Bought by Society: Beauty Standards Have Made Me Icarus

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I am too comfortable telling myself I am not beautiful. I feel as though I am Icarus who tried (hard) with good intention and crashed to the floor; a heap of melted wings on my wayside.

I had this epiphany while sitting on a cold concrete floor.  I couldn't help but stare at the most alluring thing in the white, plain, studio - the dirty and broken windows. Cold drafts of air flowed into the room as the winter season tried to infiltrate the overwhelmed single heater and high-ceiling space. It's my tenth photo shoot session in the past two weeks and I'm light-headed with my camera in my lap. As a photographer, I have three main goals - find the story, capture the subject(s) natural self, and don't try to make them comfortable.

The last objection is the opposite of what we're generally told in workshops and training sessions but I disagree. I think when we become too comfortable, we dilute our genuine personality. I never force a subject to not do anything they don't like and I keep my personality kind, but I encourage them to walk outside of the comfort zone despite their modeling or camera background. The reason is not to capture an untrue version of themselves, but the authentic version of themselves.

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As I sit on the floor, I feel anything but beautiful; I feel ugly. What a strong word. Ugly. By definition, that word is repulsive in appearance. Do I honestly consider myself repulsive? Yes, sometimes. I think about my scarred skin from acne, my moderately-white teeth, and untoned body. The list could go on, but that's not what this article is about. It's the concept that whatever gender you identify as you've been drowned in unrealistic standards by society.

Now you hear "society" and you want to roll your eyes. I get it. We can pin everything on society or socio-political standards. It's an easy target; a macro-system we all endure that's inevitable. You can also argue that those three things I dislike about myself can be fixed, in time, but we don't give ourselves time. I know I haven't. I try to pile on all these changes at once and many of the best resources are ones I can't afford as someone living paycheck to paycheck. Why do I feel so inclined to make the changes so aggressively in the first place?

As technology takes off and throws equally great and detrimental apps like Instagram our way, we aren't given the time as the rising generations to learn how to handle the side effects of it. Nobody could predict the mental pressure things like this would add, so my friends, we are the guinea pigs.

Advertisements now surround us in every capacity, on the web, numerous social and non-social applications, signs on the street and highways. Suddenly, we are Icarus and we are flying too close to the sun. The sun is perfection and humans aren't meant to live on the sun. Imperfection is what builds our inner-context and our character. If you recall the tale, Icarus grew too comfortable in his mindset and he paid for the consequences. We dream to be the subjects we admire; who are digitally edited and changed physically or have the best products due to money and companies. While we all dabble in these waters it should not distort our real ideal of beauty. Society does not own me and it shouldn't own you.

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Now, as a young woman in her twenties, I am too comfortable. I have decided that I will never be that beautiful. I have given into the massive amount of ads that I will be influenced by on a daily basis. I am going to make myself uncomfortable again and remind myself on a regular basis what beauty means to me; my intelligence, ambition, when I'm laughing, and embracing joy. Don't let companies or people try to shove their beliefs on you. Wear makeup or not, cut your hair or grow it long. Whatever.

You do not need to make wings like Icarus. You already have them.


Written, Subject, and Photographed by Sarah McKinnon. 2019.

Edited by Courtney Navarro