Thursday, December 24, 2009

George Michael: Celebrity, Body Image and Doubts

image I heard Careless Whispers at about the age of 10 and promptly fell head over heels in love with George Michael.  Some people grew up with Madonna or Michael Jackson but for me, George Michael would provide the soundtrack of my life.  I know the lyrics by heart to most of his songs and have loved each incarnation he has presented to the world.  From Careless Whispers to Amazing I have danced, cried, loved and lost and George Michael has been a constant on my journeys.

When you love a celebrity, it is often hard to remember that there is a real person behind the glitz and glamour.  It is so easy to buy the image because honestly that is all that the big machine really wants you to see and let’s face it, human frailty is not stuff of fantasy is it?

I recently watched a biography that he did called Different Story.  At the end of the film he had this to say:

“Funnily enough, just in the last year, I am starting to become comfortable with the way that I look which is really almost disastrous isn’t it?  What’s the point in discovering that you look okay when you’re 41?  You know what I mean”.

I repeatedly played back these few lines thinking about body images.  This is a man that has millions of fans.  When Faith was released in the states he reached a level of celebrity that few ever manage to achieve. It was like a George Michael super nova.   How in the face of all of that success could someone possibly be insecure?

His commentary shows us that no matter where we fit on the scale of privilege, power, the world is designed to create doubt.  Now some may believe that this is a necessary function in order to keep a man like George Michael humble, however; should anyone worry about their body when other than a few cosmetic changes, we can really do nothing to alter how it is perceived by others?

image When I think of male beauty and raw sex appeal, I think of George Michael and it absolutely floored me to hear that he had doubts regarding his body.  When we think of the ways in which we are continually being disciplined, I suppose his commentary makes sense.  His life must be like living in one huge panopticon; each and every single action is viewed, commented upon and dissected as though we are not dealing with a person but a lab rat of sorts.

This happens to us all though on a much smaller scale.  The self doubts that we feel don’t really belong to us as individuals; they are a manifestation of a society holding impossible standards to imperfect beings.  No matter how much we work, dream or beg, it is a sliding scale that we can never hope to measure up to.  Even the images of the celebrities that we have chosen to uplift often have been so photoshopped that their bodies no longer look human.

Issues dealing with body image have historically been attached to women because we have only been viewed as important based on physical attraction.  As standards become more and more ridiculous, men are beginning to feel the strain of being mere mortals on a plane that demands divine beauty. For the first time we are hearing about men having eating disorders and the pressure to perform masculinity.  Perhaps the next big business boom will  be selling men products that they don’t need to comfort the feelings of inferiority that have been purposefully created. Will we see useless skin creams promising them that they will look like virile young studs at the age of 45?

It is interesting that now that George Michael is older that he has come to terms with his physical appearance because aging is often a difficult thing for women.  I say this as a woman that has rolled back her age for quite sometime now.  I fully intend to keep celebrating the anniversary of my thirtieth birthday for at least another decade.  The problem with beauty as power is that it is a declining power and therefore those of us who were able to ignore the initial onslaught of beauty discipline quickly succumb as we are perceived as aging and therefore less attractive.

The truth is that no matter how special, talented or beautiful, each of us are viewed as replaceable by the machine that is always looking for the next new thing.  Media commentators will question whether or not someone is still relevant but in truth, their value or contribution has not diminished, we just have an addiction to the shiny nouveau. Though George Michael often speaks about the demise of youth culture I think that in truth, youth is even more of a fixation because it is at that time in our lives that we are as close to perfection as we will ever be.  Even as we decry the foolishness and the inexperience of youth, we crave it.  In youth our bodies have not depreciated, there are not tell tale laugh lines or crows feet; only fitness and vigour.

There are some gender commentators who would point to the body disciplining of men as a step towards equality.  What a wonderful world now that both genders can exist with self doubt and angst…yeah sign me up for a double slab of that pie.  What it should symbolize to us is just how far we have moved away from any sort of self contentment or honesty about the limitations of humanity.  We can try to calm ourselves with platitudes about inner beauty but that is not going to protect the fat woman or the balding man with the beer belly from having to hear tee hee and rude commentary while they are trying to do something as simple as buying some fucking groceries.  We feed the machine everyday because it is a demanding task master.  At some level, we must enjoy this angst because we repeatedly reproduce it of our own accord.  One may point at the media or education but WE ARE those entities. 

I am glad George Michael has finally found some measure of comfort and maybe one day I can get me some happy and stop feeding the machine.  Until that day, I stand before you imperfect and deeply flawed.  But I am human and living and breathing every moment of my existence.