The Technological Woman and Aestheticised Selfhood
by Madeleine Adams
Technology and art have become almost synonymous. We have forgotten art’s influence, now being ever-exposed to it via technology. We have forgotten the historical fear of art’s ability to dangerously inspire action. We have forgotten that art maintains its grip on individualism despite the individualist’s world being most alterable by exposure to art. We have all become artists, declaring a supposed, wishful power over ‘our’ art. We, artists, then believe we are in control of ourselves, but of course, we are not. We are controlled by the same aestheticized cultural industry, and thus, through art, are turned into a controlled collective.
Technology, social media, and the aestheticism of everything has a particular impact on female users—I know this firsthand: I am constantly aware of what kind of person I am perceived to be. I have spent, and still spend, much of my life through an aestheticised lens. I have curated an image to embody through the clothing I wear, design style, social media presence, and the art I create. All parts of my image have turned into one cohesive, self-defining movement: I aim to make myself unique, but definable by popular terms. The pressure to do this comes from the art I consume online. And by art in this context I am referring to images of interior design, clothes, drawings, highlights of writing excerpts, makeup, and general snapshots of pretty things or of the mundane, made pretty.
I see other women doing this too, and I take inspiration from their persons, who seem also to act as a cohesive art piece meticulously crafted to be presented online. I add parts of them into me, sewing together my image. I add onto myself my individualism, and in doing so, I aim at knowing myself. But, as a consequence of my identity being hugely crafted by the online individual, I am put at a distance from knowing myself through anything non-appearance based, anything actually individualistic. Art has illusioned me from selfhood; art has taken the role of self. The aestheticised online world has introduced its users, specifically its female users, to a world of confusion and distraction away from true identity.
There is a struggle in the highly individualistic world to know the self, to craft the self to completion. And, because of constant exposure to art, we internalise the aesthetic as being the most crucial part of everything; art is central to our world and thus we deem it also central to ourselves. Because we know art—because we know we like particular artistic presentations, certain online ‘aesthetics,’ we believe that through appearance, we can know ourselves in a similar vein. Simple is more understandable, more knowable; simple is easier. And it feels that without this self-knowing, something is lacking—something is demanding to be known because it is supposed to be known.
Throughout highschool, I, like most highschoolers, didn’t know who I was or wanted to be. I turned, or was forced to turn, to the inescapable internet, which showed me older girls and women who seemed to know themselves: I tried to emulate them, their styles, in hopes of finding myself—or my style—in their styles: I aestheticised myself similarly to how they did. I asked friends what they thought my collected style would be called and took their words as definers of who I was. But as a consequence of my attempted simplification of the non-simplifiable self and the confusions of early teenhood, nothing stuck. I would reinvent myself fully the following year. As the images and music I consumed grew boring and into something I no longer identified with, my clothing would also change and my bedroom design would reflect this change. I created, I thought, a new person. Since grade 12, my style has remained more consistent as I have grown into myself, and as I have grown to know what ‘aesthetic’ I am inclined towards. Since grade 12, I have found other things to hold onto and define myself with—my passions for existential philosophy, art, feminist literature, and politics—and so changes to my style and identity have not had to be so drastic, have not felt entirely self-altering. But, still constantly using social media and consuming its art and viewing its aestheticised women, a huge amount of my identity remains anchored to appearance; parts of my aestheticised self continue to develop and be altered. Social media and its aestheticism has crafted who I am: social media and its aestheticism is my culture. It is a collectivist appreciation for appearance and for self-branding disguised as something individualistic. Art and the aestheticised woman therefore has brought us together—all feeling lost and in search of ourselves—and has given us something to collectively value, to collectively grab onto, and to collectively fear. We, because of our culture’s emphasis on aesthetic, are led to a place of not-knowing, into a place antithetical to the individualism that we claim to strive towards; into a place of distraction from truly knowing who we are, void of appearance; into a place of natural confusion—the place where we, being human, have always belonged.