People are getting more and more shallow. Looks over books, am I right? No, absolutely not. We supposedly live in an age of acceptance but, unfortunately, that does not extend to one’s self-image. People still take an hour in the morning to “get their face on” for the day. We rally against sexism, racism, and phobias of any kind, yet appearances are the one thing we can’t seem to stop judging by. We use social media platforms to stand up and make a change. We also use them as aggregators for self-worth and beauty, riding the high of every like and the lows when no one is paying attention to us. We all want to be seen as beautiful, who wouldn’t want to look their best? Dorian Gray also thought the same thing.
“We rally against sexism, racism, and phobias of any kind, yet appearances are the one thing we can’t seem to stop judging by.”
In Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, the main character is a young, handsome, and kind-hearted man, when he first meets the artist, Basil, who would change his life. Basil was immediately enamoured by Dorian’s beauty and asked to paint him. During the painting sessions, Basil’s hedonistic friend Sir Henry Wotton would sit in and discuss life with the two men. Henry quickly corrupts Dorian with vain and superficial ideals – placing the utmost importance on beauty and youth. Henry decries the transient nature of youth, and therefore beauty, and infects Dorian with a growing and incurable vanity. Dorian subsequently curses the painting – a snapshot of his youth and beauty that would eventually fade. Dorian later sells his soul to the devil to remain young and beautiful forever, just like his portrait.
This book was written over 125 years ago, yet it has never been more relevant: social media has intensified the vanity of young people. Everyone is trying to show off how youthful, beautiful, and fun they can be. Today’s adolescents have sold their soul for likes. Dorian became obsessed with the teachings of aestheticism, and ultimately devoted his life to the study of beautiful things. He believed that beauty was the only thing that could bring him happiness, and this is exactly the same when looking at today’s youth. We retake the same photo 20 times, we airbrush beauty marks off our faces, we apply highly contrasted filters to appease our collective fixation on aestheticism.
“We retake the same photo 20 times, […] we apply highly contrasted filters to appease our collective fixation on aesthetics”
Beauty is treated as success in our society; people will do anything for a beautiful person, and would also do anything to become beautiful. Social media has aggravated the issue, but there is a lot more to the story. The media machine has never been as pervasive as it is now. Wherever we look, we can see propaganda for the beauty standards that we should all allegedly strive for. They are selling nothing less than perfection. There is not much that we wouldn’t do for beauty. Even though Dorian becomes increasingly corrupted and vain, he was never doubted by society, and all of this was because of his beautiful appearance. It’s indicative of how people think: beauty is good and ugliness is bad. The fact that a single blemish can ruin one’s day, shows us where we’re at. The pursuit of beauty is ruining our lives by taking away time and effort from everything else. Young people invest so much time and effort into creating a revised self-image to trumpet to the rest of the world, that they forget to work on who they really are.
In order for Dorian to remain beautiful forever, his portrait experiences the ravages of time and his growing corruption instead. Dorian himself is the cover and the painting is the book. No matter how effortlessly handsome he remained, his true self was ugly and deformed. The Picture of Dorian Gray is an essential book for the youth of today. Self-obsession and vanity bring nothing but loneliness and unhappiness. It’s not worth achieving beauty if you’re ugly on the inside. We don’t want to become Dorian Gray.
Lucia Holaskova is a first-year media information student. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.
- Columnist (Fall 2018)