The Culture of Looking Good

I was scrolling down my Instagram feed when I came across a picture. It was a beautiful picture of a family. An “influencer” I follow, with her husband and 2 beautiful daughters. Four bright and smiling faces. The picture-perfect family.

“Wow, such a beautiful and happy family,” I thought. Subliminally poking my bachelorette life. As yet when I was about to scroll down aimlessly the caption caught my eye. It read “This was the last picture I took before ……” I kept anticipating what the next line would read perhaps “…. our summer vacation” I thought, as everyone was posting about that.

But what I read next was nothing that I would have anticipated. “….. I stormed out of the room crying” and she went on to tell about her struggles with depression for 15 years and about a mental breakdown. Her story shook me to the core. I applauded her honesty and courage. This was a perfect example of how deceiving looks can be.

With the infamous slogans and hashtags like #livingyourbestlife. I wondered how many “influencers” are covering their pain with a big bold #livingmybestlife. How many relationships are suffering behind closed doors with #couplegoals when they can barely stand each other’s presence?

I couldn’t help but ask though “Would an Ethiopian woman living in Ethiopia dare and admit this?”

To make this point too close to home, our Ethiopian culture is a great example of #keepingupwiththejoneses and the artful mastering of the culture of looking good as even the saying goes “ለምን ጠላቴ ደስ ይበለው”.

I remember growing up, around my teens was when I first realized how ingrained in our community this culture was. As I wanted to explore the new me, the ragging teenager I wanted to be. It became even clearer that there was no winning in this game the society has skillfully been playing for years. There was no room for me to blossom and grow as I wanted; there was no space to explore who I am as I owed to.

Call me gullible or naïve but it took me way over my twenties to realize I had to either tiptoe on the steps lined out or dim myself an outcast and accept the consequences. I’m still learning though; finding the balance and at times trying to figure out which one I am and which one the mask.

Our society thrives on mastering the mask; the mask of appearance. Appearing as the perfect mother, the perfect wife, the perfect daughter, the perfect friend, the perfect sister.

It would be an understatement to say we live on the illusion of showing off our perfectly groomed children, the picture-perfect household, throwing the biggest weddings we can’t afford, buying the shiniest car at whatever cost! “ውስጡን ለቄስ” as they say.

I think the nosiness of our culture can also be a product of this, why else would we keep a tab on others if not to keep the completion lively lol.

Don’t hate me just yet, yes we Ethiopians have a beautiful culture of caring and being there for our neighbors, having a very strong and supportive community. But today we are talking about the heavily rooted culture of looking good, looking better than our neighbors, better than our relatives, friends, and having the next person as a milestone.

It doesn’t take much but to look around to see what it has cost us, what the race to look the best and this pursuit has cost our community.

How many people are suffering from mental health and emotional trauma, yet have chosen to sit quietly in pain to keep up appearances. Who would dare to be talked about “አበደች እኮ!”

How many people are clinging on to abusive and unworthy spouses just to maintain the “status” of being married? How many women throw themselves at unhappy marriages just to avoid the “ቆማ ቀረች!” “ትዳር ነው ሴት ልጅን የሚያስከብረው” “ብቻዋን ከኖረችማ ዱርዬ ናት” “አዪ! አርጅታ፣ እሱዋን ማን ያገባል”

I’ve even met people who after years of ending their marriage the hardest part for them is other people knowing.

And how many children would acquire the grade, marry the wrong person, buy that shiniest car or the house at any cost! To avoid the “የእገሌን ልጅ አላየሽም” “የእገሌ ልጅ አርጋው አንቺ ብቻ የማትረቢ” “አሳፈርሽኝ!” “አዋረድሽኝ!”

The saddest part for me is, with the rise of social media and fierce competition I see the ugly culture of looking good taking its toll. Children go to any length for fame and the parents applaud by their side. Eroding the very fabric of values held high and integrity we had honored as Ethiopians.

The extreme “cultural shock” I experience from the contents on social media, the greed, and people selling their souls in the pursuit of looking the best, appearing the best.  This toxic culture has silently ruined a lot of lives. We’ve driven each other mad with comparison at the cost of pursuing one\’s fulfillment, personal excellence, and personal goals.

No matter how menial it may seem to others, how random and trivial your choices may appear at times there is no experience better than fulfilling your desires, respecting the divine purpose of your own life, and embracing authenticity.

Why else would nature go to this length to fashion us each uniquely? We owe to celebrate that. Let’s try The Culture of Being Good for a change.