I didn’t count on this showing up. If I did, I might not have done it. Maybe it’s best that I didn’t know. I might have chickened out. I’ve done it before, you know.
What began as an experiment — immersing myself in being fully visible, without a mask to hide behind by way of foregoing makeup and then writing about it — has taken me to places I’ve been before. Which has been a surprise. This is not a side of myself I reveal to many people. I don’t want to be labeled a conspiracy nut. Or crazy. I’ve been down this road in my head more times than I can count — been avoiding it my entire life. I’ve kept secrets about the ‘crazies’ longer than I thought possible.
You see, you don’t tell people you hear a Voice in your head when your mom has been in and out of mental hospitals during your childhood.
But that ‘Voice’ has saved me on many occasions; it’s been my inner compass, my guidance system. That Voice helped me to survive, stay safe, thrive and make good decisions that didn’t seem like it at the time. That Voice told me I could tell my brother to stop touching me when I was 11. And it told me that committing suicide when I was 15 would be fine if I was doing it because it was my choice — not a way out of what seemed to be an impossible situation. It told me that I needed to severe all ties with my birth family or else suffer a nervous breakdown.
That Voice has quietly and continually encouraged me during my darkest moments of shame and self doubt, just as it is now. Because I made a promise to myself: I’m done hiding. I’m done seeking acceptance and approval. Yet even though the mask is off, I admit — I’m still not completely sure that this is a good idea.
Still, here I am.
In spite of how challenging it would be to show up, it seemed simple at first. I only had to focus on what I was doing and why, not other’s reactions or non-reactions to me. Make note, and move on. But being the social beings that we are, we naturally look to others for feedback and I wasn’t immune to this. When I noticed that people’s response to what I was doing was fairly mild and even rather supportive, I grew curious. There seemed to be so much emphasis on appearance, yet people I interacted with didn’t think of it as the big deal that I thought they would. What was going on? Is it possible that this was all in my head?
Is it possible that ‘beauty REALLY is in the eyes of the beholder’?
So I spent the entire weekend searching the internet for information, studies, statistics. It’s all there. But it’s a lot to absorb and in spite of it seeming to be superficial, it’s a serious topic. I kept watching, and listening.
Listening to makeup artist Eva DeVirgilis speak to her experience, I began to feel I was on to something. She does not see the people in her chair as as they seem to themselves: imperfect, deformed, hideous. It’s all in her clients’ minds. She spends much of her time reassuring her clients of how beautiful they are from the inside out. And still, knowing this, she says that she does the very same thing that her clients do — apologizes for her appearance when someone is doing her makeup, apologizing for being less than perfect.
It would be easy to blame this on advertising playing into our insecurities, because it does. Study after study proves that advertisers have for decades targeted our deep-rooted fears and our need to fit in to — to be attractive and accepted — to sell their products. This is not news to anyone.
Digging deeper to see where this originated, and how we have gotten to the point that we are at now, I wanted to understand how we women came to hold ourselves to impossible standards of beauty that can only be achieved by digital adjustments or plastic surgery. (I’m still searching for whose standard we are talking about.)
I didn’t have to look very far. There is an abundance of information on the internet. My search lead me to the field of psychology, and the work of Sigmund Freud and his family. Specifically his daughter, Anna Freud, and his nephew, Edward Bernays.
(I am not exploring this by way of placing blame… it is the beginning of a discussion of the evolution of how we got to where we are now.)
Edward Bernays, proclaimed ‘father of public relations’ and nephew of Sigmund Freud, made his mark by using propaganda during World War I to win the hearts and minds of Americans against the communist threat. Ironically, a defender of democracy, Bernays had little trust in the intelligence of the average American and turned the use of the system he’d developed based on his uncle’s research and theories, on the very people whose minds he trusted to know the superiority of a democratic society. He was tapped during the 1920’s by the tobacco companies to widen their markets to include women and the public relations industry was born and, by extension, marketing as we know it today.
Anna Freud went on to apply her father’s theories to teach children in the 1940’s to conform to the rules of society by controlling their inner worlds. By developing inner moral guidance, children would be raised to accept social consciousness and conform to social mores. Her findings can still be seen in use in our public education system today.
By 1946, President Truman signed the National Health Act to deal with the invisible threat to society — the unpredictable, uncontrollable unconsciousness, particularly in response to the traumatized veterans returning from the battlefields — only to have psychological standards imposed on every aspect of American life.
The marriage of public relations and corporate interests, combined with control of a rapidly increasing population (the famous Baby Boom) made our society ripe for the huge social shift underway — the true ramifications which we are now only beginning to understand as our children mutilate, starve, or suicide themselves trying to achieve impossible standards of beauty and success. (Boys are not immune to the pressures and programming. The targeting and intentions are different.)
While we adults are still finding our way out of our own programmed insecurities, it will be difficult, to disconnect our children from this epidemic of social toxicity. It is up to us to use our wisdom and intelligence, to make a conscious choice to say we do not accept these impossible standards — not for ourselves, and especially not for our children.
We can start by changing our mindsets. By being kinder to ourselves and each other, not buying the products hawked by those who seek to keep us engaged in the belief that we are less than, and understanding the difference between self esteem and self confidence, we can set the example for our children of what it is to be empowered.
This may sound impossible. I promise, it’s not. I’ll share more of what I’ve learned in tomorrow’s post. (Hint: it’s not about ‘them’.)
If you are interested in exploring Edward Bernays’ philosophy, here’s a link to a free PDF of his book that you can download:
Propaganda by Edward L. Bernays — https://archive.org/details/Propaganda1928ByEdwardL.Bernays
To explore this discussion more in-depth, here’s a link to a free documentary on the evolution of propaganda and how we got to where we are today:
Century of the Self:
Copyright 2014 by Donna Cerame. All rights reserved.