I am looking at myself in the mirror in a changing room. I can’t help it. There are mirrors on every wall and I can see how I stand, how my body is from every angle.
I realise I am slouching so I pull myself up. My face looks tired. My hair is in a ponytail, there isn’t lots of it since my kids were born. I am in my early forties and my skin is starting to sag in many places. I pull myself up again. I smile but still look tired, I notice dark circles under my eyes. I remind myself I am only here to buy a pair of trousers, that’s all. I force myself to stop looking, get dressed and leave the changing room.
I go to the queue to pay. Big screens in front of us display the images of very young women. They are tall and thin. They have glowing skin and beautiful hair, lots of shiny, amazing hair and beautiful smiles. They have perfect, symmetric face features. They look casually at the horizon in amazing landscapes. They look free, young and untroubled.
I look at the rest of women in the queue; they are all different in age, all different shapes and sizes. None of us look like those women. I wonder if they are all thinking the same stuff when looking at the screen. I wonder if they can’t help looking at themselves in the mirror in the changing room. I wonder if they know, like me, how incredibly stupid these thoughts are, but still have them.
Suddenly something comes to mind: an article I read in the paper last week about naturism. You think about those people as somehow odd, nonsensical. In reality, looking at myself in the mirror it all makes sense. I assume when they undress themselves, they might feel uncomfortable at first but they are willing to break the barrier and show how we actually all look. They declare that they feel liberated, that they do it because it makes them feel good. I assume they don’t scrutinise themselves in the mirror when trying on clothes. Naturists are the rebels, the brave, the ones who step out of the mainstream.
I leave the clothes store and pass by many other shops. I can see many of them are geared towards women, they are all designed to create the illusion of youth. Clothes, make up, cosmetics, hair products, skin products, shoes, accessories. Women buy a lot more stuff than men. I wonder if when buying all kinds of stuff, women are following a painful path of perfecting themselves, of becoming one step closer to the women displayed on the screens. The reality is, as long as we feel so inadequate, we will keep buying. The more images of impossibly perfect women are displayed everywhere, the more we keep the wheels of consumption spinning.
I can see the trap of advertisers, and how easy it is to follow the main message. Stay young, forever young, buy everything we ask you to. And go even further and mutilate yourself, go under the knife, do botox, the fillers, the ultimate youth promise. Reject who you are and make our industry a multimillion-dollar industry.
For the last decade with the growth in popularity of social media, there is a danger of living in a parallel reality by posting pictures of perfect homes, perfect lives, perfect bodies. Instagram has replaced normal interaction between human beings. It is about showing the world how I transform myself in order to be closer to perfection. Lots of pictures are posted day after day and there is a race to have the same, the lovely south facing extension, the perfect holiday, the perfect skin, the amazing pair of shoes and hairstyles, the perfect tanned body, new fake eye lashes and hair extensions, the ultimate new procedure to make you look younger.
It is a never-ending race to spend and borrow, the more you spend, the closer to perfection. The more money wasted, the more you are conforming.
I go home with a sense of relief and keep the new trousers in the wardrobe. I need to have a look at this article about naturists. They seem calm. They seem happy. They don’t need to buy stuff, they don’t need to change themselves. They seem content. Happiness is already achieved. Will I take the plunge? I imagine myself naked in the water, all by myself. I close my eyes and I imagine feeling calm and happy. I imagine not wishing I was younger, desiring to look younger, and not wanting any stuff apart from necessities. Enjoying life, relationships and experiences, the real gift. It is you and the water. It is being grateful for being alive and life as it is.
But can I actually do it? Can I accept the passage of time? Vulnerability. Mortality. I don’t know if I can take that step yet. I am still someone who sits on the fence.