It’s what’s on the inside that counts, right? Wrong.

The outside does count too, more than ever, actually.

Apparently, there’s a right way to look and there’s a wrong way to look.

Somewhere along the line, society convinced people that physical otherness can be a threat, or negative, or ugly, or of less worth. Importance is placed on assets like skinniness but not too skinny, being certain colours or shades of those colours, how we look instead of who we are.

As long as we have such heavy criteria for a beautiful outside, our understanding of the beauty inside heavily relies on individual and universal acceptance of those outsides. We need to widen the bracket for beautiful bodies and acceptance

Our ‘beautiful’ needs to include the full palette of skin colours, trans men and women, fat, skinny and everything in between, people with disabilities, the young and the old, people who blur and redefine the lines of masculinity and femininity, and the intersection of any or all of these things. We need to adjust our perception – of ourselves and other people.

Daisy Collingridge, Dave a portrait, 2019

Daisy Collingridge, Burt Yoga, 2018

Daisy Collingridge 'Better Together' 2019

Daisy Collingridge harks back to the Francis Bacon and Lucien Frued Fat Sue era of rich bodily vulgarity. Collingride’s work, The Squishies, provides the same kind of shock factor akin to artists like Bacon, and even further back to the likes of Manet’s Olympia.

But Collingridge’s work is about more than shock value; her lumpy, bumpy, droopy ballet dancing, boob donning Squishies live without limits. They have different skin tones, unique appendages, personalities and layers. They’re unashamed, finding joy in the mundane – she shows us their inward and outward lives socialising with other Squishies, watching TV, and exercising.

Collingridge shows that a body is just a construct around a person, explicitly when her Squishies put their carcasses on a hanger and store them in a wardrobe. She encourages that a body isn’t the whole person, but rather a vessel.

 Shalva Nikvashvili, Tamada

Shalva Nikvashvili, Face

Shalva Nikvashvili admits that everyone wants to be beautiful. But what his work confesses is that it seems like people want not only to be beautiful, but people want to be the same kind of beautiful.

The beauty standard nowadays often erases how we really look, but also the visual traces of ourselves. We get rid of the lines that show we laughed at our friends’ jokes for years. We want to iron out the creases that show our life; when we’ve been happy, or shocked, or when we’ve thought “what the fuck?” Our life’s history reads across our body if we look closely, and Nikvashvili in Almost Beautiful shows that when we try to ‘fix’ ourselves, we’re still not guaranteed to be happy.

We forget that beautiful are the memories, the emotions, which show all across our faces. We forget that as bally and round, or pointy and pronounced are our noses, like our mothers, or our grandfathers, why would we want to look like anybody else? We forget that it’s beautiful to look like yourself… and your father… with a pinch of your grandmother.

Somewhere the lines get blurred, the wrinkles, sure, but also where do we draw the line with the pulling and plucking and pinning of ourselves to fit the mould?

Pleun van Dijk, Reborn, 2017, DAE. photo: © Ronald Smits

Reborn, Pleun van Dijk, DAE. Photo: @ Lonneke van der Palen

Pleun Van Dijk shows a kind of reconstruction that can be a good thing. We can shrug off the layers of ourselves that we no longer need, that we no longer like, and that no longer serve us.

Our sense of self-worth can be transformed if we challenge society’s beauty ideals. We can become “Reborn” in a way if we liberate ourselves from the oppression of the new-new fad look.

In her work, Van Dijk knits together pieces of the self, and the goal is not perfection. The goal is rather acceptance. If we choose to change, mentally and/or physically, and if the motivation to do so comes from within ourselves, we transcend trends in place of peace.

Works by artists like Collingridge, Nikvashvili and Van Dijk are such an important contribution to culture today, which should never be narrow. Culture should not shape your image of you, but be inclusive enough to trust. Your peers should not tell you what to do or who to be. I should not tell you how to define yourself.

Beauty is in the eye of the stakeholder. How you look, yes you, is the future of beauty.

by Grace McKeever