What I’m about to write about has not come about from any specific aha-moment; no epiphanies were experienced in the making of this post. Instead, the matter of this post was a gradual movement, a subconscious recognition, spending a moment longer on that fleeting thought, than any others. Noticing that it had occurred to me not once, but many times, and more and more often.
The trigger was simple, subtle yet hundreds prevail every high street. It is sleek in its construction, uniform in its design, plain in its appearance. Made specifically to be added to, an assumption, or something to be in the background, a representation of our society brought to fruition through the most unsuspecting matter.
So unsuspecting that I only came to have these fleeting thoughts, more and more consistently, when I noticed this assumption, this thing made to exist in the background, was changing. In the most simplest of ways, our view of society was shifting, simply by the body types mannequins were being constructed to replicate.
Fewer and further between were the ‘traditional’ mannequins becoming, swapped out in favour of more voluptuous, curvier models, still with waistbands the size of my fist and cheekbones that could cut ice. How peculiar, I thought, that what the latest hot topic is on social media, can be recognised and reflected in the most subtle of ways.
I was reminded of my time in Ghana, when I had another one of these slow burning realisations, again only through noticing something was different; as we drove around the winding roads, adverts on billboards along highways displayed bigger women, advertising some label. And, before I go on, I’d like my reader to assume positive intent with this, and recognise that in the context of a woman’s shape, “big” is automatically taken to be an insult, entangled in negative connotations. However, I don’t mean it in this way. I don’t mean to offend the woman in the advert, I don’t mean to cast my own views of the idea of being “big”, but, I do think that my reaction to the billboard was valid in that this woman was noticeably bigger than those that you may see on billboards in the majority of other countries, and I do think that that is an objective statement, without the intention of causing harm.
This struck me because, before seeing this advert, I knew models were always quite skinny, had to go on crazy diets and always had flat stomachs and gaps between their thighs, but I somehow still accepted all of that as the status quo of the fashion and media industry. Which is why this advert hit me, because it occurred to me, this is the status quo here, or at least what women aspire to look like.
And how amazing to come to the realisation that different perceptions of beauty and a “best” shape, or a best anything, really do exist. Coming back to mannequins, these memories came back to me as I saw this perception of beauty in the same context changing right before my eyes. This same feeling of a slightly surprised, but happy feeling came back to me, of when I learnt that perceptions of beauty could not be set in stone; of when I learnt that, the conversations we have really can shape the reality around us.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate, the latest hot body type is not exactly diversity-friendly. I could (and probably will) make a whole other post about prescribing ideals of beauty. But for now, in this space, my happiness stemmed from the very fact that the perception of beauty was and is changing. And not necessarily for my benefit, as I wouldn’t say I fit the curvier body type either. Purely for the fact that it showed nothing could ever objectively be the ‘optimal’ and withstand the effects of time; I was watching the pillar of the fashion and media industry, the fad diets, the crazy Victoria’s secret model workouts, the skinny sensation, crumbling down right before my eyes, and I loved it.
“Nothing could ever objectively be the ‘optimal’ and withstand the effects of time”
And I do get that mannequins are not that big a deal. This post is not about bigging up mannequins as some sort of emblem of our society. But, they do exist as an assumption; the fact that mannequins are being so drawn out in this post is slightly odd precisely because no one talks about them this much, or at least not that I know of. Therefore, it’s interesting when, even they, change.
The takeaway? Find beauty and solace in the fact that even beauty cannot be rooted, quantified or tangible. Every person on this earth is entitled to their perception of beauty, and there are no rules or limits. Take it as a simple anecdote, a reminder to hold warm to your chest, that anything you learn today, may not be true tomorrow, and that’s up to you. It’s not scary when you think about the potential that that understanding can have.
I hope this helps anyone who reads this to think twice and realise that you are in charge of your own perception of reality; my suggestion is to make it one that makes you happy, doesn’t hurt others, and gives you a reality that allows you to be your “best”, whatever that may be.
PC: Pierre Best & Thom Masat