A Big Myth: ''Just the way things are''

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Posted by HSG on May 08, 2005 at 22:46:11:

Over a cup of tea the other day, we asked a new acquaintance our fundamental question regarding body love and modern society, i.e., "Why does the media resist plus-size beauty?"

(Just as the cause of a disease must be uncovered before it can be cured, so does this question need to be answered before a revaluation of modern aesthetic values can take place.)

The response that our new acquaintance offered was most revealing, because it identified one of the principle factors that allows the false ideal of thinness to remain unexamined--and therefore, firmly in place.

The response was:

"Well, I guess it's just the way things are."

Just the way things are?

In this purportedly media-savvy age, such a response may come as a bit of a surprise. But it also identifies one of the main stumbling blocks that impedes cultural renewal.

Furthermore, it reveals how even the best of today's media critics may unwittingly be shielding the media (or rather, its individual members) from any real accountability for their actions.

We have all become so accustomed to referring to "the media" in a generic way, i.e., as an intangible entity, an amorphous mass without any individual agency, that we have fostered a perception of it as something vaguely akin to a natural force--something impersonal, and all but unfathomable (thus giving rise to the notion that its biases and prejudices are "just the way things are").

But the culture in which we live is not some kind of geologic phenomenon, like continental drift.

Rather, our culture is exclusively the result of human push. When the culture moves in a given direction, it does so not due to random chance, but due to the degree of will exerted by its individual members.

We must always remember that the media is a collection of individual human beings, each with his or her own prejudices, biases, and failings. And when the media moves in a certain direction on a given issue (and likewise, when it does not budge from a given position), it does so simply because a few of its individual members have pushed it in that direction, and others have done nothing to prevent them.

So, while it may occasionally seem as if, "Everyone thinks that skinny is beautiful," the truth is simply that, "Those individual members of the mass media who write about celebrity culture think that skinny is beautiful" (for reasons which deserve careful scrutiny).

There is a big difference between the two.

And while it may sometimes appear as if "No one appreciates voluptuous curves," the reality is simply that "No individual member of the mass media who writes about celebrity culture appreciates voluptuous curves."

Once we reassess popular culture in this manner, then suddenly, those oft-published, pro-emaciation aesthetic opinions--which, at first glance, appear to be the consensus of the majority--are revealed to be nothing more than the narrow bias of a small handful of individuals, who have exerted their "push" on the culture.

Why, then, has their "push" been so successful?

Largely, because these individuals enjoy virtually hegemonic control over the dominant means of communication in our society, i.e., print and television.

But also, because of the "voice" that they cleverly adopt in their writings.

They do not preface their fashion advice with disclaimers such as,

"While it is true that most men find curvaceous figures attractive, I personally do not. Therefore, I am going to give you fashion advice based on the premise that you should dislike your curves as much as I do, and cover them up, and try to minimize them."

Instead, what they say is,

"Fashion rule #1: Full-figured women should dress to minimize their curves and hide their flaws."

Suddenly, what is nothing more than a personal bias on a writer's part takes on the appearance of an objective fact.

Let's try another one.

Instead of prefacing their fashion advice by making truthful statements about their own prejudices, such as,

"While it is true that most people find full, round faces gorgeous, I personally find boyish looks attractive, and therefore, I am going to deliver hairstyling/makeup advice based on the premise that you should prefer androgyny over femininity as well. Therefore, crop your hair short and try to give your face a narrower, more oval shape."

Instead, what they say is,

"Women with round faces should try to minimize their facial shape."

Once again, a writer has cloaked his or her own personal bias in the language of an objective fact.

* * *

When it comes to the aesthetic values of contemporary society, nothing is "just the way things are." Things "are" a certain way because a few individuals have imposed their will on the culture, and many more have done little to prevent them.

Until now.

Today, a new day is finally dawning, a day in which the lovers of true beauty have started pushing back, after having the true ideal of beauty pushed aside for nearly a century.

At last, the timeless ideal of full-figured femininity is being revived, and the narrow ideal of the modern age is being rejected.

And the only wonder is that it has taken so long for this restoration to occur.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Bocca Baciata 1859:

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