An Obscured Body, and The Hate of Being Perceived
Impressionism was an art movement that superseded Romantic art, beginning somewhere during the 1860s and lasting until about 1886, which aimed to reject the flamboyant portraits and dramatically posed figures of its preceding era. In lieu of this, the Impressionist period distinguishes itself with art pieces appended with brisk and pronounced brushstrokes, rendered with placid, unblended coloring techniques that produce elusive images that attempt to capture a muted recollection of a reality in natural light, as if seized and stored in a single film of memory—a glimpse.
As we retrace our steps on paths we haven’t walked in almost two years in our return to normalcy, some of us have an almost galling desire to be perceived like an impressionist painting, to be rewritten into the picture we’ve been omitted from, not as its muse, but as an obscured body faded into the background, to have them regard the space that you occupy rather than to be perceived.
The pandemic period altered the way people experience the outside world. It meant stepping away from the canvas until the crisis had finished its diabolical artistic revisions on our world. Uniformed in masks, it made half-faced creatures of us, some solitary individuals keeping to themselves a raging stress and unease behind wary eyes, while centered within an invisible six-meter radius circle. Inside our homes, the circumstances permitted us to simply exist in our own spaces, unnoticed, with an excessive amount of time to ourselves. Most of us shelter away at the lulling strongholds of ceilingless media content, seeing others broadcast how they make the most of their time productively—making Dalgona coffees, baking croissants, or learning how to crochet.
This, and even more so with fast-paced aesthetic trends that, in one trend or another, we’ve endeavored as an attempt to improve our appearance—dyeing our hair, doing unrealistic 7-day ab training programs, mewing—failed at, and perhaps felt bad about, until we exacerbate the situation as we start seeing more of ourselves and the tugging potential of what we could be day by day.
People have ensconced themselves inside mirror rooms; each turn is the same countenance you saw yesterday and the day before that, but at each glance we let our eyes trail further into parts of ourselves no one bothered to care for back then. Studies have shown that Zoom and other video chat tools used over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic have increased people’s judgment over their physical features. It was shown that a number of cosmetic surgeries were linked to this aggrandized self-criticism, induced by a form of body dysmorphia similar to BDD (body dysmorphic disorder).
An image appears on the rectangular video screen captured by a webcam. It doesn’t matter if it’s an inaccurate representation of you; you don’t care that cameras frequently warp facial features due to a variety of technical factors. All that you see is a depiction that seemingly screams at you; you’re at your wits’ end, telling yourself you’re distorted. You realize soon enough that people see you inverted, not as you do in the mirror. Suddenly, you notice your left eye is bigger than your right, your ears are too big for your head, and you see a candid picture of yourself—nakedly raw, unposed, “Oh my God,” you tell yourself, “this is how people experience me.”
With overt self-awareness, we’re magnified and nitpicked at by a harrowing consciousness, heightened by the erratic whims of a digitally accessed society that ceaselessly seeks to contain and reconstruct a blueprint of perfection to clone.
But it’s fine, right? There’s still time; you could still work on that “glow-up” everyone’s raving about and pressuring themselves for. For now, you bury yourself deep in your mask and hide behind a computer screen. You draw no attention to yourself—no Instagram posts for now, and definitely no back camera photos. A history of mingling with and being once part of that social network feels like a lifetime apart, as we now dread “the mortifying ordeal of being known.”
Of course, eventually, the tint dries, and we slowly re-emerge back into that worldly, plight-stricken landscape made barren by our absence. Anxiety builds as we fear that the stress and struggles that manifested in our bodies and changed them in all those years will no longer be a secret, will be noted of, and our burdens will be spoken into existence; we fear that our conflicts will finally be concretized when friends you haven’t seen in so long wait for you to pull down the shield—your mask—for a picture and there is no filter to blur the blemishes you tried so hard to hide.The museum is open again, and we’re thrust back into that portrait. It feels as if the visitors come to see you at once in all your unadulterated glory.
Although, for all the downs and miseries we may feel, being perceived is something inextricably bound to us social beings. The ol’ cliche is staunch in truth: no man is ever an island, even when we want to be. Being seen is a conduit to our validation and love, these are the rewards at the ends of our ruins that heal and empower us. We all ache, but we are never in its depths alone, others’ wounds just scar better. So, no matter how mortifying being known may seem, just remember that the next person probably feels the same way and is too pestered with their own fear of it to provoke your own.
Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable because it is this or we sit waiting for the moment where we’re all but brisk strokes on a canvas, an impression of a shape in the background, so obscure until we are nothing more but figments of a passerby’s imagination.
Baah, N. (2021, June 7). The Pandemic Let Us Exist Without Being Perceived. Some Don’t Want That to End. https://www.vice.com/en/article/pkbpk7/its-normal-to-feel-anxious-about-being-seen-and-perceived-after-covid-pandemic-v28n2
Dores, A. R. (2021). Exercise addiction, body dysmorphic disorder, and use of enhancement drugs during the COVID-19 pandemic confinement period: A transcultural study | European Psychiatry; 64(S1):S290-S291, 2021. | ProQuest Central. https://pesquisa.bvsalud.org/global-literature-on-novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov/resource/pt/covidwho-1357227
Kreider, T. (2014, November 13). I Know What You Think of Me. Opinionator. https://archive.nytimes.com/opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/15/i-know-what-you-think-of-me/
“Zoom Dysmorphia”: A New Diagnosis in the COVID-19 Pandemic (n.d.). LWW. https://journals.lww.com/plasreconsurg/fulltext/2021/12000/_zoom_dysmorphia___a_new_diagnosis_in_the_covid_19.74.aspx