For women, being “normal” means striving for the unachievable

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For decades, we’ve confused “normal” with “perfect”. And social media has only made that worse, says Rachael Sigee

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By Rachael Sigee on

It’s a weird quirk of celebrity culture that it is obsessed with normality. Magazines point out that A-listers may be superstars on the red carpet, but, deep down, they’re just like us! Interviews highlight that she might be an Oscar winner or on the cover of Vogue or running a country, but also, she’s just a normal girl! Just a normal woman, doing normal things, having normal relationships and being a normal amount of beautiful (also known as “fresh-faced” or “wearing barely any make-up”).

Personally, I prefer my celebrities to be celestial beings of gorgeous, bonkers absurdity. They aren’t SUPPOSED to be normal; they aren’t supposed to be just like me. They are supposed to wear impractical clothes, make outrageous demands and behave like unearthly, talented toddlers running riot in our escapist imaginations.

That a woman regarded as the most beautiful or powerful or successful in the world can also be labelled normal is, frankly, terrifying. What, then, for the rest of us actual normals?

Recently, academics researching a book, called Postfeminism And Health, wrote about how women’s health can be negatively affected by a desire to be normal when combined with the belief that “a normal life should be perfect”.

Because women have always been under pressure to be perfect, it is in our nature to appear at our most socially pleasing at all times. And that is our normal: striving for the unachievable. Through social media, we show the world the very best of ourselves by making our day-to-day normal look idyllic. Our conflation of perfection with normality is the no-make-up make-up trend, writ large across every aspect of life.

It is a pattern: historically, we have confused normality with perfection. On one hand, the look and lifestyle that society has decreed to be the most beautiful and most aspirational has been the white, cisgender, thin, young, rich, straight experience. That was the goal, the peak of human perfection. But equally, through the narrow lens of limited representation, the only experience acknowledged more widely – the normal experience – has also been the white, cis, thin, young, rich, straight experience. Outside of that is failure.

Our conflation of perfection with normality is the no-make-up make-up trend, writ large across every aspect of life

And, even as our boundaries for both perfection and normality have widened, however much we try to subscribe to the idea that there is no such thing as a normal woman, a normal female body, a normal childbirth, a normal motherhood, a normal relationship or a normal career, women still ultimately want to fit in.

When we pluck and tweeze and squeeze, we do so to avoid standing out. When we deny ourselves and berate ourselves and offer ourselves up under the knife, we want to conform.

Because fear of judgement is (rightly) instilled in us. And when we do break ranks to admit flaws, reveal supposed imperfections or concede weakness, even that is carefully managed to exist within the narrow confines of acceptability. The allowance for deviation is limited to walking a tightrope of being not too much of one thing nor too little of another. Body-positive but not too body-positive, empowered but not too empowered, feminist but not too feminist.

We can have stretch marks but not cellulite; anxiety but not insomnia; a sweet tooth but only if we’re also gluten-free. It’s like the scene in Mean Girls when the girls compare flaws: sucky nail beds are one thing but morning breath is another. And not only that, but we must embrace those flaws! Because the perfect way to be normal is to absolutely love all the most normal parts of you.

Business has found a way to capitalise on that, as self-confidence and self-esteem threaten to ruin the tried-and-tested method of exploiting insecurity to generate sales. What might once have been sold to women as straightforward products to lose weight, look younger and more beautiful, be more efficient, go on better holidays or wear better clothes, have been repackaged as contributing factors to our overall quality of life. What is more perfectly normal that seeking wellbeing and happiness?

And so, normal women buy into the brands and products designed to improve us and our lives, when, if normal were actually acceptable, we wouldn’t require any of the added extras offered to us on a daily basis.

Normality has become performative, and in that sense, maybe those celebrities really are just like us.


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