Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Why do we care how we look?

"Hullo, it's me again, Sonny.

"The other day, my grandmother trimmed my hair so I would look more "presentable". It was all bound up in a concept that is hard for me to understand: That how I appear is terribly important.

"If you ask me (and nobody ever does), if I were concerned about somebody's well-being, then it is that person's health, good humour, contentment and all that sort of thing that would engage my attention. I would inspect him carefully the way the nurse gives me the once-over at the polyclinic, but in this case I'd try to see if he's laughing freely, moving without discomfort and not expressing any deep worries or frustrations. Would I be worried that he didn't look as natty as a TV presenter or as well turned-out as a model? I don't think so.

"The thing is, adults would probably tell me about what they call "societal expectations". This seems to mean that because Person A, Person B and so on expect Person Z to behave in a certain way or dress in a certain manner (or cut his hair in a certain style), Person Z is more or less obligated to do so. If he does not, he is somehow deviant or 'not quite there'. There does not seem to be any need for further reasons to be given for why such attire, conduct or hairstyle is independently a good idea at all.

"I have to say (but nobody much cares what I say), such a state of affairs is pretty potty. I can tell that my parents have already begun their campaign to keep me looking the way "I should look" - all combed and outfitted and patted-down. Then, in a few years, they will probably expect me to maintain that sort of appearance on my own - simply because that is the way I would have been "brought up". If what adults call "science" proceeded in this circular manner, we'd surely never have gotten past inventing the wheel.

"Of course, you might point out to me that fashion and hairstyles do change with the seasons. But that's neither here nor there. Really, it makes the whole business even more frightening: First, a certain critical mass of people think that a certain look is "in", so loads of other people follow suit... then, the first lot of people change their minds - for no good reason, mind you - so the followers migrate their appearances accordingly.

"What's going on? Why should it matter that my appearance is "different", if my intentions and my conduct is above reproach? You would probably tell me that I "will understand when I grow up".

"The thought that I might come to accept this sort of mind control leaves me almost in tears!"


Anonymous said...

To answer your question, I recommend a test. Next time you go shopping, make an effort to buy the worst looking products, vegetables, clothes, etc, then ask yourself why you do feel better if your choice had been different. If you can answer this, then you will have an answer to your question.

Humans are visual creatures. We seem to be born to judge everything based on external appearances. We are comfortable with people who "look like us." Your grandma understands this very well and perhaps being practical, she is doing her best to make you look good.

Cloudsters said...

Pa (replying on behalf of Sonny, who really shouldn't be sneaking in to make these posts):
You're surely right to say that there's a genetic component to go with any socialised imperative for 'looking good'. So long as we are not thereby led to make unfair assessments of those who might have 'eccentric' views on such matters, the issue need not keep us awake at night.