The need for authentic representation

7 mins read

If I asked you who your comfort character was growing up, I bet it wouldn’t take you long to answer. Who was the person you had plastered all over your walls, on your school lunch box and your pencil case?

For me growing up, it was Velma from Scooby-Doo. The mousy brown bob, thick glasses, having the answer to every problem and more importantly getting the last word. If you look through my photo albums growing up, you can see the staggering comparisons. As a seven-year-old, I fitted in perfectly to the nerdy aesthetic, but I never quite reached the level of intelligence and subtle sass of Velma.

Image Credit: TV Line

This is a typical pattern within kids; we are naturally drawn to people who emulate us or the version of what we want to be. They give us a point of reference to aspire to; before we even know what that is.

Finding representation of you in the media is crucial. It gives you a feeling of warmth and acceptance through a screen, especially for minorities, when our own little corner of the world might not seem so accepting.

Even though Hollywood seems like it has taken leaps and bounds towards better representation in the last decade. They still have a while to go to achieve authentic portrayals of all people, including a diverse range of ethnic minorities, and the many layers that make up the LGBTQ+ community. Not just socially acceptable archetypes of them.

From an early age, I knew that I liked girls more than I should. I remember desperately searching for a nod of approval from somewhere to tell me that I wasn’t wrong in thinking that way and I was going to be okay.

I would scour through YouTube and clips from Channel Four shows for something that would answer the desperate search of “two girls in love”, but I always ended up feeling disheartened and lost. As the girls on screen were never anyone who looked like or felt like me; or what I eventually wanted to be.

There always seemed to be two clear paths where it came to the topic of lesbians.

 The butch one; commonly an Ellen DeGeneres type, short hair, dressed in men’s clothing, beer drinker, who usually uses comedy as a defence mechanism. This hyper-masculine version intrigued me but also scared me because it came hand in hand with comments like ‘She should have been born a boy” or “Girls should dress like a lady”. Words like that built a sense of unworthiness and ugliness within me that I still battle with today.

Image Credit: LA Time

Then on the other end of the spectrum was the hyper-feminine lesbian. She was dolled up the nines, sought after by all and her sexuality has a form of power a surprise to the audience watching; very much a doff-doff moment. This presented the unattainable beauty standard, and I felt like the blindsided reaction always added unnecessary pressure.

At this point a felt like the Goldie Locks of lesbians, nothing really quite fitted. I knew I hated dresses and would go exploring in the woods and come back filthy, but I loved going to dance class and secretly hoped for a fairy-tale ending like the ones in the Disney movies. I felt isolated and had to choose which category to put myself in; to be accepted as a lesbian.

So much so that the first thing I did when I came out was cut off my hair into Sue Perkins style pixie cut. Partly because the Velma bob wasn’t cutting it anymore; but mainly because I felt if I looked more like the widely accepted idea of a lesbian; people would believe me and accept me.  Which was the one thing I craved.

As I got older and more comfortable with myself through time and met other people like me, I realised the TV characters I was looking for weren’t targeted at me, they were targeted at the masses. They were stereotypes for the purpose of entertainment, not to idolise. Yes, some stereotypes reign true, but they are definitely not the only option.

Unlike these characters, my story didn’t have to be defined with the overwhelming plot point of my sexuality. It’s an integral part of me, but it goes hand in hand with my ambition, my love for my family and my obsession with musical theatre, and I am equally proud of each.

Yes, we undoubtedly need to see more authentic portrayals of all minorities in mass media and not just stereotypes. I recognise that as a white lesbian, I have a certain amount of privileged, as nowadays there are various types of representations for lesbians to look up to. Especially compared to the lack of representation in the trans community, non-binary community, and a range of ethnic minorities.

This sadly heightens my point that most minorities can relate to not being able to see themselves accurately represented in the media growing up.

However, us being our authentic selves and comfortable in our skin and identity is a massive step in the right direction for people to see us as who we are, not just a label.

Image Credit :Vogue

Featured Image Credit: Indie wire

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