You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.

~ Mae West ~

How Inspiration Became All Surface and No Substance

January 13th, 2012 ~ Est. reading time: 2 mins, 5 secs

Happily, there's more to inspiration than Hollywood.

“If you want to be someone, look good. Better still, try and look like someone famous.”

When do you suppose people first started admiring fame and good looks? I imagine it began way before people started scratching symbols on stone or pressing markings onto tablets of clay. By the time of the Ancient Greeks, looking good had beome more than pleasure. It was an inspiration. As part of the whole package of success, physique mattered.

Now, in the past ninety years, there has been a quickening in the importance of appearance once more. With cheap entertainment media and efficient advertising, something unforeseen has happened. The pressure to look slick has taken over. Not only is it inspirational, but it has become more important to many than who we are and what we can do.

The Italian approach of admiring a beautiful body and high fashion gives it a name: “la bella figura” – the beautiful image. Style itself becomes substance. But it seems we have gone beyond that too. Now fame and looks, at any price, matter more than style.

So what does this mean? Well, getting our chief inspiration from appearance seems harmless enough. Except for the side effects. Many people want good looks more than they want to achieve anything. Which makes those who dedicate their lives to the community, the arts, business, and science less inspiring. Unless they look good, they are of secondary value and importance.

You might be thinking I’m exaggerating. After all, it’s not that serious, is it?  Yet consider this: what we draw our inspiration from ultimately defines us. I’ve spoken with people who, due to age, obesity, or plain looks, overwhelmingly feel they are failures. To them, their inability to make the grade compared to media standards means they are nothing. Worthless without an approved physique, they have little to aspire to. So some of them try to hide from life. It’s a tragedy so cruel and superficial, it reveals our efforts to date haven’t gone far  enough.

Putting a finer point to it, I wonder if you have ever felt pressured to look like something unachievable, and feel obliged to have the trappings that say “I’ve made it”?

Popular inspiration is now all surface and no substance. Grab a microphone and make a noise. Be on YouTube and try to look “wow.” Just do whatever it takes to be loud and look good. Forget whether you can do anything worthwhile. Today, attention-getting gives credibility.

So what can we do to put the balance back? The answer, I believe, is in talking. Talk about the problem of superficial inspiration to each other, our kids, and keep highlighting what matters. For inspiration, put more focus on achieving, and beware of the “photoshopped” world.

Now, more than ever, we need to claim our life back with deliberate thinking. Nobody can deny the attention-grabbing effects of image. But we can deliberately draw our inspiration from effort. Our happiness and ability depend on it.




Comments are closed.