Day 350: On the Personal of visual rhetoric

We’re to the point in my current class where we discuss one of my favorite Anne Wysocki readings, and combining that with some other material, I talk to students about visual impressions of people.

It’s a time when I make myself front-and-center in the discussion, as I wouldn’t want to pick on anyone else, and I’m fairly unusual looking. I’m fat, and I sometimes dress a little weird. I’m in my 40s and have a ponytail that I shave the bottom part of my head underneath. My socks are usually bonkers.

The fact of the matter is that *I* am not what is expected visually when my students think of a college professor. They think of someone like this:

That doesn’t mean they’re correct, and it doesn’t mean I take it personally or that I’m put off by discussing that I’m different from the norm. I know I’m not the sort of person that one picks for a TV show. I know, as I’ve known my whole life, that if there’s a situation that calls for an attractive representative, I’m not the one to send.

The thing is that I don’t think most people who grew up without such a defining characteristic totally understand how social rhetoric works in America. There’s no reason that we should expect most people to look a certain way. We DID that as a culture. We created a world where we glorify beauty and shun those who aren’t beautiful, even though if we’re honest with ourselves, most of us are not beautiful. Not like the ideals we strive to attain.

Why does that matter? Because if you’re not careful, you walk through your life needlessly and unfairly judging the people around you. The reason for this is that we’re consumers of everything– including images. We don’t think about our own, usually (except for people who are forced to because of how their appearance interacts with the world). An American can expect beauty and perfection while being absolutely run-of-the-mill. After all most people are average. If everyone was exceptional, it wouldn’t be exceptional be be exceptional anymore.

I worry that my students think it’s me being defensive, but the truth is that I’m just trying to show them the world as it exists. Notice on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example, the ugly girl is Allison Hannigan. The UGLY one.

We fail to be realistic, and yet a shocking few of us scrutinize why.

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