I was surprised but delighted to win the journalism category of the Diversity NOW! Competition in association with i-D Magazine with my award presented to me at Graduate Fashion Week a few days ago.
The journalism brief was a piece of energetic writing, charting a thoughtful and adventurous journey through or about image. It was to include a brief analysis the current culture of beauty and body ideals from your perspective and be no longer than 800 words. The aim of the competition was to empower the next generation of creatives, from design, film, photography and journalism to create a fashion future that promotes a broader range of body and beauty ideals to truly celebrate individuality.
Fashion media is an increasingly powerful source of inspiration, information and comparison, and taking part in this thought-provoking competition has changed my perspective on the notions of beauty and the way that fashion is communicated. In a world where the boundaries of science, technology and beauty are becoming increasingly blurred, I think that it is vital to communicate a positive message that the future of fashion should embrace diversity and different types of beauty.
My winning entry is below:
Modern society has developed a dangerous obsession with science and beauty; a combination of powerful forces which, when combined, are alluring, seductive and mystifying. It is human nature to be seduced by beauty and to strive for self-improvement; to push the boundaries of humanity to become stronger, faster and more desirable. We live in an innovative, progressive society, constantly chasing the reward of the future, yet consequently, we are barely aware of the beauty of the present. Amidst our rapid race to move forward and improve ourselves, it is poignant to stop and think. About beauty. About the future. About humanity.
With eclectic channels of creative expression permeating the world around us, it seems incongruous that we should limit ourselves to portraying images which promote narrow ideals of beauty, endorsing unrealistic expectations of bodily perfection to define socially acceptable appearances.
What about diversity?
Such is the destructive nature of projecting images of digitally constructed beauty in the media, body dissatisfaction is now considered a normative discontent. Considering that we live in a society which prides itself on empowering and inspiring its population, it seems repressive and dysfunctional that women in particular are resorting to dangerous practices of self-destruction, putting themselves at risk in pursuit of what they are led to believe is the perfect body.
Cosmetic surgery procedures and eating disorders are rife and self-esteem is at an all-time low. This is at odds with the image of an empowering society. In the Western World it is engrained in our beliefs that we, as individuals, are responsible for ‘making it happen’, and in contemporary culture this ‘it’ is increasing associated with achieving physical perfection. With each one of us held responsible for our successes and failures, the value of success should be re-evaluated, with less emphasis placed on appearance as the dominant formula for personal achievement.
It is important to consider the nature of the society we are creating for younger generations; to analyse the messages we are communicating about the true meaning of beauty and the values of humanity. When I look at an image of a woman that has been subject to hours of meticulous manipulation to erase any trace of imperfection, I don’t see perfection as a result. Instead I see someone who is sterile, sinister and artificial. This goes for the faces I see which have been distorted by plastic surgery in order to imitate the look of a flawless image.
I like to see wrinkles to know that a person has laughed; I like to see scars to know that a person has lived and I like to see flaws to know that a person is real. Reality is not perfect, yet perhaps the most meaningful form of beauty lies in truth.
In the modern, cosmetically altered woman, a monster has been created; her skin is flawless, her lips are plump, her cheeks are well-defined, but her face lacks the capacity to express her emotions. With a countenance that defies her inner feelings, she is barely human.
Advances in technology and science in contemporary culture have enabled the human race to strive towards achieving the impossible. The conflict between nature and culture has been prominent since civilization began, yet never before has nature been defied or pushed to such extremes as it is in our current society. Experimenting with the configuration of the human body, we are dabbling in the unknown. The threatening development of genetic modification for aesthetic enhancement is surely a step too far? Attempting to re-code the very building blocks of our existence is dangerous territory. Push nature too much and she is sure to rebel.
With this in mind, I envision two potential futures; one is an uncertain future in which the face of beauty is homogeneous and manufactured; the other is an exciting future in which beauty is representative of individuality and creativity. It is within our power to shape the beauty of the future wisely, and responsibly, by challenging conventional notions of beauty and promoting images which are beautiful regardless of race, age, size or gender. We should portray images which encourage self-esteem rather than self-destruction, celebrating the eclecticism of natural beauty which cannot be digitally constructed on a computer screen or cosmetically enhanced in a surgery. Let us embrace diversity. NOW.