The Art of Being Unfree

November 20, 2011

Political Theory


Does you remember Spice Girls? I do. I remember not only singing “Wannabe” at the top of my lungs with my other 6-year-old friends, but also how much I obsessed over the way they looked.

Spice Girls, circa 1997

I’d like to mark that as first time I became aware of how other, older women in the media looked. After Spice Girls, I began paying attention to Britney Spears, Density’s Child, Christina Aguilera, and Jessica Simpson. The boys had *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, and 98 Degrees for their male influence in the media.  In addition to awesome musical interests, I started looking at teen retail and fashion magazines later on in elementary school and was faced with ads depicting thin, heavily made-up women and half-clothed muscular men. At quite a young impressionable age, we were learning what society expected us and the opposite sex to look like.

Adriana Lima, Vogue August 2003

Soon, I started feeling uncomfortable in my figure skating and gymnastics leotards and by middle school I was faced with very low self-esteem and embarrassment over my weight and size during gym class fitness tests. In retrospect, I wasn’t very high above average weight for my age and it was body’s way of telling me to switch to contact sports and start using my “thunder thighs” for checking over-confident hockey guys in the boards. But, of course, I didn’t realize this then.

98 Degrees, popular boy band in the late 90s

With half of my life story out of the way, we come to the crux of an issue. We, as a society, are slaves to the judgments of others. We allow ourselves to be told how to look, act, and be. We are unfree. Jean-Jacques Rousseau in “Discourse on Inequality” introduces the idea of amour-propre; a concept that conveys a self-love that depends upon the opinion of others. He writes that our comparative love in a competitive society leads to a bad social contract. Meaning, by being completely dependent on others and allowing the government to support our dependence, we are perpetuating our inequality.

“It now became the interest of men to appear what they really were not. To be and to seem became two totally different things; and from this distinction sprang insolent pomp and cheating trickery, with all the numerous vices that go in their train. On the other hand, free and independent as men were before, they were now, in consequence of a multiplicity of new wants, brought into subjection, as it were, to all nature, and particularly to one another; and each became in some degree a slave even in becoming the master of other men…”

Rousseau states that our increasing amount of interaction with others leads us to judge ourselves, and ultimately love ourselves, influenced solely by the opinion of others.  He says that men who were previously not under the subjection of other men become slaves to society in a quest to be superior.  It is in Rousseau’s opinion and my own that we are all naturally unfree in our society because of amour-propre. Do you agree that we are all naturally unfree because of comparative love? Is there any way to truly free ourselves? Additionally, do you believe that current self-love campaigns such as Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty or U of M’s Body-Peace Corps is enough to undo all of the negative influence in the media?

Women of Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty

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2 Comments on “The Art of Being Unfree”

  1. madelinedunn Says:

    The media, in every way shape and form, endorses an ideal body image that is, for many people, highly unlikely to become their reality. Unfortunately, this is affecting our society both emotionally and physically, we see it in both men and women as well as in adults and children alike. This idea that we cannot love ourselves for who we are and instead scrutinize the way we look and buy products that transform us into a brighter and better person is a sad feat that we face living in society today.
    This idea of comparative love making us naturally unfree is actually happening. You see it everywhere. Girls complementing each other on what they’re wearing as opposed as to what opinions they hold. People stopping and checking themselves out in the mirror; some girls even have this signature face they make when reapplying just the right amount or eyeliner or lipstick. Many of us are slaves to each other’s constant and continuous approval, and to be honest, we CAN help it.
    We have elected what is shown in the media by the way we respond to what we have already been exposed to. Magazines, such as Cosmopolitan, are not going to publish articles that they know are not in the interest of their intended audience. Have you ever noticed that Cosmo does not tell girls how to directly make themselves happy? Instead all of the articles talk about how to make the man happy, which translates into eventual self-love and satisfaction.
    Another example of this concept is buying large obnoxious houses on credit. Houses that prove a point to the neighbors: point being that the family who owns the house is wealthy and has finally made it up the ladder to achieve a new level of satisfaction with their lives. This front that is established by families who thrive off of the admiration of others, is one way that they can in turn love themselves. In the media, in general, people who live in large houses and in nice neighborhoods live a life that many people strive for: this life includes happiness, lots of friends, nice cars and financial security. Here, we see a lifestyle advertisement format being sold through the form of television shows and other media outlets. The consumer wants the life of these stars, so they think they have to buy the large house to obtain the eternal happiness they have been searching for.
    This idea of needing the approval of others in order to approve of one’s self, is a downward spiral that we actually have a chance of overcoming. As a society, we need to change our wants and needs from fancy clothing and gaudy makeup to more functional and tangible desires that will directly help us achieve internal compassion and satisfaction with our true selves. So, stop being a slave to other people and take the turn inward to see what you truly desire.

  2. ajnovo Says:

    I feel like parents also play a large role in how we view ourselves and our body image. I do not consider myself to be that thin since my sister is a twig, but I do realize that I am skinnier than a lot of females my age. My parents have always encouraged us (my sister and I) to be happy with ourselves, and always told us that we were perfect how we are. We shouldn’t just blame media for telling us what the perfect human looks like, but parents also play a part in how a child sees them-self.

    I feel like everyone has that one aspect they wish they could change about them-self and mine is my skin. I’ve had acne for YEARS, and I can’t tell you how much I hate ProActiv commercials because they’re always on, and I’m upset that it didn’t work for me. My mom has always been willing to buy me different face products, and she understands my situation since her skin was similar to mine when she was my age. She always jokes how even though right now my skin may not be perfect, the extra oil our skin produces helps with the aging process – she looks years younger than her actual age. Encouragements like that really helped my accept my skin, and even though I don’t like it, I’ve never felt like my skin has held me back.

    I would love it if one day acne skin became sexy, but I know it never will. I do buy make up and I do look at fashion trends and I guess that makes me one of those people in the consumer traps, but I like it. I’m excited to go shopping for Black Friday, and I don’t mind the extra time in the morning it takes for me to get ready. I wish more importance was placed on women’s intelligence especially in science/engineering, and I love Dove’s commercials with real women. I do expect our media to change, and I really hope that plastic surgery no longer plays as important of a role in our society

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