bigger girls think I’m beautiful/pretty/good looking.”

Anyways, I think we need to be attracted to ourselves, we need to like ourselves, we need to love ourselves. “I think that I’m beautiful because I think that, not because other people think it, and I don’t think I’m ugly because I don’t fit the criteria in our society of what beautiful is.” – But the problem is that’s what most people ARE thinking. That they are ugly because they either don’t get complimented enough, or because the narrative that’s being told and retold is that “this” is pretty and “that” is not. It’s so strange to live in that paradox, to be aware of it, to hear men say that they don’t want women to be super thin or to diet because they want to be thinner, yet every time a Victoria’s Secret commercial comes on, they whoop and holler. Or when girls are making the choice of what facebook picture to upload – they’re going to look for the one where they look the thinnest, or with bigger eyes (a shot taken from above), or fuller lips (pouty face), or with make up on (thick, full, batty lashes), etc etc. They don’t pick those pictures because they just look good, they pick that photo because that’s what we’re told looks good – that’s how ingrained it is, and we’re (mostly) aware of it.

Aware of how losing weight should be about health and fitness, not about fitting some standard of beauty and having the least amount of body fat on your body or a certain pant size. We’re aware that thin does not mean healthy, yet we strive for it. I want beauty to come from within, I want to get rid of needing external factors and validation for how beautiful I am, I want my confidence to rest firmly with me and not be shaken with a lack of compliments or an abundance of flirts. So no, this Bruno Mars song is not romantic, it is not lovely. It is sad because it is another reminder of how a woman can have the desire to say “I am beautiful, I am amazing just the way I am, I am perfect, so I should stay the same” but then have that stripped because “they don’t think I’m beautiful, I don’t look like her, I don’t look like them.”

And even if there is some romance in the idea of a guy telling a girl (ignoring all the other factors of the song) she’s beautiful and to stay the same and she’s so amazing, that will do nothing to change how she feels about herself, which adds to how sad this is. You can tell a person that they’re gorgeous all you want, but unless they embrace it from within for themselves and no one else, it’s not going to happen. For someone to think that it should change because they told them so (ie, Bruno Mars telling this ambiguous girl) they’re just being delusional.

It might give them a temporary feeling of confidence, but that is still confidence coming from someone else, for someone else.

And yeah, there have already been heaps of critiques done about how this can change. I personally think it’s a combination of getting the message out that you should love yourself, find yourself beautiful regardless of what is told and seen, along with changing what we are being spoonfed. I mean, when will magazines get the message that we’re tired of seeing this same cyclical crap?

This whole thing reminds me of the idea of girls playing football. From a young age we need to tell girls it’s okay to play football, you can play football if you want, not pressure them away from signing up for football teams and games – in combination with them being able to turn on a football game (or, their parents turning on a football game) that shows women playing. I don’t think we can really completely escape this “external factor” but we sure don’t need it for validation, and we sure don’t need to rely on it to the amount that we do now. Like I said, I would hope that we can move to realizing that my finding myself beautiful is not to bring confidence for the purpose of attracting others, or getting compliments from others.

Compliments from others should be a random cherry on top, not the vehicle through which I’ll spiral into more self hate. I’ll find myself beautiful for me, and the things I’ll find beautiful are from me. I’m still working on it being a strong, firm belief, but I’m getting there- and I would hope to help others get there too, or at least be open to the idea of finding themselves beautiful should be for and from themselves.

And along the lines of what the commenter aLynn said, women's sense of self shouldn't be enhanced by (nor validated or for the purpose of) compliments from others/men.

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