Thank you so much for that :-).
I really think one of the most basic human needs is to be seen – truly seen, as whole people – by our fellow human beings.
I forget where I read this, but apparently scientists did an experiment once that involved adults interacting with babies, but avoiding eye contact with them while doing so. Apparently it was quite distressing to the babies.
Of course that is just the basic form of looking/seeing, and we all know we mean more than that when we talk about “seeing” in this context. We mean to be acknowledged, validated, accepted, understood.
Again, all very important human needs that often go unmet for a lot of people in our modern society, unfortunately. (I think us writers are especially aware of and desire to be seen/heard/understood).
Another story about visibility from my youth:
When I was around nineteen, there was a noticeable increase in the kind of and amount of male attention I got. I had been kind of a nerdy, very skinny girl with braces and a bad perm in high school, so when I was in (community) college a couple years later and started getting more attention from guys, I was a bit slow on the uptake regarding what was going on.
One time after class, I was standing in the hallway, talking to about five or six of the guys from my class. I was the only girl in that group at that moment, and all the guys were all kind of standing around me in a little circle. At first I was happy about being a part of this little conversational group, especially since they all seemed really interested in whatever I had to say. I am a talker, so it was feeding my ego to have these guys seemingly hanging on my every word hah.
But then I slowly realized something – they were not actually listening to anything I was saying. I don’t mean that they were doing that kind of polite social half-listening thing that people tend to do. I mean, I could have literally started speaking gibberish and I doubt any of them would have noticed.
Instead, they were all just standing around me *looking* at me. Just watching me talk, but not hearing my words, if that makes sense. They were happy to let me keep talking because it let them stare/look, but yeah, nothing I said mattered.
Obviously I found this very weird and I went home later and pondered what had happened. It dawned on me that the reason why they were acting like that was because they found me attractive/desirable etc etc in a physical sense.
Which was flattering to me at the time, of course – especially since I had spent a lot of my adolescence being ignored (invisible) to boys my own age (not adult men though).
Almost immediately after feeling that sense of flattery, though, I felt kind upset. Because I could not work out why, if they found my outsides attractive, they seemingly had no interest in who I was on the inside? It did not make sense to me.
Plus, it started to make me nervous. Not just that interaction, but other interactions like it that followed.
Because I was aware, even at that age, that who I was was not based just on what I looked like. I knew my body and face would change. I knew it had already changed a lot throughout my life to that point, so I knew my body/physical appearance was therefore an unreliable thing to base my sense of self and/or self-worth on. I knew that was a recipe for disaster, psychologically.
I told myself at that point to try my best not to buy into it. Not to place much importance on my shell (beyond ensuring its health and well-being), even if that was what everyone around me was indicating was important.
It was really hard to do that, though. My ego did inevitably get tied up a bit on my looks, because it was the one thing I knew I could lean on if I felt badly about myself or my life in other ways. It was a way to get a quick hit of ego boosting if I needed it. But I always felt like I was betraying myself by doing that, too, so there was shame that came with it, as well.
Anyway, yeah – all this long-windedness is by way of me saying that this emphasis on surface appearance in our culture, especially for girls and women, really is toxic on a deep level, I agree. It ironically interferes with us having the chance to be seen in other ways – to be “seen” in a more holistic, full kind of way.
I am not sure what the solutions are, but I am glad that as a society we are at least starting to talk about this stuff.