Prior to moving to Jamaica, as someone who works in media, I bought just about every publication on the newsstands. Including the fashion magazines. Literally every title you see.
I enjoyed reading about fashion and beauty trends, or at least, I thought I did. I think now that I was actually just caught up in a harmful and wasteful habit.
I now see that despite the fact that these magazines are produced on a monthly basis, there is little new revealed in each issue. The colour of the outfits might change, the technology of the creams might advance, the heels of the shoes might shift, but fundamentally, not much is different from issue to issue. Rather, the editors are caught up in the cycle of consumerism, which encourages conspicuous consumption and contributes to the belief that we always need more and better. I see this now.
What I also see is just how damaging seeing the images of these emaciated girls, otherwise known as the models, on a regular basis, are to women and girls. But until I moved to Jamaica, where these magazines aren’t as readily available, nor are they affordable to me, I had no perception of just how much this conditioned my psyche and trained my eye to believe that just one type of beauty is acceptable.
In Jamaica, women’s bodies are celebrated for what they are, not what they are not. (I will state that Jamaica has its own issues with image, mostly in terms of skin colour, but I do not feel qualified to comment on that aspect. I will also state that I have been wanting to write this post for awhile, more extensively, but perhaps I will expand on it later. Another caveat: the downside to this atmosphere – I’m not certain if it is a by-product or not- is a highly sexualized atmosphere in which young people- mainly girls and women- are objectified, but that is a matter for another post.)
In Jamaica, at least in terms of shape, there does not exist a standard to achieve. Rather, the shape is revered for whatever it happens to be. Curvy (or “fluffy” in Jamaican terms), skinny (“slimmaz”), whatever you are is fine just the way it is, and Jamaican women tend to wear clothes that fit close to the body, free of the shame endemic to Western society, where we are constantly told we are not acceptable unless we meet a certain standard.
I have been in the U.S. and Canada for a couple of weeks now, and have bought a few magazines. With this altered perspective, I am reading them differently. I realize that I am given a plethora of information, but the fundamental message is that I am not good enough. I need to be better.
And here are all the ways in which I need to be better:
-skinnier, but not too skinny
-more toned, but not too muscular
-white skin is best, but you must be tanned, but not too orange
-smoother, younger, more dewy skin, but not too shiny
-light, smooth, long, straight, shiny hair, but not too greasy
-tall, but not too tall
-free of hair on your body
-perfectly manicured nails
And under any circumstances, you must not age. If you do, you must spend lots of money to combat this natural process.
In Jamaica, I am relatively immune to the messages of North American media, whether it be from editorial fashion shoots or advertisements or television, so my eye is being retrained to accept and embrace different images of beauty. In fact, when I read the fashion magazines now, the images of the models shock me. They look unhealthy and unhappy and unattainable and unappealing.
As someone who has struggled with body image and acceptance (who hasn’t?), I am grateful for this. I am grateful to Jamaica. These are just some initial thoughts, I hope to develop them more.