Medium published my new article “The Complexities of the Connection between Looks and Happiness”
With teenagers and young adults spending much (too much) of their time on TikTok, Instagram, and other social media platforms, the flood of videos of attractive young people shapes their views on how they, too, must look. With their body image shaped and carved by the curves of models, a barrage of messages tells our children: “You don’t look good enough! You need to lose more weight! You have to lift more weights!” And because their body image can never meet the standard set by social media, they are condemned to incurable frustration and insecurity.
Were we not social beings, we would not mind our looks. Animals could care less about their looks. They only care about their physical strength.
For us, looks are everything. We cannot go anywhere or achieve anything without meeting the required visual standard. Whatever the society we’re in respects, we must adopt. Otherwise, we are excluded from society. This is why we are so insecure about our looks.
The standards of society are created by unrealistic films, TV series, and photoshopped images. We, who cannot meet the unachievable benchmark, are left insecure and frustrated. We would be much more relaxed and much less affected by looks were it not for the influence of the media.
Without the influence of the environment, we would wash our faces and hands in the morning and that would conclude our “grooming.” But we cannot settle for this; we have to shower, shave, put on makeup, pick through our wardrobe, and do everything else that we do in the morning just to feel presentable enough to face the day.
These days, it is as true of men as it is true of women. In a generation where appearance means everything, and substance means nothing, we have no choice but to comply.
My teacher, RABASH, used to say that if he had the choice, he would never change from the pajamas he slept in. They were warm, cozy, with big pockets, and who could ask for more?
People on secluded islands always look disheveled. It is not because they are poor and cannot afford to shave or shower or buy clothes. Because they are alone, they have no need to impress anyone and no dress code to meet. Therefore, they have no regard for their looks. They could be strong and healthy, yet look a mess, since appearance is only for the onlookers.
The significance of looks does not begin at adolescence. Even three-year-olds feel it. They may not understand it at that age, but they are already influenced by social codes.
As with adults, so it is with children. If we want them to increase the importance of substance over appearance, of personality over looks, we must inculcate these values into their society. As a result, everyone within that society will adopt this line of thought.
Conversely, if we want our children to fit into the social code of appearance so they would be popular in their age group, we have to do it very carefully. If, for example, a girl is overweight but cannot maintain a diet, we must not comment on her weight. On the contrary, we should help her accept who she is just as she is. If, however, we know that we can help her lose weight and improve her image among her friends, we should encourage her to do so.
Either way, a confident person will not be put down. People do not mock people’s appearance if they seem at ease with it.
As for looking aesthetic, this is a different story. I do not think we should look disheveled or rumpled or unclean when in society. We should not look repulsive, but maintain our appearance in a manner that is pleasant for the people around us. This has nothing to do with looks, but with mutual consideration and decency toward the people around us. And this is true not only for me, but also for my children; they, too, need to be presentable.
In conclusion, if we want to prevent unnecessary frustration and insecurity, we need to install a more balanced body-image in society, one that does not require people to starve themselves or exercise to exhaustion.