Barbara Talks Books: The Realisation of a Type (or how we never learned from the lessons of Oscar Wilde)

There are some situations in life that stick with us no matter what. Some of these situations are fond memories and some of them are where we did something bad and regretful. No matter what situation it is, it shapes who we are today, how we look at the world around us and builds character. That’s why the older we get, the wiser we are. We learn from our mistakes and become better people because of them. I remember when I was a teenager, I wanted to fit in so badly that I sometimes neglected who I was. I was an awkward person going through an even more awkward phase in life. I wasn’t the prettiest girl in my friend group, I wasn’t the most fashionable, I was just the girl who loved books. I felt like I was in the perfect 90’s movie plot where the awkward shy girl gets a makeover and reveals how beautiful she was the entire time.

When I was thirteen I moved to another country. I’m originally from Brazil and I spent four wonderful years in the Netherlands. I was really nervous to start school and I was scared that I was going to be judged by my accent, my clothes, my hair, etc. The opposite happened. In all my years living in abroad, I befriended six wonderful and singular persons that I hold very dear to my heart. We had lots of fun, we learned a lot from each other, we helped one another through rough times and I found out that they accepted and loved me for who I am. We were, and still are a group of misfits that don’t fit in society’s standard. We’re unique and talented young adults that are comfortable with who we became.

9781435129757.jpgLast week I was reading The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde for the umpteenth time when I started to realise that the society described in the book isn’t so different from modern society. There are two main points in the book that caught my attention because they refer to the image struggle that everyone goes through at one point in their lives. I’m not going to spoil the plot of the book, as always, but I will discuss the superficial nature of society and the obsession with beauty and youth.

The Picture of Dorian Grey was published in 1890 in England and is set in during the Victorian era in England. The story follows a handsome young man called Dorian Grey who is corrupted by the standards of high society and becomes obsessed with youth and beauty. Throughout the book, Dorian uses his good looks, intelligence, and charm to become the idealisation of what a man should be like. This synthesis of posture allows him to experience freedom and decadence to the point where he abandons his morals and principles without rebuke. And even though he behaves badly, Dorian is never ostracised by society. On the contrary, he is venerated by all because of his beauty and his youth. In the end, Dorian Grey paid a hefty price for his obsessions and if we’re not careful, we will go down the same path.

Now, going 127 years on from when the book takes place, I take a long and hard look at
how we didn’t change at all. We still have the idealisation of body, beauty, and youth – even though there’s some diversification – by society’s standards. Beauty still reigns and nowadays it’s still so valued that it has become a valuable commodity around the world. It’s understandable that people want to look their best, but to put most of one’s energy and focus on becoming the ideal ‘it person’ isn’t worth it in the long run. People still judge each other for how they dress, how old they are, how they talk, and even how they act. Sometimes I really think that we have lost perspective on the facts that ageing is a natural and irreversible process that everyone will go through, no matter if you’re the Queen of England or a phone attendant in India. Change is inevitable and we all have to accept it to diversify the standards we live by.

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Flickr – Madelineyoki

It’s funny how literature imitates real life so well, and how it points out our flaws in a completely unpredictable way. After I read the book, I took a long, hard look at my actions and my decisions to determine if I kept true to myself. Since I turned out these societal standards, I became more confident and accepted who I am.  The paradigm of an idealised individual human being and the constant realisation of a type that fitting all the rules imposed by society makes us all dependent on our appearances rather than ourselves.

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