Swedish children’s television presenter Sannah Salameh has recently pointed the spotlight on Swedish body obsession and social control. In a text, she describes how a little girl approaches her on a railway platform and says ‘My dad thinks you’re ugly’. Quite naturally, Sannah is upset and angry, but keeps her composure. It’s not the fault of this little child but of her father who teaches her that judging others by their appearance is valid. Interested, I googled Sannah and ended up on a consumer forum. I was shocked by what I read there, by the vile and bilious comments people felt entitled to write about her appearance. Some people were even demanding she be removed from the tv as the way she looks offended them and scared their children.
In Sweden, as in many other western countries, there is a strong fixation around appearance. Having the right body, the right face, the right clothes is seen as important. Deviate from this and there must be something wrong. You are not seen as an individual but reduced to the fact that you are overweight or dark skinned or ‘damaged goods’, regardless of how talented or intelligent you might be. Thanks to social and established media this seems to have escalated over recent years.
And people like Sannah Salameh end up in the crossfire.
Swedish culture is driven by two strong values – individualism and self actualization. The right to be yourself and to be responsible for your own life. The right to be who you want to be and make the most of yourself. These manifest themselves in different ways in society, for the most positive. But here we have a contradiction. Does Individualism and self actualization only apply as long as you fit into a pre-determined template?
I want to give a big shout out to Sannah Salameh. She is a fantastic, talented woman who, despite her fears and insecurities, stands up for herself and for all women. Don’t let yourself be reduced to your appearance. Don’t let others decide your worth.
And to all fathers of little girls – teach them that their value lies in their intellect and their hearts, not in the way they look.