it comes to understanding of beauty and the impact it can make on the way we choose to shape our life, habits and, lets face it, bodies. Naturally, I wanted to focus on the subject of psychology as a part of the series to address the healthy mind – healthy body link and also help some discover the answers they have been looking for.
I thought of Adriana Giotta, an international fashion model and founder of Role Model Living, from the start because I just felt that she would make the most perfect choice. A stunning, warm and intelligent woman, not only she experienced both sides of the fashion industry while working as a model for almost two decades, Adriana is also a qualified psychologist able to address all those emotions that can affect our mind when it comes to beauty and image, develop our true self, enjoy being unique and feel empowered by knowledge.
What does beauty mean to you?
I believe beauty is essential in our lives. Nature is naturally beautiful; sitting watching a sunset on a beach will leave us in awe. Therefore it is good to surround ourselves with beauty. Human beings possess an objective inner standard of beauty, acquired by education or social custom, to which even geniuses such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo referred. It includes elegance, grace, harmony in composition, consistency, poise, Vitruvian proportion and symmetry.
We also possess a subjective standard of beauty; such beauty is in the eye of the beholder: any child is beautiful to his or her mother, regardless of the way he or she looks.
Beauty is also an undying state of the self, as spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar explains impeccably: “The most good-looking, after some time don’t look so nice. It is not in the outer appearance, it is the spirit, the inner soul. Look at the spirit inside, there is inner beauty. That beauty of the spirit is undying. It increases day by day. It also increases with age. Wisdom and maturity bring so much beauty.
Beauty is not just some appearance. Similarly, ugliness is not out of appearance. Somebody may look very good with good makeup, but if their heart is very ugly and the mind is all twisted and full of negativity, however nice they may appear, their vibrations will tell you that they are not beautiful. So, it is the mind that makes one beautiful”.
What kind of impact, in your opinion, fashion has on our perception of beauty?
Fashion dictates a beauty standard that people are subliminally asked to adhere to, failing which they are labelled as inadequate. Hence people start feeling rejected and reject themselves falling into a vicious circle, often developing a psychological condition.
Unfortunately what fashion portrays as beautiful often isn’t, as it appears most of the time as forced, unnatural and frankly dysfunctional.
For example, ultra and unnaturally thin fashion models cannot be considered beautiful, yet nowadays, this has become the trend and people tend to conform, no matter how many starving diets it will imply. That said, we are witnessing an increase in eating disorders also due to the impact of media images on people: an eating disorder most of the time has its roots in the past and childhood of the individual but it can be triggered and offset much more easily through social pressures, a fertile ground for the development of the condition.
When people start comparing themselves to media images, they end up disliking or criticizing themselves and feeling miserable and unhappy as a consequence, hence unattractive. An interior punishing dialogue begins and they can hit themselves metaphorically or even literally (a self harming practice is binge eating for example). It becomes a vicious circle.
As a psychologist and a model, do you think it is fair to blame fashion and models for the idea of perfection many women strive to achieve no matter what?
It is never only one culprit. The issue is multifactorial. We live in an overpopulated planet, in cities that most of the time look like concrete jungles. Competition is fierce. Society demands perfection, high performances. The obsession with perfection is a result of a competitive, overpopulated society, disconnected from Mother Nature; the offset of the obsession is clearly facilitated by air brushed images of models, actresses/actors, tv stars: images built for hours, or even days, by teams of professionals working to create a dream. Hair dressers, make up artists, stylists, photographers, lighting, locations, sets, art directors, post production labs, etc; these images are sold as the natural result of using ‘such and such’ product or wearing ‘such and such’ brand; Pure manipulation.
The truth is these images are built up, unreal and unnatural yet people want to achieve that “perfection” because no one tells them what happens back stage and because society makes them feel inadequate, alienated or rejected if they don’t. So people become ill, whether mentally, physically or both and even spiritually (because self un-acceptance creates a hole in our souls, an inner conflict) chasing the impossible.
People start hating themselves for not being like Mr. X or not looking like the Chanel, Dior, Prada - you name it - advertisement model (not knowing that these models are, on top of all the above, most of the times only 14/16 years old! How can a 40 year old lady who wishes to be “fashionable” identify with these ultra skinny 14/16 years old baby girls and stay sane?).
Ultimately the consumerist society is not interested in a world populated by happy and healthy people as these people wouldn’t consume as much and therefore spend as much; the consumerist machine would stop or at least slow down. Sad but true. We need to become aware of this to avoid the trap. Knowledge is half the solution, the rest is up to each one of us, to avoid actively falling into the trap.
Fashion models are partially responsible, because they send out dysfunctional images. But they are often totally unaware as they are too young and/or often manipulated themselves. They simply adjust to the fashion industry’s requests and they become victims themselves: victims of an illusion, of a dream, of their own vanity, victims of the industry. They are too young to be able to have a critical thought so they just get manipulated hugely. This is the truth.
The adults involved in the fashion business are to be held accountable: a lot of fashion designers, model agents, photographers, fashion editors, art directors, casting directors and of course media and advertising agencies. They create, approve of and/or request such images and set the standards. Recently I observed a similar trend in the acting, tv and music industry as well. Has it all been driven by the fashion industry? Quite possibly.
When I was modelling I was asked - not explicitly, but rather in an indirect way, in other words you just knew that either you conformed or you stopped working - to be non-humanly “perfect”, as in looking ultra thin, plastic and disinhibited. It was all about the body, the outer look. In fact I wasn’t allowed a brain, an opinion, a voice, a thought, a soul, a need. I was expected to be bionic. A robot. A species of machine. When conforming to that standard, models begin to send that very message out through media images, colluding with the system inadvertently. As a consequence people, the public, start to be moulded, by being exposed, over and over again, to such images.
It happens subliminally, unconsciously, slowly but surely, without being aware of it. That’s how we all get influenced on this planet. Advertising agencies spend a lot of time and effort using psychology to manipulate human minds and drive their behaviours towards the outcome they wish to obtain.
Are there any other triggers, physical, emotional or both, we need to be aware of?
The question is: what kind of perfection are we striving for? Who decides what is “beautiful” and what is “perfect”? What is really perfection? Is it just a look? Is it just another stereotype? For example the plastic, skinny, sexy, wealthy, successful career wonder woman, yummy mummy of 2 “perfect” children with an amazingly perfect husband, Posh and Becks style? What kind of perfection is that if in the end we are unhappy and depressed because to maintain that “perfect standard” we must spend 3 hours a day at the gym neglecting our children’s emotional needs as we are too busy, starving ourselves, going to the hair dresser for a couple of hours a week and to a plastic surgeon for some Botox every month or so and perhaps subject ourselves to a general anaesthesia for a blepharoplasty or a face lifting every once in a while to hide the sign of the times as we are ashamed of it? We need to wake up and become aware of the manipulation we are subjected to. We strive to a perfection that has nothing to do with the real meaning of it. Real perfection has nothing to do with a “standard”; “Real perfection is the nature of the enlightened one” as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said. Lets embrace our souls and start a nourishing journey from within.
Is feeling "fat" or "ugly" really just about the body or comparing yourself to a picture in a magazine?
We feel “fat” and/or “ugly” when we are disconnected from our true self. When there is an imbalance or conflict within, it reflects on the outer look. On the skin, on the body. Not vice versa. Then we start gaining weight and as a result looking “ugly”. As a former international model I can guarantee you that even the most amazing looking girl can look “ugly” or unattractive if in a bad mood because she is not happy with herself. The secret is to feel good in ones own skin. And to do so we need to look after our inner world and inner child.
From a psychodynamic stand point, if someone has been loved in the right way as a child, from his/her main caregiver, in other words had a “good enough mother”, for example, most probably he/she will have learned to accept and love him/herself. We love ourselves in the same way we have been loved as children. In this instance, no matter how dysfunctional the media images, it will be more difficult for them to have a significant negative impact on us. If we had a difficult childhood/adolescence, we can transform the information we have learned and that acts us out through dysfunctional behaviour, such as self harming, with some good psychodynamic work and/or a spiritual path.
What about criticism? How to face it without letting the words affect our mind?
We should never be the football of other people’s opinion. Full stop. Knowing this is enough. And then train accordingly: every time we catch ourselves being affected by other people’s opinion just become mindful and adjust accordingly. There are different types of criticism: the healthy criticism is a gift. We should see it this way. Drop the ego and just welcome constructive criticism. It will help us to become a better person. We have to be grateful to the person criticizing us as it took courage to do so. They could have just lied. Yet they chose to be truthful. When it is a destructive, unhealthy criticism we must learn to be indifferent. The nature of the mind is to cling onto the negative: we may receive 10 compliments and one criticism from that person and all we will remember is the criticism. Never mind, just know that this is the nature of the mind. This knowledge will help us to be indifferent to the negative criticism. Also knowing why the person is criticizing us: sometimes they are jealous or envious. Just look at them with a smile of compassion and move on. Accept yourself just the way you are and you will be safe. Fill your inner love void by loving and caring for your inner child.
Is there a simple but effective way to learn loving yourself the way you are? Any tips you could share?
It is a journey and there is no shortcut. We need to establish new and more functional habits therefore we must be consistent and persistent training every day, every moment, to establish the new habit. But this mustn’t frighten us: every journey starts from a first step. Awareness is the first and most important step. Being aware of the dynamic we are trapped into and being mindful about it. A spiritual path and meditation will help to connect with our abundant inner source.
A powerful exercise is to cherish our inner child, connecting with him/her: Every morning when waking up, first thing, let’s ask our inner child (you may look at your favourite picture of yourself when you were a little toddler or baby) “what do you need today to be happy and what can I do to make you feel happy, loved and safe?” Listen to the answer coming from within and please the requests; a simple but effective exercise. Be the one that loves and protect the little child you carry inside.
To learn more about Adriana, please visit Role Model Living and stay in touch via Twitter and Facebook