Image is everything

In 1990, Andre Agassi starred in commercials for a camera brand.

One of the ads has him, fully mulleted, removing his dark glasses and proclaiming that ''Image is everything''.

I guess that was an edgy statement then. Now it just gives me the creeps. It's not the mullet. Great mullets rock. It's more how pervasive that statement has become.

And how narrow. If you look at the true definitions of the word image, they encompass physical, mental and conceptual dimensions. And yet, we mostly speak of images either in terms of pictures or of the physical self we present to the world. Often the two combinedWhen I send my words somewhere, I'm often asked for an accompanying image of myself. Like the photo above.

And I'm not alone. A quick squiz at my local newspaper shows professionals of all stripes accompanying their ads with an image. The White bit of the local Yellow pages (confusingly in a blue book) shows smiling carpet sellers, plastic surgeons and window cleaners. Thank goodness the fashion hasn't caught on to have a little pic next to your residential listing. People even send in photos with CVs, as if it is not enough to be Liz Breslin BA.Hons.Dip.Life.OSHnerd.Etc.

Blah. The most memorable one I ever received showed a guy on a snowy summit, axe in hand, white teeth on show. I believe he also wrote that his resting heart rate was 50bpm. I'm not sure if that came under skills or achievements.

Has the physical part of our image become overly important? Has it narrowed the way that we see people? Even to use the phrase ''see people'' affirms that we perceive and understand them mostly visually.

Facebook doesn't help. (Does it ever?) A quick squiz at my list of friends shows quite a few with suspiciously perfect profile pictures. Linkedin is even worse for that. Yes, I get it that it's important to present a professional self on the page, but isn't it also important to be real?

Many of us are losing touch with what real looks like. Airbrushing is the norm in the shiny printed media. And by the norm, I mean it is massively more common for images to be changed than to remain true to what the camera sees. Boobs perked up on skeletal frames. Inches sliced off curves with the stroke of a mouse. Blemishes smoothed, colouring tweaked, hair and face paint made and magnified. The physical equivalent of having a super-tidy squeaky-clean house all the time. Just not natural.

Why do people buy into this? An image that is both aspirational and unattainable. And you might say you don't but we all do. A little bit. Hands up who hasn't deleted a picture because it doesn't look good. Or edited it? Not even red eye? Come on.

In Japan, if you buy big beautiful apples in season, you'll find a small syringe mark somewhere subtle. That's where they've injected it with sugar to make it plump and sweet. I was horrified when I first saw it, but it only took me a couple of months to expect primpy apples in plush wrapping. If you don't fight it, it becomes the norm.

Is fight too harsh a word? Maybe, but it is a struggle. Me, I can't even keep up with appearing to care about maintaining my appearance, let alone doing anything about it. I routinely leave the house without looking in the mirror. But sometimes I wonder: if I looked better, would things be better?And that way madness lies.

Because life can never be the way it seems in media representations. Because they are a mahoosive stonking lie. The ever-shifting list of things we're told to concern ourselves with in the world of appleblush perfection: thigh gaps, side boobs, underboobs, side butt, back dimples, upper leg pimples. Which of these are supposedly hideous and which desirable. Which can even ever be realistically achieved. And what the wider point of that would be.

Some people I have ranted to about this - usually men and kids - have had no idea of the extent of the airbrushing that goes on. Others - usually women - know that many of the images we are presented are false and yet still try to live up (or down or in or out, depending on the body part) to this fake standard.

Aren't we smarter, stronger than that? Or is it game, set and match to the media trying to sell us a shinier version of ourselves?

- Liz Breslin. 

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