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Normal's not good enough

by Francesca Martinez

3rd February 2003

Something really odd has happened. It used to be that 'normal' people gawped at anyone who was different in any way, shape or form.
Anyone who stood out in the crowd. Anyone who was too tall. Overweight. Skinny. Ugly. Drop-dead gorgeous. Foreign-looking. And oh yes - disabled.

But now being normal is just not good enough for a lot of people. Being normal means you don't stand out from others, and that is sooo uncool! Many people I know are so embarrassed by their run-of-the-mill normality that they'll try all sorts of things to make themselves abnormal (well, different). What's going on? "Tonight, Matthew," (everyone's innocent 'til found guilty so don't give me grief) "I want to be completely unlike anyone else unless they happen to be perfect in a cool and whacky way." It's a new phenomenon or condition, and young people are suffering from it more than any other group in society. Why?

The finger of suspicion has to point at The Media. Yes, I know, it comes in for a lot of flak for all kinds of reasons, but this time it really does have a serious case to answer. Take a look at your typical pop idol or TV presenter, flick through any big-selling magazine, watch a hit movie or a high-profile advert. What's the common denominator? Young, beautful guys and dolls often with perfect, fat-free bodies.

Teenagers do not plaster the walls of their bedrooms with posters of normal human beings - because normal human beings have wonky noses, greasy or thinning hair, acne, flabby torsos, cellulite and bad teeth. No. Teenagers put up posters of demi-gods. Trouble is, these divine creatures aren't just smiling at them from their bedroom walls, oh no. Wherever young people go - wherever anyone goes for that matter - images of physical perfection rain down from on high. So the message is always there: "Hey, you! This is how you should look! If you don't, then NO ONE will look at YOU in that way!"

There's also another message, and whole industries have been created on the back of it. That message is: "IF YOU DON'T CHANGE THE WAY YOU LOOK YOU MIGHT AS WELL TOP YOURSELF!"

Is it any wonder that so many perfectly normal, healthy and intelligent people feel complete failures because of how they look? Who cares how clever you are? Your legs aren't long enough! Who cares how kind or generous you are? Your face isn't symmetrical and you've got no neck! Who cares about ANYTHING you have to offer the world if you don't look like a supermodel?

So people, specially kids, go crazy trying to alter their appearance. In the old days, it was just a case of slapping on some make-up - and that was just the boys. Now everyone's having nose jobs. Tummy tucks. Leg extensions. Boob jobs. Whatever it takes to change an ordinary body into something extraordinary. But it doesn't stop there, because there are plenty of young women with beautiful skin and beautiful looks who are starving themselves so they can stay as dangerously skinny as the models they adore. Anorexia and Bulimia are commonplace nowadays. Supermarkets are full of low-fat this and low-calorie that. The 'skeletal look' is so in that it has become a national obsession.

Teenagers are particularly vulnerable because of the insecurities that hit them in your teens. An average-sized boy with regular looks and uncontrollable, frizzy hair isn't going to grow up to look like George Clooney, Brad Pitt or Piers Brosnan. The truth is that very few boys are going to do so, but at just 14 years old that poor kid is being made to feel that his life is over when it comes to girls and fun and coolness.

Where are the parents, though?! Surely they can see through the illusion that the media is projecting into our lives from every angle. Sadly, most parents can't. They're a part of it. Many of them wouldn't be able to hold onto the jobs that provide for their loved ones if they didn't take extreme care of their appearance. Not being young anymore is the new age of retirement. To keep that dreaded gold watch at bay you have to do what you can to STAY YOUNG. So exhausted mums and dads traipse down to the gym three nights a weeks to keep onto their job-securing youthful appearnce for as long as they can. Men dye their hair as often as women. Balding middle-aged men shave it all off to achieve that fetching Nazi Youth look. Women have face-lifts decades before they're old enough to require stair-lifts. Men are into that kind of thing too, and talk about having 'a botox' in the same casual way they would talk about nipping down the pub. Like their kids, parents have become slaves to their physical appearance.

Never in the history of humanity have so many able-bodied people been made to feel so inadequate by so few.

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