In Rousseau’s state of nature, people are blissfully happy in their solitude. They may not be fully rational, but at least they do not know what they don’t have, or for that matter, what celebrities they supposedly don’t look as good as. Before developing into a civilization, there is no means of comparison for people, and no way of knowing where they stand relative to others. We have now left this natural state however, and according to Rousseau, have all becomes slaves to civilization and the opinions of other people. One form of comparison that has become notably prevalent, and harmful, is that of body image. Every aspect that can be compared and critiqued is done so mercilessly by not only people, but the media, especially in setting standards for the ideal female. Rousseau would argue that in our natural state, people were blissfully unawares of their “body type” or weight, and would not be dragged down into the negative portrayal of today’s media. However, nowadays there are charts telling girls what shape their body is relative to others, and magazines devoted to weight loss tips so they can look like models. Thankfully, Jennifer Lawrence is around to contemporarily promote Rousseau’s ideologies, proclaiming the dangers of the tendency toward comparison that is inherent in the human condition.
Well on the track to becoming America’s amazingly talented, yet adorably awkward and relatable, sweetheart, Jennifer Lawrence has become a proponent for female body issues. Asked in an interview on her opinions about body image, she immediately condemned the unrealistic standard set by the media- the unattainable airbrushed model. She articulates the comparative problem Rousseau finds with civilization when she says, “You have to look past it- you look how you look, and be comfortable. What are you going to do? Be hungry every single day to make other people happy? That’s just dumb.” She claims here is that people pursue this mistaken form of rationality in their desire to meet and exceed social standards. Summarizing a main point of Rousseau, we have become slaves to the opinions of others, dependent upon their approval and making “other people happy”, because we come to believe that their affirmation is the key to our own happiness.
Girls are stripped of the freedom they enjoyed in their natural condition, and consequently come into mental and emotional conflicts both with others and themselves. Jennifer takes this concept even further into Rousseau’s principle as she discusses the damages of what the media has crafted as the ‘real world’. The real world, according to Rousseau, is simply what civilization and self-dependence on the opinions of others has produced. Focusing on this almost mythical society, and believing it to be commonplace, only has a negative effect. The syndrome here is especially evident in the way young girls nowadays are slaves to fashions, trends, and the ‘perfect body’.
However, as Jennifer so wisely observed, the real world is only synthetic and airbrushed, setting unrealistic expectations and creating a ‘decadent civilization’ that would not be found in Rousseau’s state of nature.
From nearly naked Victoria’s Secret models flashing across our TV screens, to simply watching other people walking down the street, it is nearly impossible to escape the trap of comparisons. After receiving that first validation of “You look pretty today”, or “You are beautiful”, the urge to become dependent upon these affirmations of others is insatiable. Not only have we, as a society, become dependent upon equating ourselves to one another, we make these judgments seem normal and healthy.
Rousseau would argue, and I believe both Jennifer Lawrence and myself would agree, that girls today have become chained to what the media presents as an “ideal” body type. And how has this type come to be? Through the constant appraisal of women’s appearances in societies, which are ceaselessly growing larger and more critical. As Rousseau predicted, and as Jennifer Lawrence has striven to illustrate, we become engrossed in the opinions of others, and their admiration. Hope exists however, as there are those in the media’s presence today, like Jennifer, attempting to overcome these unrealistic criteria to achieve the freedom formerly found in mankind’s natural state.