There’s an old expression, probably from the British Isles, which used to describe somebody under the influence of a magic spell as being under “a glamour”. This was used especially in instances of fairy, or the fae’s, involvement.
This type of bewitchment usually involved the victim becoming so enamoured of some-thing or -body that they would eventually waste away to nothing on the human plane. There was nothing here that could compete with what the glamour offered.
Nowadays the word glamour is quite a bit more prosaic and is used as an adjective to describe a person, thing or lifestyle’s affect on us. In some ways of course it still retains its connotations of casting a spell on the observer, as those who are glamorous affect their observers.
What exactly does glamour mean? According to my handy-dandy pocket Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary, “glamour” (from the Scottish gramarye meaning magic power) is a noun meaning alluring charm or fascination. By extension glamorous means you have those attributes.
If one were to judge the word solely by those definitions it would be easy to consider it quite subjective. Like beauty, glamour should be in the eye of the beholder and individuals free to decide what holds sway over them.
But like beauty, our terms of reference for glamour are dictated by the limitations imposed by societal pressures. In North America our ideals our defined on a daily basis by movies, television and advertisers; we have specific magazines dedicated to telling us who and what are glamorous and why we should want to be like them.
For far too many people their notion of self-image revolves around the message that is delivered by these so–called repositories of the truth. Magazines like People, US, Vanity Fair, and Glamour are all dedicated to propagating the myth of the ideal lifestyle and physical image through their continual detailing of who and what define glamorous.
Not only are their primary content dedicated to the “stars” but the pages are awash with advertisement after advertisement preying on people’s desire of becoming just like those featured in the article’s pages. It’s in this fashion that the lifestyles of the “stars” are made to be important, but even worse, painted as the ideal.
Their fancy cars, their opulent homes, and most of all, their appearances are depicted as being what any sane person should be striving to obtain. The message of “you should want to be like them”, is perhaps one of the most widely spread and harmful concepts being foisted on the public today.
Not only does it establish unreasonable expectations in regards to measuring your life as a success or failure in the long term, but its impact on how people view their body image has an immediate effect. Young women trying desperately to be accepted by peer groups refuse to believe that the person they are is worthy, so they look to these images of glamour for guidance. They see pictures of women who have obtained a certain body type through genetics, starvation and surgery, and measure themselves against that standard and feel like failures.
At a minimum it will cause them to become obsessed with their appearance enough to worry about the clothes they wear, their hair, and their manner of speech, hiding their own inherent beauty behind imitations of glamour. At worse, if they are already so susceptible, they could develop an eating disorder along the lines of anorexia or bulimia.
Eating disorders are not simply caused by a person’s desire to lose weight in order to emulate someone else’s appearance: they are far more complex than that. However when combined with the feelings of inadequacy and guilt that are pre-existing in one disposed to being anorexic, it could be enough of a blow to their sense of self to initiate the onset of the disease.
That these conditions exist in our society today is without doubt, one only need look at the success and pervasiveness of magazines and television programmes dedicated to the examination of so-called glamorous lifestyles for proof of that. Why they thrive is another matter. How is it that so much of our life has come to revolve around people of so little value to our society as a whole?
None of them are responsible for doing anything to improve our lot by making breakthroughs in science or medicine. Neither is the majority of their endeavours going to be intellectually challenging or artistically inspiring enough to influence future generations. In fact many of them have an influence that only lasts for the briefest of moments.
What kind of “glamour” have they cast over us that holds so many in such a thrall that we fixate on even the least of their kind to the point of obsession? Is there that much dissatisfaction felt by that many people for the lives they lead that it translates into desperately wanting to be someone else?
Perhaps that’s it. Look around the world and see how many people have had their childhood dreams dashed. How many people feel like the world has let them down, and that in some manner or another their lives haven’t turned out the way they planned it? Working at a job with no prospects for advancement and subject to the whims of people who are higher up on the ladder than you probably wasn’t what you had in mind when you left school.
The opportunity to escape, even momentarily, into some fantastical realm of perfectly beautiful people living the ideal of the American dream of making it big, is too tempting to resist. Even to give yourself whatever imitation of that dream you can afford is to allow for some fulfilment, no matter how minor.
It is far easier to fantasize than to actually do something about changing your reality. At the risk of sounding paranoid it is also probably preferred that people remain content with their lots in life and not seek to change their situation. There is a need in society for people to do jobs that service others. There is very little in the way of incentive that can be offered to those people to do those jobs except escape through mindless fantasy.
Pie in the sky rewards of eternal bliss in heaven is no longer sufficient bribery for our consumer driven populous. They need something in the here and now to keep them happy. Vague promises of you too can be a star, and living vicariously through those who are living in that stratosphere, are the inducements offered to satiate the need for instant gratification.
To some of us it may not look like much of a carrot augmenting the whip, but to others the tantalization of fame’s potential is too great to resist. Why else would people subject themselves to participating in “reality” television programming or appearing as the subject of a talk show if not for that fleeting chance at the brass ring of celebrity?
In many ways glamour hasn’t changed much from that old saying of being under a spell. The power of celebrity and stardom still hold numerous people in thrall. Clothing styles, manners of speech and concepts of physical attractiveness are dictated by those deemed glamorous.
Glamour is something that we are supposed to want to obtain, because it will give us standing and prestige amongst our peers. The fact that it’s based on arbitrary standards and superficial ideals is a sad commentary on the state of our society and the manner in which we measure accomplishment.
We can only hope that there will come a day when intellect and integrity are held in the same esteem as physical beauty and material wealth. When that day arrives we will be able to say that we have obtained maturity as a society. Until then we must accept the fact that superficiality has cast a spell over a large proportion of our population and anyone who can, will utilize that to their advantage.
Politicians, the entertainment industry and anybody else wishing to influence public opinion, already make as much use of these circumstances as possible. To some extent we are all under “a glamour” on a daily basis.