When Queen Elizabeth I came to power in England in November 1558, she did so in a time of religious turbulence as the Protestants and Catholics were increasingly antagonistic towards one another. A long story short, Elizabeth I brought peace very simply: she implemented a religious settlement which stated that if you were seen conforming to the mannerisms of the Protestant Church no harm would come to you. Thus religion became a non-issue in England for a while as its citizens took to upholding their external appearances with diligent accordance, keeping in secret their utmost inner beliefs and values.
Life hasn’t changed till then. In fact, the argument could be made that it was the same before this too, only difference being that Elizabeth I made it official. For reasons unclear, human society has always put a value to external appearances, be it in their manner of dressing, their conduct in society, or their outward beliefs. We live and breathe the motto “seeing is believing” and the argument ends there.
Yet it doesn’t. In primary school every kid is taught not to “judge a book by its cover.” The fundamental lesson was you can’t know what a person is like just by looking at them. Then in high school and university you’re taught to “dress to impress” and the importance of making a clean first impression. Which lesson do we comply with? Which one is right?
The fact is no one cares and perhaps never has. It is a feature built into our very flawed systems to decide on appearances. When you’re on the bus you’ll sit next to the person who looks the most decent. When you’re deciding who to talk to at a party with all new faces you’ll pick the one that looks the best or seems to be talking the best. When you walk into a classroom, when you’re in an elevator, when you’re at the cinema… appearance, appearance, appearance.
It’s a human mannerism that no one can change because its roots are too deep to pluck out anymore. Media sells it, politics depends on it and the rest of us aspire to it. Lady Gaga and the rest of Hollywood can say all they want about how not looking ‘perfect’ by the world’s standard is okay, but the world will still care about it. Stereotypes will live on, assumptions will be made, things will be deduced, and impressions will be forever impenetrable. The world will always care about it.
All the rest of us can do is keep reminding people to really really not judge a book by a cover because that really fat guy could be a brilliant singer yet, and that girl whose hair is always in a mess could be an amazing painter, but we’ll never know because we’ll never talk to them. We’ll not even try.
What’s really sad is that these people that we judge by appearance could be the best best-friend you ever had, but you’ll never know, because they ‘look weird”.